Should free market determine pastors' pay?
February 28 2003 by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press

Should free market determine pastors' pay? | Friday, Feb. 28, 2003
  • In all but the largest churches, connectional churches pay their ministers better than congregational churches and provide better benefits.
  • Church size matters when it comes to salary. Among Protestant churches of both kinds, landing a job at a larger church translates into a larger income.
  • Smaller churches struggle to pay a high enough salary to attract and retain qualified clergy. An increasing number of smaller churches are calling part-time or less experienced clergy as a solution.
  • Regardless of polity, "only a small percentage of pastors earn what most Americans would consider a professional-level salary."

    The problem begins with the assumptions upon which clergy salaries are based, the authors say. "Most congregations attempt to answer that question by looking at what they have paid pastors in the past and what they can afford given their current membership."

    Catholics approach questions about clergy salary from an entirely different perspective than Protestants by removing financial incentive as a motivator for excellence in ministry. The variation between compensation for Catholic priests varies relatively little between larger and smaller parishes.

    That allows Catholic priests to move more freely between parishes of different sizes, the authors said. But the relatively low pay of Catholic priests may discourage young adults from entering the ministry.

    Likewise, connectional Protestant churches are more likely than congregational Protestant churches to offer clergy a livable wage. The down side of that policy, however, is that some smaller connectional churches go without clergy because they cannot pay the minimum salary required by the denomination.

    For example, in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1999, 62 percent of churches with membership less than 100 were without pastors.

    Another reason clergy salaries may be higher in connectional churches is the typical economic status of those churches. "Churches within connectional polities also happen to be on average larger and richer, and they hire clergy with higher education," the study said.

    The researchers applied their data to compare what a pastor might expect to earn in a congregational church versus a connectional church and in churches of various sizes. This John Doe has 20 years' experience in the ministry, an earned seminary degree and serves a church with an average lay income of $49,000.

    The smaller the congregation, the better off financially the pastor would be in a connectional church. The larger the congregation, however, the better off he or she would be in a congregational church.

    Under this model, in churches under 100 in attendance, the pastor would earn about $35,000 in a congregational church and about $40,000 in a connectional church. At about 180 attendees, the salary offered by the two kinds of churches meets at $52,000. From there, the projected salary in the congregational church soars much faster than in a connectional church, so that in congregations of 1,000 attendees, the congregational church would pay about $35,000 more than the connectional church.

    Among other findings:

  • Clergy salaries correspond much more to church size than to years of experience held by the pastor.
  • Median salaries for clergy have grown to become comparable to those of teachers and social workers. The gap between clergy salaries and those of other professionals such as doctors and lawyers has widened.
  • African-American churches are more likely than Anglo churches to offer pastors less than a livable wage, although some African-American churches have broken through this barrier. On average, African-American pastors earn two-thirds of what white clergy earn, even though African-American laity is more likely to tithe and report similar income levels to white laity.
  • Female clergy on average earn $6,500 less than male clergy, although average household income for female clergy is higher than for male clergy households due to working spouses.

    The complete report is available at

  • Friday, Feb. 28, 2003

    Should free market determine pastors' pay?

    By Mark Wingfield Associated Baptist Press

    DURHAM - A free-market economy drives pastors of many churches, including Baptist congregations, to climb a career ladder in order to maintain a decent standard of living, according to a new study from Duke University.

    This pattern imperils the health of smaller congregations that cannot afford to pay a middle-class salary and threatens the prophetic role of ministers who are trapped by climbing the ladder, said the authors, Becky McMillan and Matthew Price.

    "How Much Should We Pay the Pastor?" is the title of the report produced by the Pulpit & Pew research unit of Duke Divinity School. The Lilly Endowment funded the study.

    "While pastors may feel called to serve small or poor congregations, the costs of doing so might be considerable," the authors said. "In order to accumulate savings and pay off educational debt, they need to progress to larger congregations with correspondingly larger salaries.

    "The salary structure is such that clergy wishing to maintain a middle-class lifestyle must take on a 'career' as opposed to a 'calling' mentality. Local congregations, rather than focusing on their mission to the world around them, must focus inordinately on 'church growth' strategies in order to increase their market power to attract good clergy."

    The study compares clergy compensation among three types of churches - Catholics, "connectional" Protestants and congregational Protestants. Connectional Protestants, such as Methodists, allow a denominational structure to play a major role in clergy placement and in setting standards for clergy qualifications and pay. Congregational Protestants, such as Baptists, allow congregations free reign to hire whomever they desire and pay whatever they choose.

    Baptists and other congregational churches exemplify the strongest correlation to free-market economics, the authors said.

    Data for the report were gleaned through a national survey of 883 clergy in 2001. Among the key findings:

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    2/28/2003 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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