How much should you pay church staff? #2

When our Association Committee reviewed our staff salary packages, we asked the question, “How should staff pay compare to other salaries?”

When we looked to the Bible, we found a bunch of passages that gave us some good principles which we could apply to staff salaries. There are also some places where ministry staff pay is discussed directly. Looking at some of these, there are three main conclusions we established.

1. It’s a job, just like everyone else’s job

When Paul writes to Timothy he tells him that:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

By Double Honour, he is referring to the honour of the position as well as financial remuneration. You can’t expect an ox to work without its food, and nor can we expect a HBC staff worker to go without fair pay. In fact, our staff are in a honourable position, which you’d think would typically attract an honourable pay packet. Some people might be tempted on occasion to think that Ministry Workers should be poor, or at the very least, shouldn’t get paid more than “me”. Perhaps this misconception comes from the fact that so many people volunteer for ministry work. But Paul pretty much slams that here, as does Jesus when he said it to the 72 disciples. Nowhere does Paul (or Jesus) say that the worker is worth a poor wage.

2. It’s up to the church family to generate the money to pay our staff

In Galatians, it’s made very clear:

the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

And it’s not out of obligation that we pay our staff, but out of love that we share all good things. We don’t hold back; we want others to have what we have. But what about those of us that don’t earn much? How can I be expected to give towards staff that earn more than I do? It’s important here to not confuse church with a charity. With charitable giving we give to people who earn less than us because they are in some way worse off than we are and we want to demonstrate compassion and justice. But church is not a charity – we give because we want to have people in our church who can teach us and lead us. Our staff are incredibly wise and skilful people – in most cases they have two or more degrees and bunch of other training. We give to them out of love and appreciation rather than pity or compassion.

3. We don’t want money to be a burden, because we want staff to love their jobs

And we can see the underlying principle here in Hebrews, where the writer tells them:

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

And Paul encourages the Thessalonians…

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

You might argue that we should just cover their needs. Some churches take that approach, and indeed Paul took that approach for himself. But it’s not a Biblical expectation for all churches. As Paul instructed Timothy earlier – the staff SHOULD be paid. And we see here in Hebrews and 1Thessalonians that we should be caring for our leaders and making sure they are not burdened, and of course financial pressure can be a massive burden, leading to:

  • Negative impact on spouse relationship
  • Impact staff kids’ view of the church
  • Resentment – “I’m busting a gut, but struggling to make ends meet for these people who (financially) don’t seem to care.”

To be free from burden means that our staff should not have to forego the many things that we enjoy. We could argue that they have the same ‘needs’ as you and I – including the need for safe and comfortable housing, family health care and education, recreation, and so on.

Therefore; staff salaries should be:

  • Comparable, according to the work they do
  • Provided by us – the church
  • Tending on the side of “more than they need” (rather than “less than they need”)

Tomorrow… What should they compare to?


2 thoughts on “How much should you pay church staff? #2

  1. I know these are deliberately short, Dave, and so you can’t cover everything. but what about the danger to greed, and temptation to ‘do ministry’ for money – i.e.., take on other ‘paid’ ministries (weddings) and so be distracted, or be tempted to sidle up to the richer folk in the congregation angling for *small* gifts, or pursue other sorts of remuneration (books, computers, petrol etc.)? And on the other side (paying too much), the danger to greed, wrong motivations to be in ministry etc etc. Greed seems to be irrelevant to financial position so maybe it’s not the best word to use here. What I mean is — you mention the burdens of paying too little, but I think another burden is the desire/necessity to make up the gap — and that could be a big problem for someone in leadership/ministry (especially if you can claim expenses…).

    Oops – just read the first post. Thanks for mentioning ‘love of money’. My point is, I think, that it should be in this post as well.


  2. Dave, Thanks for these. I find this a very difficult area and I really have little idea of how much we should pay our church workers. I really appreciate your comments and they are helpful, but I think sometimes you overstate your case.

    Regarding 1 – certainly the worker deserves his wages, but can we automatically equate that to a ‘full time stipend/salary’ – why not an honorarium?

    Regarding 2 – I’m also not quite sure you can equate ‘sharing all good things’ with paying a healthy salary to a dedicated church worker. Paul was an itinerant minister and Galatians could easily be also read in that context, hence meaning you can’t draw an easy conclusion to the parish minister.

    Regarding 3 – I tend to agree that staff ‘should’ be paid, but it’s unclear that you can make the jump that the ‘leaders’ and those who oversee you are automatically paid staff of the church. Does this also mean that we should pay Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, service leaders?

    Hence whilst I really appreciate your comments and thoughts, I can’t quite see how you can easily justify your conclusions from the exegesis you’ve done.

    I’m not sure I can offer much better analysis or exegesis, as I said, this is an issue I really struggle with. Thanks for your thoughts and look forward to your comments. Thanks.

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