8 Reasons I Should Have Been More Honest about My Income as a Pastor

I pastored two great churches in Ohio, and I would gladly return to either one today to thank them for trusting a young pastor to lead them. At the same time, I look back now and wish I had been more honest with them about my salary needs. Here’s why:

  1. I wrongly equated a lower salary with godliness. Every year, I was willing to sacrifice because I assumed that was what a pastor was to do. I still believe that we must lead sacrificially, but I no longer assume that godliness = an insufficient income.  
  2. My salary and benefits package was likely below the national average. Three decades ago, it wasn’t as easy to get information about pastor and staff compensation. My anecdotal evidence and personal discussions, however, suggested then that my compensation was low for a church our size. I don’t think my church would have wanted to be less than average.  
  3. I probably hurt my family. In my single years, I didn’t worry much if I struggled financially. I fretted more after I got married, but I was still unwilling to share that concern with my church leaders. My wife then had to sacrifice with me. 
  4. I would have had no shame in asking. That is, I wasn’t a lazy leader simply wanting more money. I worked very hard, and I think I would have honestly earned the increase. 
  5. My church likely would have increased my salary. They were always willing to discuss matters with me, and they seldom didn’t follow my lead. My hunch is that they would have heard my request and adjusted my income. If I had just asked….
  6. I didn’t help the next pastor much. What is a sacrificial income for one pastor often becomes a low starting point for the next pastor. My sacrificial thinking could have easily become the expectation for future pastors. 
  7. I could have built the request around conversations about a pastor’s overall salary/benefit agreement. As a young pastor, I knew nothing about self-employment taxes, housing allowance, etc. My church didn’t know anything, either, so our combined lack of knowledge cost me dollars and sleep. 
  8. I likely hurt other full-time staff members. All of us assumed that I as the senior pastor would earn more than others; thus, everyone’s salary was based off mine. My willing sacrifice became a forced sacrifice for others.  

I’m not arguing that every pastor should seek a raise today. Every leader must make a personal decision, and all must work within the context in which they serve. I do know, though, that I would be more open with the church today if I had financial needs. 

What are your thoughts, church leaders?  

6 Comments

  • Money is never an easy thing to talk about in a church setting, but pastors/staff are worthy of their wages. I personally believe a church ought and should want to take care of their pastor. Especially one who works hard for God and them. Thanks for sharing…

  • jeffpate says:

    My first church I was so eager to serve I accepted whatever they offered. Through my years I married and started having kids, obtained Seminary education, and increased my skill set so discussing compensation became more natural and less “selfish” in my eyes. I wish someone had mentored me in those early years to balance the church’s budget with my needs but we live and learn. Thanks for posting so other young pastors have something to think about.

  • MarMac2768 says:

    I can agree with every word that you have said! I started pastoring when I was 24 years old. It was a small, struggling church so I knew that they couldn’t afford to pay me a large salary. However, over the years as the church grew, I didn’t lead them to raise it to an “average” salary for our size church. I left there and went to another church and had the same attitude. When I got to a church that was NOT small and able to pay a good salary, I felt almost greedy to accept it. I’ve been at this church for 13 years and have not had a raise in pay even though they would have given me one if I would ask.

    The most egregious part of this is; I held the church back. I think that raising a pastor’s pay, especially when the budget is tight, is a sign of faith in our Lord. I believe that the most important thing that a church can do is to support mission works and church planting. I’ve always led the churches I have pastored to give to mission efforts. Every year, we examine our mission budget and I have led them to give more to our mission budget. Yet, there are times when my anniversary with the church will come up (a time most churches consider the pastor’s salary) and it has come and gone. God blesses those who do things by faith. “without faith, it is impossible to please him (God) ….” Heb.11:6. When the budget gets a little tight, we should step out on faith and give more, to missions, pastor and staff, to others who need help, etc. Then we say to God, “Lord, we don’t know how we can do this, but we believe it is important for us to do and we are going to have faith that you are going to give us more, that will be sufficient to the needs.” THAT is what faith is all about!! The church I am at now has declined in attendance over the years. Today, it is a small church of mostly older people who are on fixed incomes. Our offerings are way down and I have voluntarily taken a couple of pay cuts to not put an undue burden on our people. At 59, I don’t see any way I can retire in 6 years or in 16 years. Young preachers who may be reading this; DON’T make the same mistakes I have made! It is not selfish to ask for a livable salary comparable to the people you pastor. God bless!

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