Material History of American Religion Project

An alternate view of clergy salaries

As this site demonstrates, the proper salary for the minister is the most contested financial issue in many congregations and denominations. Other documents reveal a Lutheran rebellion over the salaries paid to denominational officers, an advice manual for lay leaders on determining the proper salary for a pastor, a melodrama about the wife of a dedicated if underpaid pastor, and the testimony of a clergy leader embarrassed by the low pay of other pastors. Most of these texts have focused on how underpaid clergy are.

This document provides equal time for an opposing viewpoint. In this 1970 letter to the editor of a magazine of the American Baptist Convention, a layman argues that clergymen are overpaid and underworked. His letter was in response to the proposal in a previous issue—from a rebellious young churchman—for a clergy union, that would advocate for better pay for ministers.

It belongs in a larger context, however. The American Baptist Convention, like many other mainline Protestant denominations, was torn by the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. For a man like Mr. Jones, the proposal of a clergy union was just one more example of the decline of the church and of society in general. A more dramatic example, alluded to in this letter, was the April 1969 Manifesto of the National Black Economic Development Conference. The Conference, led by James Forman, demanded that the churches and synagogues of American pay $500 million in reparations to American blacks for centuries of oppression. It was just one more example of demands made on the church—demands for which Mr. Jones had little patience.

Jones makes several arguments. First, the demands of a clergy union would be the straw the broke the camel’s back and destroy most churches. Second, most pastors are paid quite well in comparison to their lay leaders, who work full-time jobs and still donate time to the church. Third, clergy no longer work very hard. Since Sunday evening and mid-week services had gone out of style, and pastors do not regularly visit their parishioners, what are they doing with their time?

In the December issue of MISSION I read with great interest Rev. Bowser's article entitled Why Have a Clergy Union?

Before commenting let me say I am a member of a rather new American Baptist Church that got its start on October 20, 1955, when twenty-six people met in my home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Our 1968 annual report showed our membership to be 274 (sixteen nonresident) and our church income was $64,227. We have had two full-time pastors, with our current pastor starting his seventh year.

Let me say also, I have a brother who is a minister (not Baptist) and there are a number of ministers I consider to be close personal friends. I am an active layman, concerned about the status of the church in America today, and hopeful that the clergy will work harder to make the church more relevant to modern man.

It is my strong belief that if we want to put the church completely out of business, all that needs to be done is to organize immediately a Clergy Union as proposed by Mr. Bowser and the committee. Then the ministers can join forces with Mr. James Forman and his Black Economic Development Conference and jointly press their demands on the churches which will accelerate the permanent closing of church doors throughout America.

It has been my observation that many ministers today are being paid more and more for doing less and less. Few churches today have mid-week services and Sunday evening services. What does the minister do with his free time? Also it seems that ministers feel that calling on members, is passť, except in case of extreme illness, death in the family, or if a member requests that a call be made. Again, what does the minister do with his time if his attitude on calling is as described above?

Why can't we have ministers at the local, city, state and national level of our denomination who are aggressive, enthusiastic and recognize the need and benefit of applying a sense of urgency to their work? Such lack of discipline is not tolerated in business, so why should it be otherwise in regard to the clergy?

Frankly, the layman gets a little tired hearing ministers gripe about their long hours, low pay and poor housing, when it is not true in so many instances. What about we active laymen who spend forty hours in the office and carry office work home practically every night and weekend, and still find time to spend many hours a week on church-related work? Believe me, I know whereof I speak, but I am not complaining.

The way I see it, from a layman's point of view, the ministers must earn their salary increases, better housing, etc., by performance or merit, just as we laymen do in our business life. I have worked for the same company for over twenty-five years and have never asked for a salary increase. I have worked hard, never counting or complaining about the hours required to get the job completed. There have been many, many nights over the past twenty-five years when the office work I carried home kept me up to the wee hours of the morning, and on occasion never got to bed at all. By performance I have earned my salary increases from my employer. Church members will also, by and large, compensate adequately those ministers who are aggressive and enthusiastic and get the total job done.

Too many ministers take advantage of the situation where the lay leadership is strong, and they seem to feel this is an invitation to sit back, take it easy and concentrate only on developing the sermon for the Sunday morning worship hour--then disappear immediately after the sermon to rest up for next Sunday's morning worship service.

I say all this hoping many ministers will be given the opportunity to read it and perhaps it will cause them to sit down and really analyze themselves and their work. If they are really honest with themselves, many are certain to realize they have failed to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

WENDELL W. JONES Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Mission, February 1970, 9-10.

Return to the documents page

Return to the project home page