Why pay clergy?

Alban Institute discusses the issue of clergy salaries and what clergy do to earn their keep.

“Pastor, I’ve always wondered: how long does it take you to prepare a sermon? As a board member, people ask me, and I’d like to be able to explain why we pay you so much. Could you keep track of how you spend your time and put a summary in your monthly board report?”

Such a request, coming from a member of the session, vestry, deacons, or trustees, can raise the blood pressure even of experienced clergy. It is a natural request in a society that considers “the days of a man’s life” as a type of property to be exchanged for salaries and wages.


…As a denominational executive, I used to monitor church newsletters for signs of trouble, including clues that ministers had overreacted to such questions. Some clergy counterattacked, lecturing their congregants about how mysterious, intangible, and immeasurable our work is, and how wrong it is for lay leaders to oversee us as if our work were somehow comparable to that of common…well, to their work. Few congregations respond well to condescension or to scolding nowadays.

The other troublesome response I often saw was to over-comply by keeping the requested time log and publishing it not only to the board but to the congregation in the newsletter. Such a response buys into the time-clock way of thinking. It also telegraphs anxiety, making it more likely that a harmless—perhaps even innocent—question may lead to real difficulty.

An embarrassing truth about the work of clergy is that a lot of it looks like loafing. Who else gets paid to drink iced tea with a wise great-grandmother or toast the giddy joy of newlyweds? And little that we do looks more like goofing off than preaching. I don’t mean, of course, the feverish final preparatory rush or the climactic 20 minutes on the podium, but the hours of hunt and peck, preceded, in my experience, by as many hours of what might appear, to the naïve observer, to be procrastination.

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