Having worked as a church secretary for almost a quarter of a century, I have seen many changes in how churches operate. The first church I worked for employed 3 full-time pastors and offered 2 worship services weekly as well as a prayer service.
My current employer has a single full-time pastor, who does visitation and presides over 1 service for most of the year. And the church is struggling to meet their budget. I don’t believe this is because they are not good stewards of the money given by the congregation. Rather, it is a sign of the times.
After the recent recession, the cost of just about everything has risen – including the benefits paid to a full-time pastor.
As a result of this, as well as the trend away from church attendance by young people, churches across the country have had to take a long hard look at how they operate. Most are trying to find better solutions to the problem of paying staff. More and more mainline churches have had to cut their ministers to half or even quarter-time compensation.
Modern Circuit Riders
One solution the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has been toying with is a rebirth of the old concept of “circuit riders.” Of course, they aren’t called that in the 21st century, but that is essentially what the ministers are called to do.
When two or more churches in an area are struggling to hire a pastor, they will join together and call one person to serve them all. This is often, though not always, coupled with a combining of the different congregations into one building, with services alternating to accommodate the churches involved. This further reduces the financial burden on any individual body.
The Bi-Vocational Pastor
The other major shift in hiring pastors involves asking the minister to absorb some of the cost of his employment by working another job in addition to the pastorate. Usually the second position is something the person has been trained for– maybe even a profession he or she worked in before studying for the ministry.
A recent article stated, “Most mainline churches in the U.S. pay their ministers, but 30 percent have a part-time pastor…” The trend is growing and is certainly the solution many churches are turning to at this point.
Is Free Ever Worth It?
The final solution sometimes proposed is to ask a pastor to start (or take over) a church, working without pay until the body grows enough to support him. This is frequently done by calling the pastor as a missionary, funded by a Mission Board (or by individual supporters) for a time. As opposed to the bi-vocational route, this approach allows the minister to spend time in the community, doing things which would encourage the growth of the church.
The Problems and Benefits
While these solutions greatly reduce the financial burden for the church, each places additional pressure on the pastor involved. Since most members of the clergy have families, either serving multiple churches or working 2 jobs means less time with loved ones, and fewer opportunities to live out the biblical commands for raising godly children.
On the flip side, any one of these solutions allows fledgling churches the opportunity to grow under the guidance of a trained minister. The hope is that the church will soon be able to absorb more and more of the pastor’s salary and benefit needs, freeing him for full-time ministry.
There is an additional benefit for the minister, too, though it may not be as obvious. Working in the secular world provides many opportunities to interact with and influence non-Christian co-workers with the message of the gospel. It also gives the pastor a clearer picture of what the members of the church face on a daily basis as they go to work.
A pastor willing to go the extra mile and work another job to maintain his position in the church deserves a lot of credit. His congregation can rest assured that he is dedicated to them and his position, as the extra effort demonstrates.
Having a part-time pastor also encourages the congregation to take on more of the burdens typically handled by a pastor. Members must take a more active role and use their God-given gifts and talents to keep the church moving forward. This would certainly strengthen most churches.
The apostle Paul is noted for his bi-vocational ministry. He used his income from making tents to fund many of his journeys and to help him start and grow new churches. Several of the other apostles were fishermen. While we don’t know for sure how long they stayed in the profession after they began to serve in the church, we know they continued to fish as they followed Jesus.
So, should churches pay their pastors? Churches are painfully aware of the biblical mandate: “Workers deserve their pay.” (1 Timothy 5:18 CEB) The ministry is not an easy profession, and most pastors work far more hours than their pay reflects. So, to answer the question, “Should churches pay their pastors?” I state with biblical certainty, “yes!” Should they consider a bi-vocational pastor as part of their stewardship plan? Again, I would have to say, “yes.”
Reference: Pastoral e-mails