Do you think churches should disclose to the church what a pastor makes in his salary?
I have counseled hundreds of people over the years and one thing that I promised them and take very seriously is that what they say to me is kept in strict confidence. I don’t share with anyone what someone has told me in private. If they want to share it, that’s fine, but I won’t. I always assume what anyone tells me is for my ears alone and not for anyone else, so a pastor must be above reproach as far as keeping private what they have heard in counseling others. Some men who have battled with pornography know that they can come to me and I will not share it with anyone else but God (in prayer). I want them to know that they can trust me with whatever they have said and will say, and that it will go no further. I think people are more likely to seek counseling to find the help they need if they know the pastor or other counselor will keep their counseling sessions strictly confidential.
Pastoral Search Committees
I have sat on a few Pastoral Search Committees and these committee members know ahead of time what the church is offering the prospective pastor as a salary and benefits. We don’t share this information with anyone else because the most important issue is who the church hires and not as much as how much they earn. Some churches have bylaws that prohibit a church from sharing the salary and benefits of a pastor and this includes, a prospective pastor, but the committee still must know what to offer a pastor in order to make him an offer. This has to be known in order to make or negotiate a compensation package that the pastor might accept. The salary depends very much upon the pastor’s experience and education, so all salaries are not equal in regards to position, just as it is in the world. The committee had to hold in strict confidence those things that the church offers the new or prospective pastor. So, in many cases, the church’s hands are tied. I believe that transparency is the best policy, but if there are policies in place that prohibit the church from sharing the salary of a new pastor. If the church doesn’t like this, they can vote to change it. In some cases, there are local and state laws that prohibit the sharing of anyone’s salary at a church, pastors included, and this is because of some privacy laws that are already in place; however these laws were intended for all occupations and not just the pastoral position.
In some cases, members may have a right under state law to receive the pastor’s “books and records” after reasonable written notice is given, and whether “books and records” includes the disclosure of individual salaries, which will be determined by the specific purpose of the request. We do know this; No local, state, or federal statute requires church employee salaries to be disclosed to the public or to the church membership. In general, no statute requires the salaries of individual church employees to be disclosed to members in financial reports, but in some cases, the church itself prohibits this information. It is common practice for smaller churches to disclose to the congregation the pastor’s salary, but in larger churches, that information is typically kept private. Church members are free to request that information from the church office, but most will not receive anything in writing, but only verbally. Since the pastor’s salary is paid from contributions from the members, aren’t those members entitled to know what the pastor earns? I think they should know because non-profits make the salaries of their top executives known to the public, so why shouldn’t church pastors?
Obviously, church boards must know how much the pastor makes in salary and in benefits because they must figure such items into yearly budget. They don’t want to know these figures simply out of curiosity but for the purpose of maintaining a budget for the church. In the world, would we demand how much a co-worker is paid? No, because employers are not required to do so, and in some cases, they are simply not allowed to do that. Honestly, some churches don’t provide salary information because it is so small or in some cases, it is quite significant. At the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability (ECFA), they require that member organizations provide audited financial statements on request because they are concerned about the effect of how a church’s money is spent in regards to non-believers, citing Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which states “For we are taking pains go do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2nd Cor 8:21). The Apostle Paul was saying that transparency is the best policy and I believe he is right.
I am a bi-vocational pastor and must work two jobs in order to support my family because our church is so small, they are unable to provide me with a salary, and that’s okay. That doesn’t’ bother me at all. I didn’t enter the ministry (obviously) to make money. I get paid only a pulpit supply with absolutely no benefits (at least in this age). The Apostle Paul reminds us in the context of the pastor’s labor, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages” (1st Tim 5:18) and that “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1st Tim 5:17), and so “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1st Cor 9:14). I believe we need to share this information with the church board, the church membership, and even the public. We have no need to keep this information from the public or the church. There is nothing wrong with a good salary and benefits package, because “The laborer deserves his wages” (1st Tim 5:18b), even if it’s a seemingly small or insignificant amount like mine, which is $125 a week.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.