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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

Pastoral Pay

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

"I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field." (Nehemiah 13:10).

The worship of God had vanished from the Holy Land, Nehemiah found after the Babylonian exile, in large part because those who were professionally charged with conducting it—Levites and singers—had been driven back to farming their ancestral lands just to survive. The Israelites weren't paying them the salaries God had commanded.

No serious young person goes into pastoral ministry to make money. But if you can't make enough money, you can't go into pastoral ministry.

Churches across Canada—and across the U.S.A., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and beyond—are going without pastors because churches aren't paying pastors a living wage. I'll say it again: If young people can't afford to be pastors, they can't be pastors.

To be sure, the work of the church must not be delegated wholly to paid staff. Each of us has a spiritual gift and each of us is commanded by Christ to use it in the work of the church. (Sometime soon I'll write about the vanishing of volunteers from the contemporary church and the crippling effects of that trend.) So stirring up lay involvement is good. Trying to serve the most educated generation in history without properly educated pastors, however, isn't.

Seminary training isn't cheap, yes, and particularly if students move to undertake full-time studies in a community of like-minded learners—as most students should. If you wouldn't want to be treated by a physician who studied remotely, why would you settle for an online seminary education—if you don't have to? Hasn't COVID-19 taught us all about the severe limitations of distance learning?

So let's pay for the education we want our pastors to get—helping students get through seminary without debt and then helping them get started well in their first jobs. Otherwise, our churches will continue to flounder and eventually close, as so many are doing.

Here's a rule of thumb: Is your pastor's remuneration at least equivalent to the median income of the members of your church board/vestry/session? (I've seen 'way too many nice shiny cars parked beside the pastor's shabby vehicle in the church lot.) Lack of good, young pastors is a serious problem. And it's one of those rare, special problems that can be solved by throwing money at it. So let's throw.


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