Thursday, September 6, 2012

What is not said about clergy compensation

While in seminary many years ago, I had one professor who liked to tantalize his classes with the line, "One of you may be the next pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church," Bellevue being Adrian Rogers' megachurch.

Another prof was more sobering with his classes. He would say, "Almost all of you will pastor smaller churches for your entire ministry."

The reality on the ground about SBC churches is that (a) the great majority of the churches are not mega, not mid-mega, not large but average and smaller, single staff with an attendance of under 150 and, (b) most are plateaued or declining in attendance, leading to, (c) most SBC pastors will be single staff with smaller churches and that for their entire ministerial career.

The first prof was the dreamer (he was a large church pastor) the second was the realist (his churches were never large). It would have been more beneficial to pay closer attention to the second.

There is nothing unspiritual about a seminary student or younger pastor  taking a realistic look at his future. It is in the Lord's hands - that is the most salient bit of realism. If he does, then perhaps he will understand that the mega is down the road or the large multi-staff church is not in his future.

A keen grasp of the obvious leads one to recognize that there is no promotion from being the pastor; that is, there is no higher staff position available so the route to better compensation is to get a larger church and the competition for the larger churches is keen.

Some hotshot Air Force pilots with the right stuff get the fighter jets, most get the lumbering and less sexy aircraft. Five or ten percent of SBC pastors get the large churches while most get the average-sized churches.

Here is what the data say from the Compensation Study (Gold star for you if you noticed that I used the older, 2010 study yesterday rather than the current, 2012 study; there isn't a lot of difference in the results):

  • If you are a pastor and have over ten years experience, you are not too far from the upper limit of your income producing potential. The difference between a senior pastor with 11 years experience and one with over 30 years experience is fairly narrow, about ten thousand dollars.  Even if one takes the highest earning years, those for pastors with 21-30 years of vocational experience differential is relatively small.
  • If you are a younger senior pastor (26-35) your income will not improve that much with age. Senior pastors 56-65 earn less than ten thousand on average more than their younger colleagues. It doesn't hurt to have grand dreams but neither does it hurt to wake up to realistic planning.
  • One gleans from the data the sobering conclusion that most SBC senior pastors are doing about as well financially at 35 as they will be at 60. It's just the way things are. Pay increases will come but they will be merely inflation adjustments, not much in the way of real increases.
  • The obvious point here is that most pastors will reach close to their highest level of compensation fairly young and will not see much improvement thereafter...unless the pastor is the fighter pilot who gets the larger, better paying church.

This is somewhat different than many secular jobs. Teachers in my state still get automatic pay increases for additional degrees. Nurses in large hospitals may receive step increases with experience. Pastors with experience and additional education may be more attractive to a larger church but there is no automatic pay increase.

Seminarians, those with mentors, and those younger clergy who have SBC street savvy already see all this. Perhaps there are a few of the brethren who were like I was yea many years ago, fairly aloof and ignorant.

I suppose most of us get to the place where we recognize that our earning potential is limited. One gloomy Monday morning we may accept the fact that we are beyond our peak earning years as a pastor and that  peak may be, well, not too high. Such recognition should always be accompanied by resolution: This as a spiritual issue and I am willing to serve as God has called me with whatever compensation I receive. And I will serve with gladness and faithfulness as long as God allows me. 

May it ever be so.

Tomorrow: the obvious, incessantly offered but seldom adopted, solution.



Rick Patrick said...

This is more like it. The coffee's on me again.

Tim Bonney said...

Good article William! If any of us are in it for the money we better do something else!

Anonymous said...

Rick: fighter pilot


Anonymous said...

William, I now take back all I have been praying would happen to you. :)

Anonymous said...

William, I now take back all I have been praying would happen to you. :)