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June 21, 2009


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A churches' finances should available to any member of the church. That includes the salary of any member of the staff or parish. The contributions from individual members of the church shouldn't be shown to anyone outside the finance committee, but the combined total should be available.

Good question. I agree with David. I feel that anybody who is a member of the church should be educated on the churches' finances. They are a part of the church -- they deserve to know.

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I agree, the church's finances should be an open book to members. We give our money and entrust its care to the church leaders, but that doesn't mean no accountability for how it's spent.

I also agree with making 100% of church staff 100% accountable for publicly revealing their income. This starts at the pastor and goes straight down, to the sexton (whatever the hell they are!) and janitorial staff levels.

Why should this be any different than how a public school system operates? In my district, every employee's salary and benefits are public, widely available to anyone that wants to see them. Just like in a church, we (the tax-paying community) pay their salaries and, therefore, we have a right to know. The only difference is, a church is not supported by taxes, it is supported by feeble, weak-minded, brainwashed people who feel some need to give away their hard earned money and get almost nothing in return.

I would not be surprised if our pastor made six figures, plus benefits and bonuses. The church is just like any other business. Its ONLY goal is to make money and lots of it. Don't hide behind the truth and deny that your pastor isn't just like any other businessman, focused on increasing profits, minimizing loses and taking as much money as possible from we, his "customers". All the other touchy-feely stuff is just brainwashed marketing, specifically designed to sugarcoat the truth about the true and evil business of religion.

I would type more about why the church is such a terrible place to waste your hard-earned money, but I am late for church service, seriously!

Good Morning,

I agree with everyone else here. The salary of at least everyone above a certain level should be an open book. I am not so concerned about the janitor or admin professionals, but certainly the Pastors. I belong to one of the mega churches here in the Atlanta area, and would not be surprised if the lead Pastor hit 7 figures. The other Pastors (most of whom used to have their own churches) likely make a minimum of 6 figures.

BTW, thanks for your blog. I normally read it every day.

Well. . . .how would YOU feel about all your friends, neighbors and family knowing exactly how much you make, including benefits, and having your financial choices be the subject of supermarket aisle gossip?

If you wouldn't like it- if you'd resent people's judgments, opinions, and projections onto your life, including their assumptions about how you "should" budget your money- why would you want pastor, rabbi, or other spiritual leader to go through that?

Isn't "do unto others" also a part of Biblical religion? and if so- why wouldn't that include some reasonable expectation of privacy for the spiritual leader in at least some parts of his or her family life? (Please note, also, that's a key part- the pastor's family is judged right along with the pastor, and they didn't necessarily sign up for it.)

I think that it's up to the individual church. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here.

It is all about accountability. Being a nonprofit, those that belong and contribute to its tax-exempt status should know how that money is being used. While the vast majority of churches are for a public good I do believe there are abuses - just look at the priest/child abuse scandals. Another good example is the "right to tell" laws - if a criminal confesses a crime to their pastor or minister, does the public have a right to know in order to prosecute to the full extent of the law? We are reaching an age when finances as well as many other areas should be transparent when they are for the common good and part of the public/private interface.

Every church I've ever been a part of has had the general body vote on the budget, which included pastoral salary and other salaries. I think it's a great way to do it.

As for "do unto others", I don't mind people knowing exactly what I make including benefits... ESPECIALLY if they're the ones paying me. They have no reason to know how I spend my money, but they do have reason to know how much they're paying me. (And if they want to know how I spend it, I'd show them -- people could learn a lot just from looking at my budget!)

I am the son of a small town pastor. The high-paid church leaders are the exception, not the rule. As far as pay goes, my father received some wisdom from his mentor:

Paraphrased quote: At first you will be over-paid; quickly, you will earn your salary; and after a decade, the church can never afford to pay you what you are worth.

Bigger churches (Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Joel Osteen, etc.) have led to big paychecks; and even bigger payoffs from books, tv deals, and seminars. I think the money would be best used in the ministry. You would have to know what the pastor does with the money he receives to determine if the pay is appropriate, but in my view, he/she should be a servant and not a rock star.

I have now been attending my current church for just over 12 years. Currently I am head of a church board and so am on the Church executive council, so yes I know how much each of the pastoral staff make. This is a much more complex issue than people seem to think. There is no question that the total compensation package for all hired staff needs to be open to all church members, which it is. Even that is a bit misleading because most people are not aware of the true cost of their employer providing them with their salary, so likely many church members think the pastoral staff are making 25% more than they actually are.

I do not think the actual salary of each member is helpful. A Church is not like a government, it is more like a family and as such there is room for discretion. If all members of the congregation were willing to post their givings along with their names, then I would agree that the individual salaries of the pastoral staff could be published. What a person makes and how much other their money they give is a private matter.

Our denomination has a guideline pay scale for the various positions in the church. I like that and wish more denominations used such a scale. It gives the compensation committee at the church as sense of where we fit in. Our church is a little more generous than the top of the scale, but then our member are quite a bit wealthier than the average for our denomination.
In the end, overall staff compensation package YES, actual salary by position NO. My only caveat is that there should be a compensation committee to ensure that there is some equity with similar roles in similar sized churches, and that once you get much beyond twice the average industrial wage, I think you are heading towards a whole host of other issues that disclosure will not address.

So no, I can think of no pastoral staff person who is worth $600,000. My parting comment would be for those pastors to read 'Jim and Casper Go to Church' before demanding such an insane salary.

Looks like Mary the Teacher got up on the wrong side of the bed today.

As for the topic at hand, I believe there always should be transparency in church finances. I also come at this from a different perspective. We need to make sure that those that serve us (pastors, etc.) are provided for in a proper way. Often, people feel like they should live a life in poverty and that is wrong. I just cannot understand why they are often treated that way.

Great post. I am a church administrator and have been involved in church finances for over 15 years now. Part of my responsibility is to recommend salaries for all staff at our church. My policy is that the church's books are always open to anyone who wants to see them, and that would include salaries. I have only had 2 people ever ask me about salaries. Most members trust that the leadership are being good managers with God's money. Because the salaries and raises are merit based, we do not publish individual salaries. The only staff member who knows what everyone makes (besides me) is the senior pastor who ultimately decides on merit raises based on an evaluation process. We do also have a time in service based raises so there is some ability to increase just through longevity. This policy seems to work best for our church.

What a question! In what way would knowing how much your pastor makes be of use to you? It's possible that knowing your pastor's salary could make you look/treat him differently. If you thought he makes to much, would you then expect more or him or judge what he does more harshly. In our culture (America) we have a certain expection when it comes to money. We often start to treat people who "serve us" as servants (at your beck and call, judged harshly when things aren't done the way you think it should be done and subject to firing because they can't meet our expections (which often times is impossible to meet, anyway). And frankly, most pastors are underpaid at best for all the crap they put up with, for all the secrets (about others) they must keep. And when the horrific happens to someone they counseled and the person ignored the counsel (i.e. they committed suicide even though he sat with them for hours trying to help them) the incredible guilt and questioning they must go through. You couldn't pay me to take that job.

Now, let's talk about mega churches. Yes, those guys are the rock stars of religion and bring in big bucks. But those big bucks come at a price.....everyone is watching you. Every purchase, every action, and every word is magnified. You can not even appear to be human (shed tears of frustion, be angry at having your privacy invaded, see where I'm going with this). Even rock stars are allowed to be human and make mistakes (sometimes in public).

"In what way would knowing how much your pastor makes be of use to you?"

I would never argue that a person should know the pastor's salary separate from the rest of the budget. But in conjunction with the rest of the budget,

1) it lets me know how the church budget voters (whether a committee or the whole body) see money matters -- what do they choose to spend most of their money on? What do they think is a priority?

2) it lets me know if my contributions will be used wisely in this church or if I should consider redirecting them to other ministries.

3) it lets me evaluate the financial struggles the church may be going through, and whether I should give extra in order to keep ministries going or if any extra I give is just going to line someone's pockets.

4) ultimately, it (along with many other things) lets me know if I'm in the right place, or if I should move on to another church

As a pastor,
I'm struck by Mary's response. In some ways, I think its true that many churches function on a business model, and heaven knows bringing in money is part of the pastoral function. If you can't keep the doors open, you worked yourself out of a job.

On the other hand, there are many religious groups (Church the Brethren, Quakers) that don't have a tradition of paid pastoral ministry that still have churches. If Pastors aren't worth the money, you're more than welcome to go to a church that doesn't pay one, or one where you have more authority over their salary.

For example, my congregation tries very hard to keep money going to causes outside the congregation at least 30% of the budget, with another 30% utilities and maintenance, and the solo pastor consuming the rest. It seems like you can look at a congregation and see where excess money goes and determine how 'business focused' they really are. All in all, it seems a little odd to conclude that the business of religion is deeply sinful, and then perpetuate the machine with your attendance. I'd be curious to hear you unpack why you go to a church that follows a business model you are uncomfortable with.

Also, I don't mind my congregation knowing how much I make, I think it makes theological sense, but it drives my wife crazy, particularly knowing there are several families in the congregation that make less than us.

The earnings of a pastor should be semi-private. The pastor needs to report to some sort of "board of directors" which could be the "church elders" for example. Those people should decide what the pastor makes, and therefore, also know what he makes. Additionally, a financial disclosure statement should be provided to all the donating members so they know how their donations are used. One expense category could be administrative costs, which would include the pastor's salary.

In an era where transparency is the salve that heals all wounds, Pastors should have no problem disclosing how much they make. Furthermore, church members need to know the how the IRS allows the clergy to exclude housing and other allowances from reported income.

If these loopholes were not in place, I wonder if we would have a church on every corner? I guess that's why we say "In God We Trust."

Additionally, I find it hard to "believe" that Jesus would be so secretive with his finances.

In an era where transparency is the salve that heals all wounds, Pastors should have no problem disclosing how much they make. Furthermore, church members need to know the how the IRS allows the clergy to exclude housing and other allowances from reported income.

If these loopholes were not in place, I wonder if we would have a church on every corner? I guess that's why we say "In God We Trust."

Additionally, I find it hard to "believe" that Jesus would be so secretive with his finances.

Stl Pastors response made we wonder... What if the pastor's salary was not a fixed amount but a fixed percentage of the money given by the members? I suppose it would give him incentive to keep people coming and contributing regularly, but his income could vary a lot.

I know a small town minister who makes about half the poverty level. His wife already owned a house when they met and makes enough to support them, so he doesn't need the money. When the church has budget problems he actually argues for less money. I think his actions may be a little extreme but I believe that's the attitude a pastor should have. It's his mission to keep the church functioning and he shouldn't be raking in more than he needs to live if other programs in the church would suffer as a result.

It could possibly make sense to publish the personnel budget as a whole rather than individual workers.

Why are we allowing ourselves to worry about the pay of the pastor? Shouldn't we be focused more on living a life that is right before God? And if we are truly believers in the one true God, then we should know that He will not stand by and let his people be taken advantage of. The salaries of pastors are between them and the church board, that I hope were elected by the membership. This group is accountable to the church membership and to God Himself.
There are so many people out there that need us to witness to them about Jesus Christ,therefore I believe that we should be worring more about how to reach these indivduals, rather than how much the pastor makes.

Anthony, I see what you're saying and I agree with you.

On the other hand, I believe transparency is still ideal, as priesthood is not immune to corruption and abuse.

To me, the matter of church administration policies isn't the same issue as believing in God.

As the saying goes, "In God we trust. All others go through NCIC."

In our church, the individual salaries are kept private, but the total amount budgeted for salaries is made public. I believe that if you make individual salaries public you leave the staff and pastors open to criticism, resentment and speculation from church members, who for some reason or another, may be jealous or disapprove of their salary.

Given the recent economic collapse, my church is hurting for revenue and we're told about that every Sunday. Wouldn't it be relevant to know that the pastor is making $75,000 (plus parsonage in a $2.5 million house), which I find reasonable, as opposed to making $400,000, plus all the perks? In one example it's pretty clear why the church is having serious financial problems, and asking for more money every Sunday.

In my opinion the salary of anyone on church staff should be available on request to anyone in the congregation. I honestly don't see a good reason to keep salaries a secret. If I asked my pastor how much he makes a year and he wouldn't answer then I'd have a concern about why he wouldn't share that information.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has a lay clergy and are not paid.

theologically the problem with having the pastor's salary based on a percentage of giving is that it sets up even stronger motivating factors to push a pastor to curry favor with the wealthiest members of the congregation, and set up the church structure in such a way as to reward the biggest givers. Numbers matter, and its good to encourage pastors to evangelize, but money matters more. In most congregations, a small percentage of the families give the lion's share of the collection.
Paul makes it pretty clear in 1st Corinthians 10 that weighting the church toward the wealthy is ethically questionable, even if practically useful.

If Mary the Teacher is being even half serious (it really sounds like parody) I feel sorry for her.

There are good reasons for publishing this information and for keeping it secret. I tend to favor publishing the information because keeping it secret gives the appearance of impropriety.

The fact is that, as a group, pastors are the lowest paid professionals in the US (teachers being the second least paid, which may explain some of Mary's anger ;-)

US Government salaries are public information. Anybody can find out those salaries and everyone lives with the fact that their neighbor can know their salary. I don't see why a church should keep this secret from its members as my church does not keep it secret. In fact, part of my church's annual meeting is approving the budget, including all salaries. Secrecy is an open invitation to abuse and is often associated with the more outlandish salaries and perks. If a minister is earning a fair salary, why should it be a secret? Leaving that information with just the Church Board is an invitation to a minister packing the board with loyalists and abusing trust of members.

Hello,I am concerned about our pastors control of the church finances and was curious if anyone else has run across this issue. The church is pastor led with no elders or deacons. There are no over site committees of any kind. He has a group of 5 paid staff that make all financial and ministry decisions. They set their own pay and will not tell the congregation what they make, even after we ask. The pastor also has a 10k per year fund he can spend at his total discretion. He also knows how much everyone gives to the church. They have a "budget meeting" once a year but it is really just a report of where the money was spent the previous year. They have a member of the church prepare the spending report but she doesn't give the report. She is not even present at the annual meeting. When questions are asked we are seen and labeled as trouble makers and made to seem as we don't trust the pastor. If there is nothing to hide ten why won't he be more transparent. Comments ?

Jerry --

I'll post your question in a couple of Sundays. Stay tuned.

The church finances including the staff salaries should always be transparent and make available to any church member upon request.

Remuneration committee selected by the church members should decide on the pastors pay. Using a denomination guideline is extremely helpful, so we are not too far off the mark. However, we should take into consideration the cost of living in different areas especially the housing cost.

Senior pastor should not and never be the one deciding his own pay. This is to protect the senior pastor from any unnecessary accusation. However, he should have a say on his staff salary.

Trust in the Lord that he is ultimately the one providing.

I have worked as a bookkeeper in a couple of churches. The pastor's were good men, but even then, I became aware that sometimes there is a stretch of re-imbursement in areas beyond the salary (which was very generous). Dining expenses for guests is one area where often occasion was created for an expensive meal for guest speakers in which the pastor abused the privilege in my opinion. When I worked my employer provided crew dinners and his rule of thumb when we went to an expensive place was "if you usually eat filet mignon when you are buying, then go ahead and eat that way. But if not, then don't go to the most expensive thing just because I am paying for your meal." Good advice for pastors. I do think annual business meetings and disclosure of expenses is a good way to create some accountability for being good stewards of funds God has provided through His people who give in accordance with Scriptural instruction. "The servant is worthy of his hire." Scripture really does not support excesses, in my understanding. If a pastor is serving for the size of his salary, God will judge him accordingly. He should serve because he is called to serve, no matter what the salary. In God's economy, things run a little differently than the world's economy.

I think the pastor should be as open to what the church pays him as much as each individual is willing to be open to what they make. Why is it that the pay of a pastor is looked up as "evil" but no one questions the pay of any other person and their occupation in the church. Seems hypocritical to me.
Somehow people in the church think a pastor should not be paid. Well maybe they should not be paid to work. Maybe we should all just work for free.
It is my experience the people who complain the loudest are those who give the least in the church. I think this is what one calls jealousy.

I spent more than 10 years as church paid staff. More years earlier unpaid. YES the salaries should be open knowledge, the pastor's salary and everyone else’s that gets money from the church offerings. This would keep so many unfair, undercover things from happening. To make a long story short, from someone that has seen the inside of the inner workings of a church, unfairness can happen under the disguise of secrecy. Secrecy allows favoritism and paybacks, or the old worldly way of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” My eyes were opened to that, with a pastor that everybody just loved. Little did they know what he was really like behind closed doors. His methods were never found out because of the secrecy he demanded about EVERYTHING. This way he didn’t have to comment following someone’s question because he always said he couldn’t reveal that information. Those on staff ,who had wealthy parents who gave a lot of money to the church, were paid the most. Those on staff who had parents who paid for vacations for the pastor, or gave big gifts directly to the pastor were paid more. Others on staff learned that if they were always bragging on the pastor to other people, they got more money. On and on and on. Women weren’t paid as much as the men, doing the same job. (They also didn’t have the general privileges as the men.) I knew this pastor had money issues, and was always bragging how much he made at various jobs, or even how much his children were making. Slowly I realized that he had no integrity at all, I caught him in many lies and schemes. I was under the conviction that one should protect their pastor, even their shortcomings or character flaws, or even their humanity. But I finally learned that I couldn’t protect his SIN. I once thought that the love of MONEY was his biggest problem, but as an old saying goes “follow the money.” I learned that he was flirting with a young woman in church, which I saw myself. Finally my heart broke to learn that he was plagiarizing ALL his sermons from the internet. If only I knew to see that his money problems preceded or even created other problems. Or maybe, I just needed to SEE. So YES, reveal the salaries of the pastor and staff. Perhaps transparency is better than secrecy.

What about this scenario? Pentecostal Leading Pastors - Husband and wife team, Assistant Pastor - their daughter, 2 Elders - their other daughter and son in law. These people are the only decision makers. Deacons are not family members and are not part of any decision making. Pastor X will not disclose financial affairs to even long time followers ( in fact it was told to me that when asked the message is "his way or the highway" and the onus is put on any questioning person to leave if they can not trust him because God tells him what to do. He is quite charismatic and likes the limelight. Very entertaining and good with words and preaches a good message. History of past indiscretion. I was always led to believe that there is only one reason why someone will not be open with their books.

I agree with full disclosure to an extent. Please allow me to explain. I am a Sr. Pastor. The board of trustees and the finance team (two different groups of people) know my housing allowance amount as well as my salary amount. The board of trustees set my housing allowance and salary. I went into Full-time ministry 2 years ago, and I make about 1/3 of my previous secular salary. (for example if I made $90,000/yr I now make $30,000/yr). The financial adjustment was by far the toughest adjustment for my family of four.

I have said at our church business meetings if anyone wants to know how much the church gives me they are more than welcome to come to the office and review the church budget in depth. We do disclose the church's finances at our church business meeting. We have categories like administrative costs which include my housing allowance and salary.

We used to have the business meetings with full disclosure (of all line items)but then the general membership did not understand why we spent $300 on toilet paper (real-life example). So the board of trustees voted to have business meetings with limited disclosure on all line items and general categories. (i.e before Pastoral Housing allowance $1,800/mo salary $500/mo and now these two numbers are placed in the administrative costs category).

Just wanted to chime in on the subject matter. In every occupation/calling you have persons who abuse their privilege and power. The church is no different.

Why do you need to go to church to be reminded that you have to live your life the right way such as don't harm people, love them for who they are, do'nt commit sins then ask for forgiveness and then have to pay your hard earn money to the pastor. Can you just remember the things that you suppose to do instead of going to church to be remind of?

I was wondering about the issue myself. People can have opinions but aren't there some sort of "Privacy Act" laws? If there are, do they apply to clergy workers (I.e. pastors and paid staff) as well ? I'm really curious... If there is anybody that is well versed in laws concerning wages and private information with respect to pastors' salaries and paid church staff, your input is much appreciated! Thank y'all !!

God bless,

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