Much more recently, Christianity Today has summarized survey results from 2013, published earlier this year. These sorts of studies are difficult because most churches don’t report salaries to a central denominational office and because compensation for ministers is complicated by the provision of free housing, housing allowances, and such like. And then converting to a per-hour equivalent is all that more difficult as so much preachers are part-time and few punch a clock.
Overall, in inflation-adjusted wages, non-Catholic clergy made $4.37 more per hour in 2013 than they did in 1983. That figure is more than double the wage increase of the average worker with a college degree.
Over the past 37 years, the average income for American workers was $49,225; non-Catholic clergy earned $46,216. Put another way, the general population averaged $21.20 an hour, while church clergy pulled in $18.85 an hour. (Clergy that worked elsewhere, like in hospitals or administration, earned $21.79 an hour.)
Why did per-hour compensation go up, even after adjusting for inflation, when most Americans saw little increase in pay during the same period? I think it’s like due to (a) clergy working fewer hours and (b) the closing of many small, largely rural churches.
Clergy have become much more sensitive to the need to spend more time with family and otherwise not to burn themselves out. Many preachers are vocational preachers, that is, they work a full-time, secular job and work as a preacher just at nights and on weekends. This can bump the per-hour rate of pay even as hours are going down.
On the other hand, the clergy are generally paid less per hour than other college-educated workers. But they’re catching up.
Wages rose at an even higher rate. The $4.37 per hour boost in pay for non-Catholic clergy was more than double the $2 an hour increase for other working Americans with a college degree.
The clergy wage disadvantage dropped from about $12 less per hour in 1983 to about $9 less per hour in 2013.
$9 less an hour, for a 2000-hour year, is $18,000 per year less than a similarly educated non-cleric.
A time-use study in 1934 found clergy put in 76-hour work weeks. By 1979, they were working 52 hours per week. By 2013, that number dropped to 43 hours a week.
That is nearly the same as the average 41-hour work week for other workers of similar education, according to the study.
The decline may be attributable in part to the fact Americans are spending less time in church—it is rare today to have Sunday evening or midweek services requiring separate sermons.
As in society overall, there is also an increasing recognition by clergy and their employers of the need to have a healthy balance between work and home.
Without access to the full study, it’s hard to say, but I imagine the reduction in hours comes from —
- Reduced demand to preach sermons. We used to have our preachers preach twice a week plus teach two classes. Few have to prepare so much speaking material today.
- A trend toward giving the minister a weekday off on the theory that Sunday is a work day. My experience is that some (not all) preachers take unfair advantage of this and don’t work Sunday afternoons or evenings necessarily — but happily take a full Monday or Friday off in exchange for three or four hours work Sunday morning.
My view is that a preacher should be paid about the same as the typical church member (adjusted for age and experience) and should work as hard and as many hours as the typical church member does. And most church members work at least a 40-hour week (lawyers, doctors, accountants, and many others work more) plus they volunteer several more hours at church. I mean, an accountant who teaches Bible class will work a 50-hour week, prepare his class for three or more hours, and spend an hour teaching.
On average, clergy earned about 7 percent more per hour the year after they left the profession; those who became clergy earned about 15 percent less per hour.
“Clearly, people paid an immediate wage penalty when they became clergy, and people who left the clergy received an immediate wage boost,” the study authors wrote.
Those who switch to the pastorate are likely choosing second careers for personal satisfaction, and are thus more likely to accept a lower salary, Woolever said.
So are clergy underpaid? Yes and no, the researchers wrote.
Clergy generally could make more money in another profession — but they would not be as happy.
More than 6 in 10 clergy say they are “very happy” in their work; just 32 percent of other Americans express similar satisfaction, according to General Social Survey data from 1972 to 2010.
“Compared to other people,” Schleifer said, “they’re super-happy folk.”
All things considered, Schleifer and Chaves wrote, it is difficult to conclude that “clergy are underpaid relative to other workers.”
I read a lot of church leadership material, and one of the largest issues that preachers write about for other preachers is preacher burn out. And yet they are much happier in their jobs than their church members.
I think some preachers really do burn out, but I don’t think burn out is inherent in the job — just some churches, some preachers, and some preaching jobs. It’s often due to a poor match between the preacher and the church.
Frankly, I’m surprised I see very little in the literature about elder burn out. I mean, most elders don’t get paid, most have a different, full-time paying job and a family, and most put in far more hours in their paying job plus elder responsibilities combined than the preacher. So why is the preacher the one with burn out problems?
Well, in part, it’s because the preacher’s livelihood is at risk if things go poorly between himself and his elders or his church. It’s a different kind of stress. And yet elder burn out is quite real and rarely addressed in the literature.