Material History of American Religion Project

What is adequate compensation for ministers?

The decades after World War II were a boom-time for American mainline churches, as congregations grew and spread out into the the thriving suburbs. But church leaders--and clergy in particular--often felt that ministers had not benefited from the boom, as their salaries failed to keep pace with post-war inflation. Denominational and ecumenical studies of clergy salaries resulted in booklets designed to convince lay leaders to increase their ministers' salaries. According to the booklets, clergy were professionals who suffered nobly on behalf of their calling. These booklets reflect the clergy's status as uneasy professionals dependent on the whim of congregational committees. The booklet excerpted here was produced by the National Council of Churches of Christ in 1960.

The minister is a dedicated person

The minister is a dedicated person. His is one of the callings that does not look for its rewards in terms of material goods. A congregation should not exploit his dedication by underpaying him, nor deny him his Christian right to voluntary stewardship by keeping his salary low or reducing it as a means of balancing its budget.

The shrinking pay check

He is reluctant to bring his financial needs to the attention of his officers, but he has to clothe his family. His car will not run without gas. If he is young, he may have educational debts to repay in addition to having to buy furniture for his home. If he is not young, he has to educate his children and make provision for retirement and old age. He must frequently replace his car because he drives thousands of miles, not for his own pleasure but for the work of the church. The result is that he actually receives much less than his cash salary, even where there is provision for housing and some allowance for car support.

How should the level of his compensation be determined?

It should take into consideration the standard of living that he must maintain in order to do the best possible work in his parish. It must provide him with sufficient compensation to enable him to give his full time and energies to this service. It should, in no case, be figured at a level that would anticipate his receiving clerical discounts for goods and services. This is embarrassing to the minister and lowers the dignity of the church in the sight of the community. Nor should his salary require him to retain fees for weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Actually these fees amount to very little. They average less than $200 annually. In small churches they are much less. It would be far better to set the salary at a higher figure and offer these services as a ministry of the church to the parish, especially baptisms and funerals. Such fees, if paid, should be contributed to the church.

Because of taxes and inflation, your minister's salary has been reduced--

These comparisons are not in themselves conclusive in view of the fact that many churches have, through the years, underpaid their ministers to the extent that their efficiency has been seriously impaired.

Uneconomical economy

To fail to give the minister adequate compensation is an uneconomical "economy " that the church can ill afford. It impairs his effectiveness. It often forces him to accept "promotion" in the form of a call to a larger church that pays a higher salary as the only possible solution to his financial difficulties, when he would prefer to remain in his present charge.

What is Adequate Compensation for Ministers? A Guide for Local Congregations (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., n.d. [1960?]).

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