Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Sensitivity of Your Pastor's Wages

Believe me, I've heard them all about my workload as a solo pastor:

"So...what is it that you do all week?"

"It must be nice having a one day workweek."

"How could you not have any time this week for (fill in the blank)?!"

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pastor too because I didn't want to work a lot!"

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now, my workweek is usually a 40 hour one to start as a baseline, and ironically, Sunday is sometimes the day I work the fewest number of hours (though, as any preaching pastor will attest to, Sundays are the most demanding day in terms of energy).  But I work Mondays through Thursdays in addition to Sunday, and usually, that includes at least one evening per week for teaching Bible study and sometimes a second evening a week for other church events (music jams, wedding rehearsals, and the like), so 40 hours tends to be the minimum.  Most pastors, in fact, probably work more hours than I do: 90 percent of us work a fifty hour workweek or more.

Increasingly, though, not all of those hours are actually coming in the service of parish ministry.  More and more of us are serving churches that cannot afford a full time pastor's wages, and thus must work another job in addition to pastoring in order to adequately provide for their household.  The Atlantic characterized this arrangement in a no nonsense way: "churches and seminaries have a euphemistic term for it: bi-vocational ministry."

That Atlantic article got shared around on my Facebook feed yesterday by several of my friends and colleagues, and for good reason, too: this is their livelihood (and mine) we are talking about here.

And that's no small thing when you consider that many (though certainly not all) of us had to earn master's degrees in order to serve in the ministries we currently are at...and some larger parishes will even require that their senior pastor have a doctorate!

There's a double edged sword to all of this as well, because while a pastor may well be correct in believing that s/he is underpaid, that belief can quickly transform into a martyr complex of, "Well, they just don't appreciate me or all the things I do for them."

However...I do think that this can be avoided (or potentially prevented altogether, really) by, well, paying your pastor fairly.  The Atlantic article I link to above notes that the median pastor's annual wages are $43,800, and that is only slightly higher than my own gross annual wages of $42,000.  Considering that I have less experience than most pastors, that's reasonable.

The rub, though, comes in through another factor that the Atlantic cites and offers a link to: giving to churches as a percentage of income by congregants is down from 3.1 percent in 1968 to 2.3 percent today (though the traditional standard for giving to church is a tithe, 10 percent, but that's another post for another time).  Combined with the well documented decrease in church attendance across the board, it's not a matter of rocket science to understand that with church incomes stagnating, clergy wages (and the ability of churches to afford clergy to begin with) are likewise stagnating or decreasing.

Thanks to the Great Recession, wages across the board have stagnated, and most of the jobs created during the recovery from it are part time.  In that respect, we clergy are in some ways living with the exact same consequences as our fellow Christians from the Great Recession.

But unlike other jobs, ours is emphatically not a punch the clock sort of gig.  We work evenings (see above).  We work weekends (again, see above).  And we're on call for pastoral emergencies 24/7, even on our days off.  As one of my colleagues (who shall remain anonymous) said to me when their church moved them to part time status, "There's no such thing as part time ministry, only part time wages."

We are, then, caught in a conundrum of working a job that requires uncommon and sometimes extensive hours, but at lower wages than the already modest pay being offered to clergy.  And that is, I think, probably one of the newest and biggest reasons why wages are such a sensitive topic between churches and their pastors today.

I promise this: we, my fellow pastors and I, are not in this line of work to get rich (the cartoon at the top I just added because I thought it looked goofy).  We understood that we were likely leaving some earning potential on the table in order to say yes to God's call to each of us.  We knew what we were signing up for.

But that doesn't mean that clergy compensation needs to be a topic that is danced around or only tackled in furtive whispers amid the rumor mill.  It is part and parcel of being the church and of building up the kingdom.

And if we are simultaneously honest and sensitive with ourselves and with each other about that reality, there need not be resentment on either side of the open table that we sit at by right of being the church.

Yours in Christ,

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