Four Reasons for Pastors to Pass on Pay


February 25, 2013 by Drew

Image is not to scale.  For most pastors, the stack of money is much smaller

Image is not to scale. For most pastors, the stack of money is much smaller

I am a pastor, and I get paid for it.

I count it an INCREDIBLE blessing to have a job that I love to do.  I am so glad that my church values preaching, prayer, spiritual care and the leadership I provide enough to compensate me for doing so full time.

But sometimes I wonder if I would do a better job if I did not receive a check from the church.

Make no mistake–I love my ministry and I believe I am called to it.  I don’t want  to quit.  I just wonder what it would be like to be a volunteer.

Here are the main reasons:

1. The Mission Message.  

Quite simply, people already mistrust the church.  They think we hurt people.  They think we’re just after power and money.

Sadly, they are sometimes right.  That said, they aren’t right as often as they think that they are.  But if I want the crowd that mistrusts the church to experience Christian community and the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have to deal with that perception.

Passing an offering plate, a portion of which will pay my salary, does not help me make my case–no matter how I frame it.

Passing an offering plate for the sole (and I do mean SOLE) purpose of blessing other people would.

But as long as the church pays people to take care of them (or buildings–but that’s another post), the message gets muddied.

In the mission context of my church (post-Christian, suspicious of the church), we cannot afford to send mixed signals.

2. The Incarnational Experience.

God showed God to people by joining people as a person.  Not just a person, mind you, but a humble one–humbled enough to die a disgraceful death.

Pastors, when (if?) they teach the bible, will invite their listeners to be of the same mind as Jesus.  Humble, servant, Jesus.  The one who took on our nature.

The best way to connect to people who work “regular jobs” is to have a “regular job.”  Pastors often complain that the job of pastor is isolating.  If a pastor works another job with people, he or she will no longer be isolated.  Said pastor will learn to understand people outside the church and maybe even become a sacramental presence in his or her  other workplace.

3.  The Work of the People

The core functions of pastoral work don’t always demand 40 hours a week.  But to take a full time salary and NOT work would be stealing.  Fortunately, there is ALWAYS something to be done in, for, or by the church.  The problem is, if the pastor does it, somebody else won’t.

Christians believe that work is good.  We are formed by our work.  It would be good for the people of the church to do more of the work of the church, but they can’t if the pastor won’t let them, and many pastors won’t let them if they are trying to justify/earn their salary.

4.  Prophetic Freedom

If can find a way to ask the right questions so that a pastor to can be completely honest with you, he or she will admit that more than one member of their congregation worships at the feet of an idol.  That idol may be political, chemical, theological or personal, but it is there, and it is easy for the pastor (and probably everybody else to see it).

Then, if they are REALLY honest, they will tell you that they haven’t said anything about it.

AND THEN, if they are SUPER-DUPER honest, they will admit that their silence has–at least on some level–been bought.  I don’t mean that my colleagues and I are directly receiving payments.  I mean that we know that there are some topics that we avoid, and one of the reasons we avoid them is so that we can keep our job.

If a pastor is less afraid of getting fired, that pastor is more likely to tell the hard truths. Sometimes, it is necessary for a pastor to tell hard truths.

Four quick postscripts:

1. I haven’t made the jump yet.  Not only do I have no clue what else I would do, I’m pretty sure it would freak out my congregation.  They are already sufficiently freaked out as it is.

2. Most Pastors (myself included) are required to get graduate degrees, and pay for said degrees.  If pastors are going to pastor without taking a salary, something about this needs to change.

3.  A great change would be if denominations allowed more flexibility in pay.  I asked my rep at the Presbyterian Board of Pensions if it would be possible for a church to provide health insurance for a pastor that did not receive a salary.  Such an arrangement is currently impossible.

4.  This post is not intended to judge pastors that take a check in any way.  I am one of you.  I do not give permission to churches to use this to try to pay an already overworked and underpaid pastor even less (and most of us are overworked and underpaid).  There are good reasons for a pastor to give up his or her salary, but most of the time, money spent on a pastor is money well spent (and I can’t say that about every part of church budgets).


4 thoughts on “Four Reasons for Pastors to Pass on Pay

  1. DavidBaker says:

    What are you thinking? I sent a response, check your email, but to sum it up you will be to tired from work to be an effective pastor. Work is work and draining as hell no matter what you do. When I get home all I want to do is bury my head into something to leave behind my day.

  2. RaChaCha says:

    Couldn’t you just blog more for Buffalo Rising–? That would cover your expenses & you could do the pastoring pro bono 😉

  3. Drew says:

    @David. Your response is spot on. Well, your response to points 2,3, and 4, at least. I’m going to use a lot of your ideas (if its ok with you) to further develop the conversation.

    @RaChaCha I can’t even READ Buffalo Rising right now. I actually tried to write a post for BRO today and it ended up on this blog because of their technical issues. That said, we know how well Buffalo Rising pays, don’t we?

  4. So if I’m tired from working I don’t need to need to follow my calling? Is that what I’m hearing?

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