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What do salaries look like for a pastor in the United States?

Two Lowest Professional Salaries in the States

Most people might not be aware that the two lowest paid salaries of those with professional degrees are that of a teacher and a pastor.  If society’s value of a person’s work is based upon their salary then there doesn’t seem to be much appreciation for those who teach children and those who teach the Word of God.  Even though these two positions are among the most important positions for our society they continue to lag far behind those salaries of other professionals.  It’s no wonder then that there is a shortage of both teachers and pastors in the states and this problem is only getting worse.  Many teachers and pastors, thankfully, don’t do it for the money but that doesn’t mean what they do isn’t important.  The low pay for these two professions continues to force some of them out into the secular world to make their living and frequently, against their will and their heart’s desires and that is truly heartbreaking for them.

The National Association of Church Business Administration reported that as of 2012 (the latest figures available) the average U.S. pastor makes about $28.000 per year. This might explain why 20% of pastors nationwide are bi-vocational.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau (as of 2010) the average teacher’s salary is about $42,000 a year but this is considerably less for smaller towns and rural districts and if these two are factored in both the pastor’s salary (about $18,900) and the teacher’s salary ($23,500) is far less.  Is it any surprise then that fewer and fewer teachers and pastors are staying in their jobs?  Sadly, they often have no choice but to leave their jobs for higher, even though less-satisfying, jobs.

The Low End of the Scale

The lowest pay rate of course is zero.  That is some pastors, particularly in rural areas or small towns receive no salary at all but only benefits like health or life insurance, rental or utilities assistance and many don’t even receive that.  Of those at the bottom of the scale, over half of them are bi-vocational, meaning that they must work to support themselves and their families and they pay the bulk or all of their educational costs.  They also end up doing almost 90% of the work in the church since the smallest churches have fewer members to draw upon for help or assistance.  I have read that about 10% of the people in a church do about 90% of the work at a church…and part of that 10% is most certainly the pastor.  There are thousands of these pastors and their families who live at or below the poverty level.  If not for what is described as the overwhelming call of God, they would most certainly not be where they are. Pastors understand that their rewards are not going to be received in this world (1 Cor 9:25).  They understand that they “will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4b) “when the chief Shepherd appears” (1 Pet 5:4a).

Average Pastoral Salary

If we look at most pastors, about 80% of them work full time in the ministry and they draw roughly $28,000 to $42,000 per year.  This might not seem bad but most of this base salary includes benefits like housing assistance, insurance, and other various related expenses.  These expenses are actually counted as part of their salary so in some cases a pastor might only make about $18,000 a year but have other expenses added in that are non-monetary. The vast majority of pastors in the United States fall into these two categories; from the low end of the scale ($0.00) to the middle ($28.000.00).  It is not a very glamorous life for sure.  Generally speaking, they do the greatest amount of work at their churches and most often with the least amount of appreciation.  Not being appreciated has been attributed all too often as the main reason that they leave the pastorate within the first 5 years.  For the last several decades, teachers and pastors have ranked consistently at the bottom of their professional pay scales and it has only gotten worse over time.  Thankfully for both teachers and pastors, salary isn’t everything.

The Typical to Above Average

Pay scales for pastors have a wide range depending on the differing circumstances like location, church membership, where they are located at in the states, rural, small town or large city, and even the social customs of the area.  If we take out the highest range of salaries which is over one hundred thousand dollars a year (which is rare compared to the majority of pastoral jobs) the average is anywhere from $21,935 to $74,314.  About 70% fall into this category but again, this frequently includes compensations like health insurance, housing and/or rental assistance and help with utilities and other related cost of living expenses, so if these were left out of the average salary estimates, we could deduct roughly about 1/5th up to 1/3rd.

Conclusion

A pastor’s job is anything but average.  They may have the most important calling of all.  This doesn’t mean that the church members are not important. Truly, every member has been called to a ministry and every job or vocation is a holy vocation ordained by God but this might be why encouraging your pastor is a very important thing to consider.  Often they are overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated, overburdened, overwhelmed and sometimes even ignored.  One little “Thank you” could mean so very much. It might even mean the difference between their staying or leaving the ministry.  Coveting is a sin for the most part…but coveting your prayers is certainly okay.  They need you just as much as you need them.  Not any one of them is like another. They are unique in many special ways and if not for their looking forward to eternal glory and their crown of righteousness, they might not be able to endure.

4 Responses

  1. Janelle

    Why qualify that some pastor’s salaries include insurance, housing, etc.? So do teacher salaries. I have worked both as a part-time children’s pastor and a part and full-time teacher and have had this discussion about salary comparisons with my pastor before. Most laymen’s salaries are used for housing, insurance, etc. Why would a pastor be any exception? I believe there are tax benefits for the separation of housing costs, for example, so it is fine to itemize those out in what a pastor is paid, but the bottom line is that all of us use what we make to pay for housing, cars, insurance, etc. Salary comparisons should be like apples to apples. My pastor use to say his “salary” was only $18,000 and that garnered sympathy from some, but what he did not say was that his “benefit” package (which paid for housing, car, insurance, and many other things) was approximately $40,000. I am all for paying pastors well, but we (and they) should be honest and fair in comparing what they make to what a lay person makes. The amounts may differ, but in reality we all use the money we make to pay for the life we live whether we have any tax advantages or not.

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  2. Chuck

    I have a job as a working supervisor in a skilled trade at a steel mill. All these things sound just like my job. Except I have NO control over my schedule. Then I work at church for free. Many pastors need to reflect on why they are in the Ministry. Is it their job, or calling?

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    • Pamela Rose Williams

      Hello Chuck, Great question. I think something that I would like to add to what Jack said in this great article is that when a Pastor is required to take a job in addition to and outside of the church job — and it is a job to do the duties of the Pastor — then the Pastor has no time to do what he has been “called” to do. This is exactly why deacons were appointed back in the early church. It was because the “ministers of the Word” were busy doing everything else e.g. “serving tables” that they appointed the deacons to help. The reason for this was so that the ministers could have no “reason [to] … leave the word of God”. (see Acts 6:1-7).

      ‘Tis true these things sound like your regular job, the difference is that the Pastor is not only called to do the things of the Lord, but he must have time to devote to studying the Word so that he can effectively share it. When a Pastor and his family are not supported by the church then the Pastor must seek a wage elsewhere. Even so, the church continues to expect the Pastor to be available, quite frankly, just about 24 x 7. How do I know this? Because I am a Pastor’s wife and we have done it both ways — supported fully by the church and bi-vocational. I can tell you that my husband is torn and exhausted when he needs to seek a wage outside of the church.

      The Bible tells us that we should “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” (1 Tim 5:17). I am quite sure that bestowing double honour does not mean to require them to work two jobs.

      I like how Jack said “Thankfully for both teachers and pastors, salary isn’t everything.” He is absolutely correct, salary isn’t everything but the laborer is worthy of a wage (1 Tim 5:18) — and Pastors labor much within the church, most of the time behind the scenes.

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  3. RZR219

    Good article
    I am on a board for a small church. New to this and we have since noticed that the previous board members did not follow the set guide lines for pay %. Now we have to make some tough choices. I though being a board member was going to be different, however I must deal with the task at hand. Wisdom comes with age and listening I am learning.

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