By Norman P. Smith
The Scriptures provide ample evidence that paying those who devote their lives to the proclamation of the gospel is authorized in the New Testament (Lk. 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:9,14; 2 Cor. 11:8; Phil. 4:16; 1 Tim. 5:18). The subject of pay for preachers is one that I’m convinced does not receive the consideration it deserves by most elderships and churches. I have never been a “full time” preacher, but having served as an elder in a fairly large congregation and having worked and worshiped in congregations that didn’t have elders, I know that in any meeting of the elders or men of the congregation when the idea of giving the preacher a raise is brought up, some individual will invariably say, “He is making more than I am already,” as if that should have any bearing on the matter! Generally speaking, a preacher’s salary comes at the mercy of the brethren. In considering pay for preachers I am afraid many brethren fail to understand the difference in the way preachers are paid and the way those of us who work in secular businesses are paid. Those who work in secular endeavors have many “perks” or advantages that preachers do not enjoy!
For income tax purposes most preachers are considered to be self-employed. This means they are required to pay approximately fifteen percent of their pay into the Social Security System in order to enjoy the benefits thereof in old age. Those employed in secular endeavors pay in about half that much with the “company” paying in that much or more for them. A few churches may pay this for the preacher, but not many do.
Life and Health Insurance
Most companies offer free or low-cost life and health insurance to their employees. Preachers have no such benefits. If the preacher wants life insurance for himself and health insurance for himself and his family he must pay for it from his salary. When he buys this he doesn’t get the advantage of low-cost group plans offered by other employers. Rather, he must pay the extremely high premiums of individual plans. The premiums for a small life insurance policy on the preacher and minimum health coverage for him and his family may well run into the neighborhood of $5,000 per year. Check it out?
Some churches own a “preacher’s home” that the preacher and his family are required to live in whether that is their preference or not. Thus, a preacher is furnished a “home” and doesn’t need as much salary. In this way the preacher(s) actually pay for the “preacher’s home” but never builds up an equity in a home for himself (as the rest of us do). Also, he does not have the privilege of taking the real estate taxes and mortgage interest payments off his income tax. Over a period of several years this can amount to a tidy sum!
Overtime, Vacation Pay and Longevity
Workers in the secular field, paid on an hourly basis, receive time and one half pay for any time worked over eight hours per day. Although I am not aware of any preacher who is required to punch a time clock, most preachers work much more than eight hours per day. Most companies give their employees paid holidays and paid vacations each year. If the local church allows the preacher a couple of weeks vacation, he usually has meetings scheduled for those weeks instead of being able to take his family on an extended trip. Also, preachers do not build up the advantages of longevity with reference to job security and job retention.
I have never been able to understand why, but in most churches where I have worked and worshiped, the preacher and his wife seem to be expected to do more entertaining in the home than other members of the church. This, too, may be a drain on the preacher’s finances. I’m not advocating an “entertainment allowance” for preachers, but I suggest this should be taken into consideration when determining how much we will pay the preacher.
Libraries and Study Aids
As a general rule, most preachers maintain a much larger library than most other members of the church. They must constantly buy study helps, such as commentaries, for their work. If you have purchased a new Bible or commentary or other study aid recently, you know how expensive they have become. Some churches maintain a good library for the use of the preacher and other members, but these are few and far between.
There are many other factors that should be figured in when we are determining what we should pay the preacher. Moving expenses, replacement of furniture and appliances damaged in a move, college tuition for the kids, extra clothing and cleaning bills (remember, the preacher and his family must look “presentable”), extra gasoline and car expenses (because he is expected to do more “visiting” since he has so much more time than the rest of us), and I am sure you can add to this list.
Some Other Considerations
Preachers do not have opportunities for promotion to higher paying positions as we do, unless some other church offers them a few bucks more than they are getting to come work with them. Perhaps that is why many preachers move every two or three years. Inflation rises, living costs go up, but too many brethren fail to see that need to give the preacher a raise. Maybe there would not be so much moving about if we, at least, allowed their salaries to keep up with inflation. It is no wonder that many preachers are tempted to go into a “sideline” business in order to supplement the meager salary some brethren want to pay. I know of some good men who have quit full-time preaching to take a secular job in order to provide a decent living for their families. They grow weary of having to “beg” for enough pay just to keep their heads above water!
I know two very capable, effective preachers, who have been preaching the gospel for more than 30 years each and have upheld the truth in debates with denominationalists as well as our institutional brethren. Over the years they have preached for large as well as small congregations and have preached uncountable meetings. One told me he has never received as much as $400 per week salary and the other said he has not had a raise in pay since 1980! Brethren, this is not as it should be! The cost of food, gasoline and everything else has gone up for the preacher as it has for the rest of us. And, I am confident that most of us have had several increases in pay over the past several years. Even those retired on Social Security receive regular cost of living increases!
I have not written this as a blanket condemnation of all churches. Some congregations pay their preacher well, a few pay more than the man is worth, but many pay far too little. There is no work more important than the preaching of the gospel. Therefore, when considering pay for the preaching, let us not be concerned that on the surface it looks like “He’s already making more than I am,” but let us consider all things involved. The laborer is worthy of his hire (Lk. 10:7).
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 10, pp. 300-301
May 21, 1992