Not the Amount (alone) – The Process (Plus)

The other day I learned of a local church pastor whose annual salary exceeded $500k. Some ask, “if a pastor of a single, large church earns $500k – $1m+, why shouldn’t a bishop be paid $500k or more.” 

Summary: The power of appointment creates an imbalance far beyond that of pastor/parishioner. Bishops must not be allowed unfettered control in exacting (allocating) offerings/assessments. Whether in parish or executive office, we must look at the big picture of the allocation of resources..

Key Words in the Analysis:  Process, Voluntary, Livelihood, Volume

Pastoral Concern:  Just because you could, as a non-profit, should you?   

Process:  Most pastoral salaries are set by a committee (stewards, deacons, pastoral relations, etc.).  In most instances these persons are not employed by or in a financially beneficial relationship with the pastor.  Whatever they determine as fair, affordable and in the best interest of the congregation, should be done without conflict of interest.  Often, foolish commitments will be revealed in the congregation’s light.  Not so with the financial benefits accrued to most bishops in our Zion.  No committee to consider the fair, affordable “gift” to supplement an embarrassingly low “official salary.”  No strong process to hinder selfish abuse of resources.  Hired, appointed, conflicted persons under undue influence to obey or impress facilitate a process which lacks regulation and transparency.

Voluntary:  In a local congregation giving is mostly voluntary.  If one does not want to show off and wave a large bill while walking down the aisle, it is their choice. You may lose a friend; you may have to find a different fellowship; you may miss a cheer from the crowd; maybe they will not let you sing a solo or serve as an officer.  Although pastors hold a psychological advantage in most instances, the stakes are not a high and the dynamic is nuanced. One can survive all of this.  Being man enough to give $10 instead of $100 at the pastor’s appeal is not as challenging as being woman enough to give $10 instead of $100 when a bishop says “Come on down!”  More than pride or psycho-spiritual concerns ride on giving beyond a local congregation.  For many, generations of connection and extensive professional commitment empowers involuntary obligation over freewill.

Livelihood:  Even the bi-vocational pastor cannot ignore the leverage of the bishop.  Fear of losing the “extra” salary, convenience of appointment, stature in church/community, and pride among colleagues can drive one to give more than can be practically afforded.  When you think about your family, or the possibility that your beloved congregation will be appointed an ungifted pastor, you look to ways to comply and impress. O, yes, you also want to honor the servant of God and please God through service.

Volume:  Local pastors and bishops, or presiding elders, are best supported when their remuneration is proportionate to the constituent body.  A congregation of 10,000 members giving the pastor $1m/year averages $2 per member per week ($100 per year).  The numbers do not work the same when it comes to a bishop.  Very few districts can assemble 10,000 donors of $100.  Instead, we press the same few units to repeatedly give $100. (I am sure it is not necessary for me to establish a list.)  Ultimately, it is a matter of volume…collecting less (less often) to accumulate a larger sum. Even if the faithful paid their pastor $2, $5, $10/member/week it may not rise to an acceptable level when there are less than 100 contributing members.  I would find it difficult supporting a local congregation with a $1m a year pastor with repeated intense appeals for money. Compensation must fit the program and a balanced approach to faithful stewardship.

Perhaps bishops should be compensated based on membership without the authority to assess.  That may still yield $500k+ for a few bishops. Most important, how do you get it?  Transparent process? Genuinely voluntary? Without threat to livelihood of clergy or congregations? Based on reasonable volume, not an arbitrary construct of greed?  

To put this discussion in context, the General Budget assessment is about $20 per member/year.  Most of the churches over which I presided paid $35-$70 per member/year just for General Budget!  If most congregations find this to be a strain, they cannot/will not support bishops and presiding elders at the same level of commitment as they support their pastor and other missional/structural necessities.  We need a serious conversation on compensation and economic perspective.

God knows, I’m so glad God knows, just how much we can bear!