Friday, April 11, 2008

Doing it For the Lord

The end of April is the end of income for me, from all sources. My scholarship will be done, the T.A. work I do at the University will be finished, and my semester as a sessional instructor at King's will have come to an end. So I've been hunting high and low for a summer job.

Finding a summer job when you're 37 with a nearly-completed M.A. degree is no small task. You're overqualified for nearly everything that constitutes summer work (and doesn't involve working in the oil patch) and the average income from these jobs is a $12-16/hr range. Lucky for me, I landed an administrative position with the Alberta government for the summer. The pay range is from $18-22/hr, and when I did the calculations on what that works out to monthly, I realized with a slightly sick feeling that, while this is not the most I've ever made hourly, it will be the most I've ever made monthly, given that the majority of my work since I hit 30 has been part time.

Think about that. I was a pastor with over 10 years experience and 6 years of applied education under my belt, and I never made more than an entry level admin position.

Churches talk a lot about fighting injustice, but one of the greatest injustices within the church walls is how much the pastor is paid given the expectations placed upon him/her. I ranted about this in regards to youth pastor positions and pay scales a while back, but I think it's high time for another rant, now that I can no longer be accused of having a vested interest in the conversation.

There are a number of problems with the income vs. expectation issue for pastors. The first is that churches rarely have a standardized method of determining salary. A number is arrived at based upon what the church budget can afford, rather than by having some sort of schedule which all churches within a denomination will adhere to. The only exception to this rule which I have encountered has been Mennonite Church Canada. I invite others to inform me of more denominations which are being forward thinking enough to do this. As a result, when I first began working for MCC, I made more on an hourly basis than the senior pastor did, simply because I had more experience and education. This is a fair policy. Each year, so long as I didn't sacrifice any of the teens to one of the Elder Gods or sell crack as a fundraiser, I was given a raise. There was no lengthy meeting about whether or not I deserved a raise. The MCC pay schedule stated I would get one each year I was employed. It was something I could count on, a little job security to keep me working hard.

One of the other problems facing pastoral pay is the expectation of education. Many churches now expect that their pastoral staff will have a Master's degree in theology or some related field. This is ridiculous, not only because the income one makes at such jobs is not commensurate with the average amount made by other professionals with the same education, but also because the tuition at Bible colleges and seminaries is more expensive than the tuition at secular colleges and universities, leaving a Master's trained pastor with a greater debt load than a Master's trained...well, anything else. As I already noted, the $18-22/hr range of my upcoming summer work is more than many church positions offer, and only marginally less than I was making with my experience and education.

Pastors will inevitably also put up with more bullshit than nearly any other job on the planet. When I tell people why I left the ministry, I often cite all the politics. People reply that "all jobs have politics."

"Yes," I say, "but none which rely upon beliefs related to ultimate destiny." Tie religious belief to anything and your arguments will be more passionate. Heaven and hell are ostensibly on the line. So when you come home at the end of the day, you can never really leave your work at the office. You can't compartmentalize prayer and passion, as John Piper argued in his book Brothers we are not Professionals. So the hazard of your work is that you agonize over souls and salvation, and you get paid less than the people who shuffle paperwork for the government.

And the church wonders why pastors are leaving the pulpit in droves. They wonder why there's a crisis of leadership.

"You shouldn't be doing it for the money," the pious will say. "You should be doing it for the Lord."

Bite me. All Christians are supposed to be 'doing it for the Lord' according to Colossians 3:23. It's just that everyone else gets the added perk of an income which matches their training or experience. And don't bring up the clergy tax breaks, because a) they don't make up for the lack and b) the government keeps thinking about taking them away. Pastors are underpaid, underappreciated, and it's why the position will gravitate towards mediocrity. There will be the rare heroes of the faith who will persevere despite the economic shortcomings, but all too often I was sharing my seminary classes with people who had failed at some other career and had been accordingly "called by God" to become a pastor. The position seemed to have become the dumping ground of failed attempts at more lucrative careers. And the sermons on Sunday morning in many churches display this level of mediocrity.

Want a great pastor? Pay them well. It's not a guarantee, but if you have a great pastor and you feed him peanuts, expect his wife to work a second job while raising kids and volunteering in your Sunday School, don't be surprised when he up and leaves you to go work on the railroad. And don't laugh. I know two pastors who did just that.


  1. All things considered, given my experience working in a church and "doing it for the lord", I'd rather work on a railroad. I'd rather work in a bar. I'd rather not work at all.

    Though, to be fair, the wages in professional theatre over here haven't changed in twelve years. TWELVE. I am a professional stage manager/operator/playwright and I make less than a kid at McDonald's. Seriously. And yet, I wouldn't rather do anything else. Maybe it just depends on the job satisfaction? Or the creativity level? I don't know. I'd never take this sort of crap pay in another career so I suppose it's a personal choice.

    Either way, do it for the lord somewhere where you can make a buck or two. God doesn't reward the unmotivated. And really, if you're into spreading the word can't you do so almost more effectively in a non-church setting?

    These are just my ill-formed thoughts on the matter...

  2. You know what's a pain in the ass? Pastors seem to fall into such extreme categories: either they're being horrifically underpaid and overworked, or they're buying Rolexes, $150 000 cars, and Harleys for doing less work (since mega-churches usually spread the work out better). And often the factors that decide who gets what seem utterly random. Both those situations piss me right off. I have to disagree with what I understood to be Gabrielle's point; I do think that pastors are needed and essential. But what does it take for churches to look at salaries rationally as if their staff were humans instead of either shit or gods? Anyways, good article Mike, it's provoked several discussions between me and my fellow Bible college students. Keep on saying what we're all thinking.