What's the Best Way for a Pastor to Negotiate His Salary?

by Dave Harvey May 24, 2017

A pastor who talks about salary can be awkward stuff. Annual incomes are, after all, the things of earth; unspiritual and unbecoming—far from the meditations of the heavenly minded minister. Or so it seems. Why not just parade his sex life before the elders too!

In the world of wages, pastors inhabit some pretty conflicted space.

On the one hand, a pastor must “manage his household well” (1 Tim. 3:4). This certainly includes managing finances in such a way that bills are paid and the family is clothed, fed, and able to travel in a dependable car made in the 21st century. On the other hand, a pastor must not be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3). We can expect “enough” (1 Cor. 9:8–11), yet we can’t be greedy for gain (Titus 1:7)—a distinction far easier to espouse than discern. The church should desire an unmuzzled pastor (1 Tim. 5:18), yet the pastor can’t determine what muzzled means.

It’s the “salary strain,” an occupational hazard that seems to come with ministry. If navigated unwisely, it can introduce suspicion and stall the church’s momentum toward the future.

So what’s the best way for a pastor to negotiate his salary? Here are six thoughts I hope will be helpful.

Salary negotiations move toward wisdom when the pastor . . .

1. Knows his heart is always engaged in matters of money (Matt. 6:21).

One’s salary is not a unique, amoral, heart-free zone where our desires or fears become suddenly irrelevant. The pastor should speak to God first and often when negotiating his salary. This will help him approach the process as a disciple desiring to receive God’s provision and not a professional seeking to grab what he can.

2. Knows the church is neither suffering nor being excessively frugal in the offer extended to him.

As a shepherd in God’s church, we are never ambivalent over how the church’s spending affects the church’s stability. Yet we also don’t want to feel like the church is saving money at a cost to our family. If your salary triggers concern on either side of this tension, consider it an invitation from the Holy Spirit for further discussion. In some cases, it may even be a reason to decline a role.

Also, don’t become unnecessarily distracted by the salary figure; remember to look at the whole package. Certain benefits (health/dental/vision insurance, life and disability insurance, retirement, book and/or cell phone allowances) can represent another 35 percent to 45 percent of the offer. That’s real money and represents a loud statement to anyone with ears to hear.

One caveat for the guy preparing to accept his first ministry role: Don’t get your hopes too high over what you just read about benefits. God rarely invites men into ministry roles where some kind of financial faith is not required to accept the role.

3. Knows how churches assign ‘value’ to ministry roles.

From a church standpoint, the factors most often influencing salary offers include:

  • The size of the church and its budget.
  • The church’s geographic location. There are significant salary-range differences between U.S. regions.
  • The experience of the pastor in relation to the roles and responsibilities of the position.
  • Comparability to the salaries of other pastors in similar roles.
  • Equity and fairness of the overall compensation structure of the church staff.
  • The skill sets the pastor brings to the role.

A quick thought on the last one: A pastor being considered may be a remarkably gifted teacher but lack organizational, administrative, and/or strategic-thinking skills. This means the church may need to allocate other staff to cover these weaknesses or underdeveloped skills, thereby altering the value of the role.

4. Knows his income may grow if the church grows and may shrink if the church experiences hard times.

These realities are neither carnal nor unfair but are simply a slice of real life in the local church. In my 30-plus years of ministry, I’ve been in times of both growth and decline. I’ve taken salary raises, I’ve declined raises, I’ve endured deductions, and I’ve disputed benefits. Through all of these seasons, I’ve discovered the local church is a dynamic, resilient, vulnerable, organized organism. Salary offers should be accompanied by seatbelts. By accepting the role, you agree to buckle up and adapt to the unpredictable adventures ahead.

Also, if you’re moving from the private sector to a church staff role, there’s a high probability you have a substantial salary reduction coming your way, maybe between 40-60%. It’s not personal; it’s just one of the many differences between for-profit and non-profit organizations. It’s one of the sacrifices God invites us to make to serve his people. But consider yourself forewarned.

5. Knows the offer accompanies the faith and enthusiasm of those extending it.

This is just obvious street-smarts. If the church’s leadership team or search committee is not excited about you in the role, or your arrival is going to divide the church, perhaps it’s wiser to keep looking. Yes, God may call some men to churches where their doctrine or vision may polarize the people. But you’d better be certain there is a committed core of gospel-loving, doctrinally driven, courageous folk who are going to support you through the coming storm. Absent that, you’re merely postponing your job search in another 12-18 months and eliminating a solid reference from your last place of employment.

6. Knows he should communicate gratitude for the offer, even if he is unable to accept it.

Someone, perhaps many, undoubtedly spent time collaborating and working to pull together this offer. A wise candidate will appreciate the effort even if he cannot accept the position or salary.

Payday and the Last Day

As you seek to navigate these tensions, do so remembering this remarkable reality: The final reward for your role is not delivered in your monthly paycheck. Ultimately, you serve the church with another Day in view. “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4).

Pastor or pastoral candidate, as you negotiate your salary, remember the unfading crown of glory. Let it inspire your humility and restrain your entitlement. Let it fill every salary discussion (or dispute!) with the knowledge that there is no sacrifice for God made in the present that will not be richly compensated by God in the future.

Editor's note: this originally published at AmICalled.com.