8 Reasons I Should Have Been More Honest About My Income Needs as a Pastor
I pastored two great churches in Ohio, and I would gladly return to either one today to thank them for trusting a young pastor to lead them. At the same time, I look back now and wish I had been more honest with them about my salary needs. Here's why:
1. I wrongly equated a lower salary with godliness.
Every year, I was willing to sacrifice because I assumed that was what a pastor was to do. I still believe that we must lead sacrificially, but I no longer assume that godliness = an insufficient income.
2. My salary and benefits package was likely below the national average.
Three decades ago, it wasn’t as easy to get information about pastor and staff compensation. My anecdotal evidence and personal discussions, however, suggested then that my compensation was low for a church our size. I don’t think my church would have wanted to be less than average.
3. I probably hurt my family.
In my single years, I didn’t worry much if I struggled financially. I fretted more after I got married, but I was still unwilling to share that concern with my church leaders. My wife then had to sacrifice with me.
4. I would have had no shame in asking.
That is, I wasn’t a lazy leader simply wanting more money. I worked very hard, and I think I would have honestly earned the increase.
5. My church likely would have increased my salary.
They were always willing to discuss matters with me, and they seldom didn’t follow my lead. My hunch is that they would have heard my request and adjusted my income. If I had just asked….
6. I didn’t help the next pastor much.
What is a sacrificial income for one pastor often becomes a low starting point for the next pastor. My sacrificial thinking could have easily become the expectation for future pastors.
7. I could have built the request around conversations about a pastor’s overall salary/benefit agreement.
As a young pastor, I knew nothing about self-employment taxes, housing allowance, etc. My church didn’t know anything, either, so our combined lack of knowledge cost me dollars and sleep.
8. I likely hurt other full-time staff members.
All of us assumed that I as the senior pastor would earn more than others; thus, everyone’s salary was based off mine. My willing sacrifice became a forced sacrifice for others.
I’m not arguing that every pastor should seek a raise today. Every leader must make a personal decision, and all must work within the context in which they serve. I do know, though, that I would be more open with the church today if I had financial needs.
About the author: Dr. Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions, Dean of Doctoral Studies, and Vice-President for Spiritual Formation at Southeastern Seminary, where he holds the Richard & Gina Headrick Chair of World Missions. In addition, he serves as Team Leader for Theological Education Strategists for the International Mission Board.