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Blog // Thoughts
March 15, 2006

How Well Should Ministers Be Remunerated?

In the comments following a recent blogpost, Toni raised a very good question. … should those in full-time Christian work automatically be poor? Is a life of financial hardship not merely expected, but an essential part of heading up a church? I wonder if we can have double standards sometimes? When I was nearing the […]

In the comments following a recent blogpost, Toni raised a very good question.

… should those in full-time Christian work automatically be poor? Is a life of financial hardship not merely expected, but an essential part of heading up a church? I wonder if we can have double standards sometimes?

When I was nearing the end of theological college, the appropriate remuneration for ministers was, naturally enough, a hot topic. Many of us had struggled with part-time positions through college which seldom, if ever, met our denomination’s guidelines. It was a quite common refrain to hear reent graduates complain about their pay and for those approaching graduation to fret about the issue. But, I got to wondering if maybe some were looking at it all wrong.

If we only look at pay, the cash component, ministerial remuneration often looks very lowly. However, cash is not the endof the story. Ministers are usually provided with housing, book and travel allowances and frequently have utilities and other costs paid for. It seemed to me that not only did many recent (and not so recent) graduates take this for granted, they also failed to account for it correctly.

So, what I did was to take a few examples I knew personally and calculate how much pre-tax income (or Gross) would be required to provide for not just the disposable cash component, but also all the allowances that formed the package. For example, if a minister was provided with a house that would normally cost, say $300 to rent, then in a normal salary situation, they would not just have to earn $300 to rent that house, but actually $300 plus whatever marginal tax rate applied. Same for other allowances, such as books and so on.

“Grossing-up” these examples of ministerial remuneration left me with a startling conclusion; the typical suburban minister in Sydney was actually, in real terms, much better off finacially than many people in their neighbourhood. Moreover, most (in fact an overwhelming majority) of the ministry students I was graduating with were better off, in these terms, than if they had stayed in their secular employment. Only a very few would have had a greater earning potential in secular work. I saw a similar pattern amongst ministers I met in London.

The issue that remains for me is not remuneration, but independence. Typically, when a minster is engaged, they have little freedom over how they are paid and sometimes no freedom over where they live. This is perhaps the real problem area, especially when it manifests itself over time in terms of an inability to save or invest. I think what is true is that whilst ministers may be remunerated well, they are not always able to create wealth, which is a deeper and more complex issue.

[tags] Ministry, Stipend [/tags]

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