Advocating for Your Own Pay


When is it appropriate for a pastor to advocate for changes in his own compensation? If a pastor is “not a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3), shouldn’t he take whatever the church gives him without complaining? I believe a pastor should take an active role in making sure his pay package is adequate. But there are a few things to keep in mind when you (pastors) do this. 

Be careful that you don’t mislead your church as to how much you cost. Assume your church wants to see that you “lack nothing.” Help them do their job! Imagine you’re getting ready to pastor a church. You take the job even though the pay seems low. You think to yourself, “I can make this work for now, and I’m sure we can adjust things later.” 

But you don’t make that clear when you are hired. Now, three years in, you find you need to take a second job to make ends meet, and you resent the church for not taking better care of you (which may be a valid concern). But remember: you accepted the job without complaint—and you’re only now telling them that you need more money, and that you’ve always known you’ll need more money. Do you see how they might feel misled? 

Another factor to keep in mind if you’re the main preaching pastor is that your pay package will be the basis for compensating any future staff. For their sakes, help your church come to an appropriately generous compensation philosophy. The reality is that someday you’ll need to be replaced, so don’t get your church accustomed to unrealistic expectations in how much they need to pay a pastor. If they pay you more than you need, just quietly give it back! 

How then should you talk about your own pay? Not in the context of negotiation, but in the context of trust, with the purpose of providing accurate information. You might say something like this: “To be honest, that figure isn’t going to work for my family in the long term. For the next year or so, my wife can get a job and we will gladly make this work. But if I’m going to be here long term, which I’d really like, we’ll eventually need to move toward a figure more like $XX,XXX. Otherwise, you’ll need to find a less expensive pastor.”  

Be sure to consider any additional factors that might influence your compensation, like experience or the size of the church. Keep in mind that if you’re young and inexperienced, you probably don’t deserve the pay package your predecessor had. Here are four suggestions for talking with your church about your compensation: 

  1. Keep the conversation private. Ideally, this conversation is between you and a designated leader in your church—perhaps the chair of your compensation committee or the chair of your session. More generally, it’s wise for the church to have one lay leader as the point person on all matters of compensation (ideally a non-staff pastor/elder). This way, one person in authority will accept full responsibility for these issues without holding any personal bias. 
  2. Your goal is to provide information, not to negotiate. Unless you’re really at the point where finances might force you out of the job, don’t pretend that they’ll lose you if they don’t boost your pay. 
  3. Assume they want what you want. Many churches desire to pay their pastors generously, in line with Scriptural admonitions. Before you accuse them of being too stingy, ask them about their objectives for your compensation. You may be surprised to discover that you’re all working for the same goal, even if there is disagreement on how to get there. 
  4. Don’t make them do all the work. Work through your personal budget, complete with ministerial tax implications, and humbly ask for their feedback on your expectations and lifestyle. 

Pay Principles to Agree on 

The group that sets pastoral pay should agree on which compensation principles the church should be committed to. Which items in this list can/should you agree to? 

  • We will pay pastors such that they can support a family on this income alone. 
  • We will pay pastors such that they can afford to live near where our church meets. 
  • We will pay pastors such that they can save for retirement (if this isn’t already included in the compensation benchmarks you use). 
  • We will pay pastors enough that they can give money away. 
  • We will base a pastor’s total comp package on one or more suitable external benchmarks. 
  • We will err on the side of being generous. 


What’s the goal in setting staff pay? The goal is to make the vulnerable relationship between a church and its staff feel safe for your staff. You want to ensure their ministry is not hampered by financial concerns. And you want to equip your congregation for works of service. In all this, staff are a means to an end: God-glorifying ministry in the church.  

Editor’s note: This article is taken from Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry by Jamie Dunlop, ©2019. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Jamie Dunlop

Jamie Dunlop is an associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC.

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