Salary snapshot

I just wrote a comment that went much longer than my original post, so I thought I’d put it here. 

John M. said:

We have always had a problem with the “exalted” sense of call in the Presbyterian Church. Or is it a self generated call. A call to what? A professional career as a Minister of Word and Sacrament with a compensation package including salary, tax-free housing alliance, medical and pension benefits, expense accounts, two-week study leave and four-weeks of vacation. All above the minimum requirements set by the Presbytery. Proficiency exams much life doctors, lawyers. Accountants. Ordination is the prize.

OK, call me jaded. I’m just an elder.

In response, I have to say, that’s the irony of it. We strongly uphold the priesthood of all believers, but when it comes to our own ordination standards… not so much.

As far as our salary packages go, this is a good thing to examine. In 2005, PCUSA seminarians were going into 35k of student loan debt.

Then, when you get out (according to Jackson Carroll), you can expect to make, on average, 35K (including housing). Sometimes that goes up. If you go to a large church, you can get 67K, but since most of our churches are small churches, one can spend his/her entire career at about 35K. Chances are that women, especially, will end up staying at 35K. Every year, you might get a modest cost of living increase, but even when the church’s income drastically increases, the pastor does not usually get a raise.

In the PCUSA, we are often expected to get a doctorate of some kind, which might increase our chance of a better job, but we’re not automatically compensated for the degree.

As a comparison, school teachers are having the same debt/housing/income problem, and their salaries average at 47.6K, over $12,000 more than ours.

So, most of us aren’t making very much money, and that’s why comparing our entrance requirements to lawyers and doctors is kind of… well… silly. Of course, no one’s in it for the money. There’s a whole lot of satisfaction in the vocation that has nothing to do with compensation. But, we do need to be able to make it. For those who are starting out, that’s becoming harder and harder. And for those who are looking toward retirement, especially women who have spent a career with half-time positions and inadequate compensation, it’s also difficult. 

I am very thankful for our benefits. As part of a generation where 30% of young adults don’t have health insurance, I know just how lucky I am.

As far as taxes, we do have a break on housing, just like the military, certain people in government offices, and others in our country who have to live in particular housing where they’re employed. The logic is, since we have to move every couple of years, and we often live in a church-owned homes that are not of our choosing, then our housing is treated in same manner as the military. 

(Includes 9/1 edit) But, if you look at the full picture of our taxes, it’s really odd. We have to pay SECA tax (instead of FICA), as if we were self-employed. The tax is 2 times regular FICA because we, in effect, pay the employer and employee portions. Then, we pay income tax as if we were employed–which is higher than self-employment tax. So, we do get some breaks, but we have pay more in other ways. The housing usually balances out the higher self-employment tax.

Of course, it is very, very difficult for our small congregations to pay all of this. I realize that fact. Yet, as someone whose family lived the first six years of my pastorate under the state poverty level, while hearing constantly about how outrageous my salary was, I would just hate for our elders to have an unrealistic view of our compensation.

16 thoughts on “Salary snapshot

  1. “In the PCUSA, we are often expected to get a doctorate of some kind, which might increase our chance of a better job, but we’re not automatically compensated for the degree.”

    I know this is a tangent to your main point but this doctorate thing is what amuses me. Especially when the doctorate in question is a D.Min. which is nothing in terms of time, energy, money and knowledge. A D.Min. can certainly be helpful and enriching to a pastor but in know way should it be a gauge of salary or competency.

  2. If you want a higher salary, grow the church that you are in. It’s like any other business, if it grows, so will your compensation.

    As for D Mins, I come from Scotland where doctorates are given honorably for years of service in the parish.

  3. Good point, Stushie. But it does take a couple of years for a church to grow. And often there’s a lot of delayed maintenance to take care of before getting to the pastor’s salary… lots of factors…. Unfortunately, I think there’s more of a tendency for a pastor to move to another church when s/he needs more money than there is to grow the church s/he’s in.

  4. I’m with John M.; perhaps the ideal solution would be to eliminate the category of professional Christian entirely. But then I’m another cranky layperson. I love my church’s pastor dearly, but the PC(USA) surely has strayed far from the Reformation’s original ideal of the priesthood of all believers. When was the last time the denomination’s Moderator or Stated Clerk was a layperson? The loudest voices in our various controversies also seem to be clerical ones (as they almost always have been). And the current wave of defections to the EPC (or wherever) appears to be largely pastor-driven.

    Not that it’s all the clergy’s fault; frankly I think most of the blame lies with us laity. We’ve been lazy and allowed clergy to do our work for us. A system has evolved where we pay pastors to be the professional Christians in our midst and the rest of us will help when we have time. In that regard we probably don’t pay any of them enough.

  5. Well, of course, as a person who has given my life to serving congregations, I don’t agree that we should get rid of professional clergy. It’s my calling and it’s my job, just as many people feel called to be cleaners, or vets, or gardeners, or what-have-you. We have had full-time pastors for a couple of thousand years, and I hope the position doesn’t go away too soon. It takes up forty hours–and most of the time is dedicated to equipping and empowering lay people for service.

    Though I am all for the priesthood of all believers, I also know that I have been in that sacred and humbling position where I’m the first one a woman calls when she finds her husband dead, or when a dad has to hospitalize his child. I don’t know… I just think it’s important. Not exalted. But significant. And I’m very, very pleased that I get a chance to go to work everyday, with one thing in mind–trying to help other people.

    But, your comments aren’t about me….

    Well, if you’re looking for a church without a pastor, you should have no problem in the Presbyterian Church, since forty percent of our pulpits are empty.

  6. Quite frankly I have been shocked by the couple of comments here that are anti-cleric. They are not part of our Reformation history. When did Luther and Calvin advocate for the complete abolition of the clergy? It is certainly not a part of the magisterial reformer’s history of which the Presbyterian church is a part. There are plenty of churches whose history is part of the Radical Reformation that did away with the clergy. If you want to be a part of the Mennonite or Amish Church it is out there for you. In regards to our clergy I am for the most part proud of them and think that some of these comments on them are quite insulting. Our pastors are gifted and dedicated individuals who deserve the same respect that the laity is always demanding.

  7. Piggybacking on Shekinah Glory: even a quick read of the Reformers shows that, though the advocated the priesthood of all believers, they also strongly advocated the importance of an ordered ministry. Just cause they rejected the priesthood certainly didn’t mean they rejected pastoral leadership. If churches have strayed in any direction since the Reformation, it’s certainly not that Calvin was somehow anabaptist and we are clericalists. More often the other way around.

    And, for what it’s worth, the last time a Moderator was a layperson was 2008: Rich Ufford-Chase is an elder.

  8. In recent years I have come to think of the “priesthood of all believers” more as “the ministry fo all believers.” We forget that the Bible teaches us that each person is gifted with specific gifts. As clergy God gifted me with certain gifts for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. However, in the same way God has gifted men and women in the congregation with whol I partner with gifts that fit their calls to ministry as Elders, members of the Mission Team, Church School Teacher, etc. No gift is to be more highly prized than another because all are needed for the building up of the body.

    Having said this, I also agree with Christine . . . we have, IMHO, moved from seeing the Minisry of Word and Sacrmanet as a calling to a profession (job). One of the first sermons we studies in our first preaching calss was Long’s “Words, Words, Words”. Our words are powerful, perhaps, more powerful that we realize — not just our words from the pulpit, but our every day words. So when we speak of professionalism and job we help IMHO deminish our calling.

    Somehow in the PCUSA we have to recapture the concept of spirtual gifts and the ministry of all believers working/ministering out of our spiritual giftedness not for our own glory, but for the building up of the body.

    Carol, the last few posts have been wonderful conversation starters. Thank you!


  9. My compliant is more about ordination than an educated clergy. Some of my best friends are pastors. Really. Jesus said follow me. He ordained no one, established no hierarchy, set up no church. He rebuked James and John for wanting to sit on the right and left of him. It is all about control. Women disciples of Jesus were the first casualties of who was in charge.

    Our revered Book of Order notes that the difference between the ordained and the laity is in function only. It then proceeds to set apart the ordained.

    Carter Heywood, one of the women ordained illegally in 19744 in the Episcopal Church, writes of ordination that it is an institution filled with economic, social, political, and sexual abuses, all in the name of a God who is not God, but the projection of men’s control needs. I would add women to that today. What about the discipleship of equals?

    I’m an elder. It is an overrated institution. For thirty years we are arguing about who should be ordained. Maybe we should be discussing the desirability of ordination itself.

  10. Andy,

    Interesting point about what we’ve become since the reformation.

    Oh… and Rick’s term was up in 1996. Such an inspiring person. An amazing organizer. He just has a mind for it.

    I would say in the day-to-day workings, depending on the church, Presbyterian pastors have very little power. We have control over what we preach and what hymns we sing. But, I’ve even caved to pressure on the hymns!

    John M,

    A light just clicked on in my head–like one of those cartoon characters–because now I see what your saying… You’re right. It has become way over-politicized.

    Thanks for coming back. I really appreciate the comment.


    I guess I should explain my use of “job.” I wonder if I should do that in a separate post as well. Hhmmm… Maybe I’ll come back to it.

  11. well, I got what I deserved in trying to be a know-it-all. 2008…1996, what’s the difference, really? My apologies for being a lazy, no-homework-doing combox jerk

  12. Some interesting comments re: whether or not we should have ordained leadership. For what it’s worth, I know some seminary professors (at least one who’s been worshiping in a PC(USA) congregation for a few years now, at least) who would argue that more and more churches will move to a “flatter” hierarchy in the coming years. Less “official” (read: “ordained”) leadership, and more work shared by all.

    This isn’t entirely a bad thing. As has already been said, too many laypersons have allowed the minister to be the “person who does all the work” in our churches. This hasn’t always been intentional, but it’s certainly a widespread problem. If something needs doing, ask the pastor….

    But I do think to argue for doing without ordained leaders on the basis of “the priesthood of all believers” stems at least in part from a misunderstanding of that particular doctrine, and more specifically on the role of the priest in the first place. A priest is not the same thing as a minister or a pastor (i.e., just a different name for the same position, as used by another denomination). The role of priest specifically has to do with having access to God, most often through the use of sacrifice (including, in the church era, the Lord’s Supper). The priest provides the access to God to the laity through these rites.

    Presbyterians affirm that ALL Christians have equal access to God. We don’t need a specific go-between (the priest) to provide this access for us. Thus, we believe in “the priesthood of all believers.” However, this in no way diminishes the need for solid teaching and administrative leadership. These roles are provided by pastors and ministers, and if the church does away with these roles, they must (obviously) find some other way of meeting those needs.

    My concern is that, if churches decide to stop hiring (and therefore stop treating as a paid vocation) pastors and ministers, fewer people will go through the time and expense of a seminary education. This, in turn, would mean that fewer people are trained for the teaching and administrative leadership that congregations will continue to need.

    I mean, sure, no one SHOULD be going into this vocation for the money, but if one cannot expect to earn a decent livelihood (not to mention pay for the expense of the education in the first place) in a paid church leadership position, WHY would one go through all that time and cost?

  13. About five years ago, I developed a collegiate style of worship service for our church which involves a lot more participation by the congregation. Ever since then, our worship numbers have gone up from around 120 a week to about 180. I’m training the church people to be the lay leaders, so that ministry no longer is a business profession but becomes what it has always meant to be a Christian vocation.

    Scots call their ministers “teaching elders.” I guess in today’s parlance that would be “theologian in residence.”

    You can check out the collegiate style of worship at

  14. Pingback: Recent Links Tagged With "vocation" - JabberTags

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