Creative Leadership

Church, Nonprofit and Ministry Salaries – It’s Time We Start Paying For Better Leadership

Let me get a bit controversial and talk about why we should consider paying church, ministry, and nonprofit leaders more money. In my opinion, we need to evolve from the idea that the mission is all that matters, and people who are called are there because of bigger purposes than a mere salary.

Yes – some of that is true. Obviously a pastor, ministry or nonprofit leader is primarily there because of the mission, but when is that an excuse not to pay them what they’re worth?

Somehow we’ve become enamored with the idea of keeping these salaries as low as possible – almost as if it were a loyalty test to see just how committed they really are to the cause. And we’ve spread that word to the congregation and donors – some of whom I’ve seen donate to whatever nonprofit or ministry organization they could find with the lowest overhead or salary scale.

And don’t get me wrong, during a start up phase, or with a small church, ministry, or nonprofit I understand that budgets are tight. But if the plan is to grow that organization, then we need a team at the helm who aren’t just called, but also have the right gifts and talent to lead that growth.

Over the years I’ve advised some ministry and nonprofit organizations with enormous potential, but were crippled because of poor leaders. And most often, the reason is they simply won’t pay enough to recruit someone better. And in church situations, one of the dominant reasons pastors leave the ministry is the same cause – they just can’t afford to continue.

Let’s change the paradigm. Let’s start looking for the best leaders instead of the least expensive leaders. Let’s focus on the organization’s purpose more than focus on the percentage of overhead. Let’s focus on outcomes. And if donors (or anyone else) question the salary, let’s have the confidence to defend that decision.

Because in the end, will we be more pleased about a church, ministry, or nonprofit’s impact – or with how low we kept everyone’s salary?

Photo by kerry rawlinson on Unsplash


  1. Amen!!!!! Our daughter is early in her career as a children’s pastor. She ages out of our family health insurance this month, and her church does not pay anything for health insurance. She makes less annually than I did as a first year teacher in 1990. She loves her job, and we are happy for her chosen profession, but financially her situation is stark.

  2. Thanks for saying this out loud! Most of my church staff co-workers and I were hired 8+ years ago as several smaller churches in our area came together. When we left our jobs to join church staff, we happily took pay cuts and loss of benefits because we felt the call. But now we have not only proven ourselves, but vastly expanded our skill sets and responsibilities. Sadly, we don’t even get cost of living increases and several of us have started looking elsewhere just because, like you said, we can’t afford to stay. It’s also frustrating that in a lot of churches it feels like people only care about if the pastor is happy, paid and has good benefits. True be told, his staff is a huge part of why he looks successful and our churches are growing and being discipled.

    Phil, do you have advice on how to address this with our personnel committee? I’m so tempted to send your article (and some others I’ve seen from other authors recently) to them…

    1. I know the feeling. I’ve been tempted to send various blogs and links to people like that. I think the key would be to get another church member who’s not on staff, but supports you to send it to the committee. That way you’re not officially involved. 🙂

  3. P.S. Our church CAN afford to do better, by the way. They just choose not to. I also wonder how much of it is because all of the non-clergy staff are women

  4. I left a large ministry and went to a small one. I knew they couldn’t pay much, but I felt called there, so I was ok with it initially. I brought my considerable resources and my skill set (developed over many years of working with larger ministries) to this smaller one, believing that we could go to the next level (and higher). Over time, and even though I’ve helped to set a much higher bar in my area of ministry, I see no attempt by those above me in the leadership scheme to want to go any higher. Honestly, if you asked me what our mission statement is, I couldn’t tell you. The phrase that keeps coming to mind is “Without a vision, the people perish”. I came for a reduced salary, hoping they would see the value in what I do, and it would work into something larger. It has become obvious that it’s probably never going to happen, and I find myself asking how long I need to put my family through the grief of me not making what I’m worth for the sake of “the ministry”.

    1. I love the phrase, “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.” I discovered early in my career that few people care about your advancement, salary increases, or other benefits, so I needed to be more intentional about that. It sounds like you’re about to make an important decision about your next assignment, and my encouragement would be make it sooner rather than later. Thanks for posting!

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