Paying the Parson: by PW

Our weekly contribution from “PW” about life as a minister’s spouse.

Historically, protestant ministry families have been paid in various ways for the work the pastor does in the local parish. Two to three centuries ago, some ministry families were paid once a year after the harvest. Some parsons were paid in chickens or produce. I am sure this brought about the thrifty and resourceful ministry families we see today.
Today, we receive garden vegetables, fruit, pastries, baked goods, labor for projects, and some gifts of money. We are extremely grateful for the financial provisions in our local church. Sometimes this has been a source of anxiety in lean times. Other times, there has been provision above and beyond what we can imagine.
What parts of ministry financial support are most freeing for you and your family? What parts of providing for the pastor are still a struggle for your local church? Are there new and creative ways ministry families are being provided for in the local church?

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  • As Christians we struggle with a bunch of false or unnecessary dualisms: sacred/secular, body/spirit, etc. Perhaps the one that is most harmful to the body of Christ is the clergy/laity split, something that doesn’t exist in Scripture. It makes “ministry” the responsibility of the “professional Christian.” However, one great “benefit” to churches of this lie is that it allows them to justify poor salaries, as though it’s a congregation’s responsibility and opportunity to keep the pastor (and his family) “humble” and “trusting” God. Interestingly, an adequate salary, allowing one to live appropriately in the community, seems to be privilege only of the so-called layperson.

  • Dave

    I’ve wondered at times about whether “salaries” as we know them in the church are a good thing. I believe strongly that the body should provide for those who teach and lead them. But I think that the salary may be detrimental to both the congregation and the pastor. I personally went through a period when it was very difficult for me to keep the perspective that it was the Lord providing my pay check. It was very easy to start to think I earned it. I think the congregation can sometimes think, “Well we give him a salary. We shouldn’t have to provide anything else.”
    If the church didn’t give salaries to their pastors but sought to provide for their needs the congregation would have to be more vigilant and the pastor would have to depend more on God. Those who build in the church could build a house for his family. Those who are dentists should take care of their teeth. Those who work on cars should take care of his car. Maybe this would help congregations to develop more of an attitude of wanting to provide well for their pastor rather than holding him down?

  • Deborah

    First – I agree that we are a priesthood of all believers and as such we are all in ministry together. I also believe that some are called to serve as clergy. My path to becoming a pastor began in my early 40’s.
    As a student in seminary I served a small community that provided our home, paid most utilities and a small stipend/salary (as a result we took out some pretty heavy student loans). From time to time there would be fresh veggies, some baked goods, etc. While I was considered part time we all know there is no such thing as part time ministry, and as a student with a family we were forced to have free/reduced lunch for our children and even to have the children’s insurance through state aid. I am not complaining, I understood that to be a second career seminary student and to minister in that context that is what we needed to do, and it gave me an understanding of how various systems work.
    I do not however believe that serving in the semi-rural community where I am now a full time ordained pastor I should be making any more or any less than any other college educated person. My denomination sets as the standard salary at a starting teacher’s wage. I do not believe that a pastor and his or her family should live in poverty, it is a distraction to being free to serve. The church does provide a parsonage, which frees us from all of the burdens of home ownership (but then we don’t have the tax benefit either) aside from basic maintenance.
    I think that if I was dependent on the community for dental work, car repairs, etc we could be in a tough situation if our church didn’t have those types of skills, plus I would think there would be a sort of beholdenness to whomever provided the service for ‘free’ – sounds more like the old English Vicar who was hired by the wealthy to be the priest of the estate.
    I have no problem living simply, we made that choice, but I don’t think we should live below the median standards of the community either. Just my 2 cents worth.

  • Deborah

    by the way, we also tithe, which I think is very important… and while I don’t know the giving amounts for all of those in the community, we are one of the larger contributors to the church.
    If the church I serve were in difficulty financially I would willingly take a pay cut, money is not the important thing, it is all about living faithfully. Sadly, as a power and principality, money is the one factor that causes more marital strife than any other…so we need to be aware of its hold on us and the importance we place on financial compensation. I know the desperation that comes from not having enough money to cover everything, I also know what it is like living totally dependant on God for all things…

  • Travis Greene

    Better yet, why don’t those who are dentists take care of everybody’s teeth? And those who are builders build houses for those who are not?

  • Bob Smallman

    Some of these comments about pastoral salaries are wonderfully “romantic” (and maybe even “Christian”) notions, but I’m not sure they always factor in the humanity of our parishioners. When we came to our current congregation, we purchased the “manse” that the church had provided for its pastors for the previous 30 years. One of the first things we noticed was that our folks took far better care of their church building (which they saw each week) than of the home of the pastor’s family. This was not intentional but real nevertheless.
    With regard to pastoral pay, I see two emphases in the NT: 1) Admonitions to congregations that “the worker deserves his wages” (1 Tim 5:18); and yet 2) Repeated warnings to pastors not to confuse godliness and financial gain (1 Tim 6:5, Titus 1:7-12, etc.). Most pastors I know are convinced that we are overworked and under paid. Most effective pastors that I know have learned to be content with the fact that those are the realities of our calling. (And, by the way, they are the realities of most of our congregants as well!)

  • …how about Paul’s comments that he didn’t take anything from the church, but rather worked in a trade so that he could minister?
    Where does that fit into the ‘scriptural’ admonitions towards pastoral salaries?
    I am a bi-vocational church planter, I would love to have a salary that would free me up to focus on the people more, however, if I had to choose between Paul’s example of going now; financing the spread of the gospel with the sweat of my own brow, or waiting until some wealthy congregation could pay me; I will choose Paul’s example every time…
    I wouldn’t trade my life/work for anything, I will be grateful when I don’t have to do menial labor to feed my family, but i will do it till I die, if that is what it takes to continue in the task God has allowed me…