Pastor, You Don’t Have A Job

Pastor, You Don’t Have A Job

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Saturday, September 16, 2023

If you spend your days in prayer, in the Bible, walking the hills, visiting the sick, dreaming about the future, and gazing on Jesus’ face? That is ministry. If you then spend the occasional day and your evenings and weekends weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice, enjoying life around the table with friends, and releasing others to do what Jesus did? That too is ministry.

Pastors hate being told that don’t have a real job—the old joke being that you only have to work one day a week. The thing is, it’s more true than you think.

I’ve been an elder in a couple of churches for around ten years now. Which makes me pretty green in the pastoral stakes, but not completely new to the game. I’ve not been a salaried elder in that time, though my ecclesiology makes me just as much a ‘Pastor’ or ‘ordained’ as those that have been. For ease in this post though I’ve used ‘pastor’ to distinguish those elders that are paid by their churches.

Churches have to follow all the same employment law as anyone else. Your trustees, or however that works in your setting, will have to ensure they are following the law. Someone has to sort payroll, make sure employment rights aren’t breached and all those things. That’s important, because it’s the law. I also think churches should be the very best employers around, following kingdom employment values rather the World’s. Your encouragement to your people to start businesses and employ people well will fall very flat if the church is a terrible employer.

But, in the midst of all that, I think it’s important that whatever the technical legal situation might be, no one thinks the Pastor or Pastors have jobs. Or salaries for that matter.

It is, I would contend, better to think in terms of stipends to cover the costs of living—which means whatever it costs to live in the area your church needs your pastor to live. It may be more than the median income if you expect him to have a slightly larger house so he can host large groups and meetings there, which is something you’d often expect him to be doing.

There’s not a legal difference here, by the way, not least in the UK anyway. You pay the same tax on a stipend to a salary, but I’m talking about the way that changing terms can (slowly) change thinking.

As a small detour, there is an argument in here for paying all of your staff the same amount. Becoming a Pastor from some other church role isn’t career advancement, it’s a release to follow the call of God on your life. Pay them all what’s needed to live, perhaps plus a housing allowance or similar for those who you require certain things of, and let them get on with releasing the people into ministry.

Not doing ministry, but that’s another story.

Why is this helpful? Because if you think you have a job you tend to think about contracted hours and about productivity.

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