Third, what cultural dynamics are in play? An urban church context is vastly different from a suburban one. With this cultural diversity comes a variety of economic levels, educational opportunities, historical perspectives, and perceptions about the pastorate. For example, the kind of automobile an urban pastor drives may have very different connotations to his parishioners than the automobile a suburban pastor owns. Each local church is ensconced in a community and a cultural context that speaks into a pastor’s salary formulation. In many suburban contexts, a common baseline rule of thumb is placing the senior pastor’s salary in the same range as the local public high school principal. Another rule of thumb is matching the pastor’s salary with the median household income of the community where the church is located.Those last two sentences are what caught my eye (that and the idea that the kind of car an "urban", i.e. black, pastor drives matters more than the car a "suburban", i.e. white pastor drives. What?!).
The second sentence highlighted talks about the median household income. That is interesting because the median "household" income is often a combination of both spouses working at least part-time. So you should pay your pastor the same as the median of all households, which includes dual income families. It isn't said here but the implication is that a pastor should be paid enough for him to live comfortably and for his wife to be able to stay home. I am all for women staying home and caring for the house and the children but that doesn't mean that the members of the church should give more in offerings so that she can. That wasn't the really fascinating sentence. I found the comparison between pastors and high school to be especially interesting.
Principals in suburban high schools get paid pretty well. Actually very, very well. I found a bunch of salary surveys and they all showed something somewhat similar in terms of median income for a suburban school district high school principal. Keep in mind that a high school principal is not an entry level position, it is a professional and highly compensated position. Many principals oversee a school with dozens of highly paid, highly educated teachers and their pay and benefit package is reflective of that. If we approach pastoral leadership as being just another professional career in our community, which we culturally do, then this makes sense. We have decided in our own wisdom that clergy must have a bachelors degree and often a masters degree. Many of our clergy have some sort of doctorate. We expect our clergy to have the proper professional credentials and of course they expect to be compensated as such. So what does that mean in terms of dollars and cents?
In Illinois, according to a survey by the Illinois Association of School Boards, the median salary for a high school principal is $89,463. I like Illinois as an example because it is a midwestern state, has very rural and remote areas, a high population city in Chicago and affluent suburbs. Illinois gives us a pretty decent sample. In the northeast part of Illinois, which of course includes Chicago and all of its vast suburbs, the median salary goes up to $117,611. That is not chicken scratch which might be why they answered the question kind of vaguely. I am not sure how it would go in most churches I have been in if the topic of pastoral pay started with a baseline of $80,000 plus benefits and housing.
At $80,000 you are in the top 25% of all household incomes as of 2005. As an individual wage earner, that puts you in the top 10% of all wage earners, a pretty lofty and exclusive perch.The top ten percent of wage earners starts to get you into the same company as corporate managers, doctors, lawyers, etc. These are the elite, at least in terms of wages and prestige, in our society. These are not the sort of people who perform servants work, the modern day equivalent of washing feet. They are the cream of the crop and the sort of professionals that most parents dream of their own children becoming. They are respected and respectable.
There are two reactions here. The traditional reaction is that the work clergy perform is worth at least as much as professionals in a community. We hear this a lot and it resonates in the church. With the perception that counseling, preaching, hospital visitations, marrying/burying, etc. are essential functions that can only be done by professionals, of course we would seek to pay them like other highly specialized professionals with advanced education in our community. Plus they do the stuff that I have been told I am unqualified to do and if we are being honest I would rather pay someone else to do. It is a win-win, I throw a check in the offering plate in a show of piety and I get out of the messy work of ministry.
The other reaction is "wow, that is a lot of money" and it is. It is not a coincidence that the guidelines are kind of vague. No one is going to write "In an average middle-class suburban area a senior pastor should be paid a salary of around $80,000 per year" because that is going to cause howls of protest. It should. A forty year old guy with 7 years of college certainly is smart enough and normally able bodied enough to work a regular job for a living. The notion that the poorest families in the church, old ladies and widows, families with both parents working, etc. should put money in the plate to pay someone a salary in the top 10% of wage earners to do the work of s servant ought to cause people concern.
Elders are called to be servants, men who live lives we should emulate. They are part of the Body, not a separate class that rules from on high. They are our brothers, not our employees. The church is not a corporation but we seem to think that it should be run like one. There is nothing wrong with corporations but Jesus didn't die for one. He died for a people and none of us has the right to demand a salary, especially a salary much higher than the average church goer, to do the work of ministry. If you want to get paid like a professional, pick a professional career. Be a doctor or a lawyer, start a business, be an executive. There is nothing wrong with that. Just don't expect the church to pay you like a professional to be a servant. Likewise it is high time we stop eliminating men without the "proper" credentials like a seminary degree from being recognized as elders. A ditch digger who cares for his family, shares the Gospel and lives a life other men should emulate is far more Biblically reflective of being an elder that a man with no practical experience in the world outside of a church building.