On multiple occasions in the last few weeks, I’ve had conversations with pastor friends who have said in passing, “I’ve not had a salary increase since I got here.”
These pastor friends are not bitter, and they weren’t complaining. They just were stating the facts of their situation after four, five, six, seven years on the job.
Most of these pastors quickly dismissed their need and the fact that their congregations are undervaluing them by speaking of the financial challenges of the pandemic, the uncertainty of church life in America — all the usual excuses.
Dear church lay leaders: How would you feel if you had gone seven years without a pay increase? Would you be motivated to stay in that job? I don’t think so. Let me cut to the chase then: Why are you treating your pastors this way?
Yes, I know that old saw that you can’t get blood out of a turnip. But you also can’t starve your pastor and expect him or her to hang around. For a pastor to go five, six, seven years without a pay increase is to signal that you do not value them or their ministry. There is no justification for this — unless you are trying to run the pastor off. And in that case, you should just say so outright and stop playing the silent torture game.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that compensation costs for private industry workers increased 5.5% over the past year. That comes on the heels of a 3.5% increase for the year ending June 2021.
Yes, churches too often do not follow the private sector in compensation. But even so, zero increase versus the nearly 10% average increase private sector workers have been given over the past two years isn’t even a contest. It’s cruel.
“But we can’t afford to give salary increases,” you may say.
What could possibly be more important than paying your pastor a living wage? What curriculum, carpet, mechanical device — even what missions project — is more essential to your operation than hiring and keeping a good pastor? How can you justify prioritizing anything in your church budget over paying a fair wage to the shepherd of the flock?
“You cannot demonstrate the love of Christ as a community of faith while effectively giving your pastor a salary decrease every year.”
Failure to pay your pastor appropriately is not only short-sighted but mean. You cannot demonstrate the love of Christ as a community of faith while effectively giving your pastor a salary decrease every year. This is backward thinking.
Across the nation right now, it’s church budget time. Finance committees are meeting, and pennies are being counted. Given the rate of inflation in our nation, not to mention the challenges of being a pastor right now, it is essential that you give your pastor and staff members compensation increases. It should not be a question of if, but of how much.
And on that point, consider that if you have neglected your pastor’s compensation for several years, this is the time to catch up. You may have a lot of explaining to do if you put forward a 20% salary increase, but that explanation is due to your negligence, not to the pastor being greedy.
Almost all Baptist pastors live at the mercy of their personnel committees and finance committees. They have little to no say in their own compensation, and they are not in a position to make demands. So it is up to you to do the right thing, right now.
If you don’t, you’ll be saving a lot of money real soon — when your pastor leaves for a church willing to pay them what they’re worth. But there’s more trouble around the corner: You won’t be able to hire a new pastor for the bargain wage you were paying the previous pastor who left.
Keeping up with wage increases is an investment in the future. And it should be the No. 1 priority of lay leadership charged with managing the business of the church.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global. For nearly 17 years, he served as executive pastor of a large Baptist church and was responsible for personnel management in collaboration with a finance committee and personnel committee.
Five ways to help your pastor this year | Opinion by Mark Wingfield