Ethics: Pastor Won’t Reveal His Salary

What would you do Wednesday!

Money is a touchy subject for most people; especially, their own money. Even many Christians are adamant that they know exactly where every dime they give to the church is being spent. There are times when churches need to raise additional funds so they have a special plea for members to give. Some members give more, some give the same, and some don’t give at all. Though it might be argued that Christians in general don’t give sacrificially anyway.

Today’s scenario is one in which your church needs to raise a bit of extra money due to the tough economy. Gracious pleas for giving have been made from the pulpit.

This is also the time of year in which a new budget is voted on. In fact, you just got the new budget proposal in the mail before the next congregational meeting. While reading each budget line item you notice that the church staff is all reported as one lump sum.

Curious about how the staff salaries break down, you wonder what the senior pastor makes in relation to everyone else.

So, the next Sunday you approach your pastor after service. You ask him about the budget, move the conversation to staff salaries, and ask him directly for his annual salary figure.

He pauses for a moment and responds, “Brother, I understand that someone might ask me a question like that, but I think that’s a bit too personal. I would rather you trust me – the man God has put in place to lead this church. Trust that I am a fair man who would not exploit this church for financial gain. You see all of the ministry we’re doing and if you think we are spending somewhere we shouldn’t then, please, tell me.”

Smiling, he concludes, “Brother, since we are people of the Book I just ask you for chapter and verse that says I, a pastor, am to disclose all of my personal financial information?”

What would you do?

  • Explain that you will get back to him later with chapter and verse.
  • Admit you don’t have chapter and verse, but integrity demands he tell you.
  • Explain that American Christianity demands that Christians know exactly where their money goes.
  • Tell him he better watch out because God killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying about money.
  • Or….

tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,Culture

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ajay Pollarine January 16, 2013 at 11:50 am

I would call him an idiot, smack him for being so casual about my concern, then I would say “Alright, I will trust you with this, don’t forget that you’re called upon to have extra accountability and if anyone else broaches this question, I expect you to reveal the information.”

2 Cathy M. January 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm

My first reaction is that it’s really rude to ask any man “hey, what’s in your wallet?” In most denominational churches there is a board, or committee that presides over matters of finance. In my SBC church, we have monthly business meetings where all the numbers are there for anyone who attends. Offer to serve on the board, or committee. Attend the business meetings. Then, if you find a pattern of financial obfuscation, it may be time for a more confrontational approach, but not as you’re shaking his hand after the service. Sheesh!

3 brig January 16, 2013 at 12:33 pm

How did someone get put in a position to budget his own salary, and have it all hidden from anyone?

4 Jacob January 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I’m not a fan of congregationalism, which the premise assumes, but this would play out similarly in other contexts. From the parishioner level, I think it needs to be asked whether said amount is seems to high given the number on staff, or whether it is just a matter of curiosity. Moreover, it may be more appropriate to engage the question in private rather than in front of the entire congregation. From the elder’s perspective, the answer given here is defensive and poor reasoning. It’s not “too private” but it may be completely irrelevant as well. Regardless, the place to raise funds in the church budget is not to cut salary – assuming that the salary is reasonable or modestly good for the pastor. In most churches, people give less than what Scripture calls them to, and teaching on generosity is in order, to which both elders and parishioner need to submit.

That’s my 2 minutes of thought on this.

5 Nick Horton (@NickHorton) January 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm

“5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer,[e] as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Titus 1:5-9

“Brother you need to be above reproach. Withholding your salary is a cause for concern. A Pastor cannot invite criticism that can be so easily diffused such as disclosing salary. Surely you can disclose your salary, unless there is some cause for concern with the amount? We all must be good stewards with what God has given us, and that includes with how we spend the money in the church. Surely you don’t want to be open to the charge of greediness? Or being in the ministry for dishonest gain? The Pastorate is not a job, it’s a calling.”

6 Ang January 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Wow! I agree that there must be accoutability for knowing where and how church money is spent and I understand that pastors are held to a higher standard of accountability, but being the wife of a pastor I do see the other side of the coin. In our church government the personel committee sets the salaries of the staff and they are nominated by the body of church. They also give out the raises. In 10 yrs we have been given a 2% raise and are probably in the upper middle pay range of our congregation. We are self employed and pay taxes accordingly. No benefits. we also purchase our own insurance. All of that was taken into consideration when our salary was set. Most people are not paid that way, they don’t look at what their employer pays and the cost of their benefits. So our salary may seem high to some. I’m also sorry to say that those that usually want to know what our salarys are usually do so because they are disgruntled in some way or don’t think a pastor should make more than they do. A comment was made in a budget meeting that “We don’t get bonuses neither should staff.” Whether a person believes staff should or not, is not the point, in a church the pastor can be held under the scrutiny of every members standards because they think they pay him. If one person were to take that information and try to cause a stir it would be terrible. The pastor is held to account by those elected by the church, if you don’t trust those people or the pastor, really, why would you want to go to that church? Just askin!

7 John Wylie January 16, 2013 at 4:10 pm

First of all Ajay you are certainly not living up to the stated purpose of your website talking about calling people idiots and smacking them. Second of all any arrogant person who has enough gall to ask that question should be prepared to reveal their salary. I do believe in reasonable transparency and I believe that there are people who have a right to know these things for the sake of accountability, but if you’re having to ask then you’re probably not one of those people.

8 Ajay Pollarine January 16, 2013 at 4:36 pm

John: your rebuke is well said, I perhaps should have clarified that the relationship between the pastors in my church and I is loose enough that they wouldn’t be offended by my name calling or the smack. For not being clear and forgetting that one cannot see my boyish grin on the internet, you have my sincere apologies and thanks for the well deserved rebuke.

9 Mark January 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Ajay, that would not be a very Christ-like approach. I don’t quite follow your last sentence.

Cathy, I understand what you are saying, but the point is that the pastor refused to answer the question whether after Sunday service or whenever.

brig, I believe there are situations where a particular committee, or whatever, instituted the salary, but that salary may not be easily accessible to everyone.

Jacob, I’m Baptist so I presented this situation within a congregational context. 🙂 I didn’t mean to indicate that the questioning was in front of the entire congregation, but in a private conversation after worship service. And the point about raising funds wasn’t necessarily directly tied to the salary questions. That point was more to get the budget in the hands of the person to pique interest – so my scenario worked.

Nick, I get where you’re going, but I’m not sure you proved the point that refusing to answer a salary question means one is being a bad steward nor that he be charged with not being above reproach.

Ang, thank your for bringing a different, yet personal perspective. It’s always interesting when church members grumble about certain benefits church staff receives, but they don’t. As if one is contingent on the other.

John W., I agree about Ajay’s words. And there may be some arrogance in the person asking the question. Interesting that you’d say they should be ready to reveal their salary also. Would that be from a Christian stewardship standard that a pastor should inquire to make sure they are also following Scripture in their giving?

10 Mark January 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Ajay, thanks for your apology, brother.

11 Ajay Pollarine January 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm

It was well deserved rebuke, I wasn’t clear and it came off horribly, I re-read it right after I saw the reply and realized my error.

12 John Wylie January 16, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Thanks Ajay I could definitely learn from your attitude here. Mark I actually never thought about the stewardship thing in my comment, although I certainly think that would be a logical reason for doing so. My reason for my comment is that I find it extremely hypocritical for people to require something of someone that they themselves would never agree to. Like the watch dog website with scores of anonymous bloggers demanding pastors of churches that these bloggers do not attend to be transparent about salaries. I personally believe that all contributing members of the church I pastor, who themselves would be willing to submit to the same scrutiny have the right to see my salary.

13 William Thornton January 17, 2013 at 7:35 pm

…um, have had numerous conversations on this subject.

The pastor should not be put in a position where he has to personally disclose the figures to every hallway questioner but the church should have policies in place where members will have their financial questions answered even those concerning what staff are paid. It is best for all if the church is open and transparent.

It is a very broad generalization to stigmatize all who might wish to know about this as being “disgruntled.”

If you have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed about, then there should be no problem with a process whereby members can see where there donations go. If you fear they think you make too much or will not understand how clergy pay is structured, then some committee should take steps to educate the membership.

Public employees’ pay is public information, public corporations’ officers have to disclose this information annually to all shareholders and charitable organizations (but not churches) have required filings on this, and even SBC entities will give information if asked (may be a salary range, not a specific figure) so let’s not think that church staff are put upon as no others are here.

The member in your example faces a choice. Put up, shut up, or go away. If a pastor asked me for chapter and verse on this, I would go away in the face of such brazen arrogance.


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