CT on Clerical Hours and Wages

clergysalariesThe chart to the left is from 2001. (I have no idea why there is such a difference between Christian and Jewish clergy.)

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.”

Interesting …

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to CT on Clerical Hours and Wages

  1. When I was in college, a minister friend told me that he felt ministers should work 55 hours per week. That was with the idea that the average person should give about 15 hours per week to the church, so the minister should give 15 hours beyond the typical 40. Always made sense to me.

  2. Regarding Elder burnout. I know some men in my community who spend six months a year operating local basketball leagues. During those six months, they work their regular job 50 hours a week and work with the basketball league 20 hours a week.

    They have been doing this for 20 years. They are not burned out. They love it.

    Many Elders I know tell me that being an Elder is a difficult, trying, taxing, horrible task. They love to hate it or hate to love it or something in there.

    Why do Elders “burn out?” They convince themselves that being an Elder is one of those, “This is terrible, but someone has to do it.” And, “If I don’t do it, the church will die.” I think the second excuse is the most troubling as it often reads, “If it wasn’t for me, the church established by God would fail. Isn’t God glad I’m here to keep Him afloat?”

  3. When should we set up a central office for churches of Christ?

  4. Mark says:

    I’m not sure how the rabbi salary figures were compiled but there are a lot of small temples who use seminary students for clergy who should be included in the average in at $0.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    I’m not familiar with the synagogue system for hiring and compensating rabbis, but I know a lot of Churches of Christ hire as a preacher a college student from a nearby college or university — paying a nominal wage supplemented by covered dish dinners. The student gets to practice preaching, gets a break from college food, and the church gets to help train a young man for the ministry.

    My guess is that the survey didn’t take the small churches/synagogues into account. The original report is too expensive to buy for just a one-post series, so I don’t have much more detail than in the post.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    Did I suggest that we should set up a central office? Pretty sure that I didn’t. The absence of a central office does make data gathering very difficult. On the other hand, having a central office in the 1960s led to a lot of erroneous data. BC Goodpasture, then editor of the Gospel Advocate, reported annual growth in the Churches of Christ of 5% based on his visits to a handful of churches. You see, back then the GA was the de facto central office, and statisticians called the GA to gather this kind of data.

    We no longer have anyone with that kind of power over the Churches (a good thing) and, as a result, our data is better — as no one feels empowered to give data without doing the homework necessary to generate meaningful numbers. But it’s lot more work.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    Getting a six month break is a good way to prevent burn out. So there’s no comparison between operating a basketball league and being an elder — which is a 12-month job.

    Of course, not all elders burn out. Probably most don’t. But it seems to me that elders are far more likely to burn out than preachers. Most elders don’t get paid. Many members have no sympathy for the burdens of the job. There are no vacations or breaks. And we offer zero training. I mean, it’s a classic case for burn out.

    The Mayo Clinic lists as causes of burn out (for any job) http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642

    Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.

    Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.

    Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.

    Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your employer does business or handles grievances, the mismatch can eventually take a toll.

    Poor job fit. If your job doesn’t fit your interests and skills, it might become increasingly stressful over time.

    Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.

    Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.

    Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.

    Contrary to many member’s expectations, all of these factors can apply to elders.

    Lack of control. While elders have the final say in most churches, the reality is that they often cannot make changes they perceive as necessary due to fear of losing inflexible members who will reject any change.

    Unclear job expectations. In the Churches of Christ, some members insist that elders have no authority other than the power to set a good example. Others see them as able to command couples not to divorce and get mad when elders fail to command a couple to stay together. We can’t even agree on whether being an elder is an office or whether the elders are to be obeyed or submitted to. It’s hard to do the work of an elder when the members’ have varying perceptions of what your job is and how you should do it.

    Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Elders are always a plurality — meaning you have to get along with the other guys. And then you have to present the appearance of a united front to the congregation. And sometimes you find yourself being an elder alongside some very difficult personalities.

    Mismatch in values. Again, sometimes even the paid staff don’t see the elders as having any real authority. Sometimes the staff believe they should be granted complete autonomy in how they do their jobs. Since we have several different theologies of what an elder is, an elder can find himself struggling to be an overseer.

    Poor job fit. Many an elder accepts the position assuming he’ll take on shepherding/pastoral duties, only to find that he’s being asked to review copier leases. As only one person on a multi-man board, he may find it very difficult to persuade the other elders to give up playing office administrator and instead be overseers, shepherds, and elders.

    Extremes of activity. You have no idea …

    Lack of social support. Elders can, of course, receive social support from other elders and from their own wives, but otherwise there are very few people they can discuss church matters with. It can be a very isolating when an elder finds himself disagreeing with the majority of the other elders. Whom do you go to for advice?

    Work-life imbalance. Again, most elders already have a job and a family.

    So it’s surprising to me that elder burn out isn’t a bigger issue than it seem to be — given how much is written about burn out of ministers.

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    Eldership sure seem to me to have the same pressures and stress that are in all jobs in the world. Especially, in the high end management of a company. How about these lawyers, when it comes to representing a case before a judge or possibly a jury. One job that I am not sure that I could handle would be a lawyer defending a client when all the evidence was was proving his guilt, yet he was totally denying his guilt. I would call that stress! Police officers have very stressful jobs yet, most of them do not burn out, they thrive upon it.
    My point, Elders should be in the least stressful of all jobs in the world. Why, what other occupation in the world do you have a direct connection to the ruler of all mankind to unload your burdens upon, who has promised to be by your side and guiding you every step of the way. If an Elder cannot provide a visibility to his sheep of how to handle the stress in life, then he cannot provide the duty of a shepherd to the sheep. There is no place in life that does not contain stress. Oh, what is stress? Has any one of us been faced with stress in comparison to the persecuted church of the first century?
    It seem to be odd, the Christianity of the first century, through stress and persecution grew and became stronger. We on the other hand have “burn out”. Something is drastically wrong with this picture.

  9. Monty says:

    Tim said,

    “That was with the idea that the average person should give about 15 hours per week to the church,”

    That figure seems really high based on my observations and experience. 4 hours a week if you attend every service( only a few do) and that leaves 11 more hours of “other.” midweek small group for 2-3 hours,, a Monday night for the Master of 2 hours, visit a prison ministry for 2 hours and that still leaves 4-5 hours for some more “other.” What am I missing?

  10. Dwight says:

    Why should an elder have any set amount of time to dedicate to the church, as opposed to doing what is needed, when there is little to do and when there is much to do. Our elders at out congregation are elders all of the time, but don’t make rulings all of the time or don’t teach much of the time and don’t oversee people who aren’t there when they aren’t in assembly. Now granted many of them work 40 hour jobs, but the amount of time of their eldering is equal to the amount of time of watching the TV an hour a day. Now one of the problems is that we often cast too much work on them, as opposed to everyone else.
    The elders are then required to visit the sick, even when those in the congregation have done this. The elders are then required to arrange for giving to the saints, even when many saint have been doing this and this is something the deacons should be doing.
    We don’t even cast upon the people that they must work a certain amount of hours in the Lord, as this should be their life. Elders can’t stop eldering simply because they can’t stop being Christians.

  11. Mark says:

    The seminary students about which I was referring are in their last year of seminary and provide year-long spiritual leadership to small temples while gaining experience. Their expenses are reimbursed to Hebrew Union College and room and board was typically with members.

  12. Jay Guin says:


    My point, Elders should be in the least stressful of all jobs in the world. Why, what other occupation in the world do you have a direct connection to the ruler of all mankind to unload your burdens upon, who has promised to be by your side and guiding you every step of the way.

    True, but also true of every Christian who has any job of any kind.

    But being an elder is unique in that your decisions have an impact on the souls of hundreds or thousands. The stakes could not be higher — far higher than whether someone goes to jail or serving as a policeman.

    Moreover, for most elders, the church is the core of their social circle. If they make an unpopular decision, they jeopardize relationships with nearly all their friends.

    Burnout is a recognized problem for police officers: http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/733761/10444483/1296183365827/Stress+Burnout++and+Health+FINAL.pdf?token=MUq8yl4jFt4VCeLH%2F9Db06WO9Lw%3D

    Prior research suggests that policing is one of the most stressful occupations. This high level of stress is due to a variety of factors that characterize the policing profession.

    One of the reasons elders suffer burnout is the unreasonable expectation that elders must be super-Christians who ought to be immune from such things. An elder who suffers burnout is considered to have a moral failing. Therefore, neither the elders, the staff, nor the congregation do much to help elders cope with the burdens of the job. There is no training for how to cope with the stress or the inconsistent, unreasonable expectations of the task. And denial only makes the problem worse.

  13. Mark says:

    “Moreover, for most elders, the church is the core of their social circle. If they make an unpopular decision, they jeopardize relationships with nearly all their friends.”

    And if they only please their friends who are likely in their peer group and their age, many younger people feel like they were sold out. Please explain in detail the unpopular decisions. I am well aware that one cannot please everyone but a thorough explanation of the thoughts leading to the decision would help everyone see the whole picture, what had to be considered, and how the conclusion was reached. This might help some people to feel like they weren’t sold out.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    I entirely agree that a thorough explanation for the decision helps. Sometimes it’s enough. But in the Churches of Christ, we have been trained not to listen on certain topics. If it’s an issue that defines us a denomination — an identity issue — many people will not listen to any explanation offered.

  15. Jay Guin says:


    I agree that elders often fail to delegate as they should. In fact, I would recommend that any eldership begin any discussion on any topic with the question: “Is this a decision that the elders should make — or should we delegate this to someone else?” In the short run, it’s often easier to just make the decision, but when the elders make decisions that ought to be made by the adult ed committee, for example, they not only demoralize the committee, they set up a pattern where people assume that all the decisions have to run past the elders — and they fail to give the committee a chance to learn how to make decisions for themselves. Hence, they stand in the way of new leaders developing and thereby get in the way of raising up their successors.

  16. Larry Cheek says:

    You remember the problem that I was having not being able to separate your comments from what you had presented? I have not found a solution, but I am still experiencing that problem I am unaware if others have the same results. This post and the comments always opens with your formatting changed to a full screen mode. There is no column on the right side, no search block, no category block, no list of recent comments. Anything which you have indented is no longer indented, both in your original post and in the comments. At the end of your post in the “related” category there are three previous posts listed, below that it gives the date and on the right hand side of the page is the number of replies. Then two blue blocks left side is Previous and right side is Next. Below those is the “Leave a Reply”, then the identity of the one commenting, followed by the comments (unnumbered) with the icon of the one commenting with all text aligned to a left margin indented probably three spaces from the icon.

    I have opened this in three browsers, I normally use Google, but I tried Explorer and Mozilla fire Fox all are consistently following the same pattern.
    Today’s post and the posts prior to yesterdays post follow a pattern which we all have been accustomed. I thought about copying and pasting samples into Word to email to you but there are some other changes that take place when that is done. It looks to me as if there is another theme being applied on some of your posts than your normal theme.
    Is anyone else experiencing this effect? If so maybe some one else could offer a clearer explanation. I just checked my android phone which is also running Google and it is following the same pattern.

  17. Larry Cheek says:

    This is amazing after I posted the comment the post and all the comments returned to the same formatting of other posts. I checked my phone and it had also followed the change, it is just like all the others. Phone is Verizion Wireless not on my modem with the other computer, strange!

  18. Larry Cheek says:

    I believe that in this statement you are accelerating the responsibility of an Elder far above the message of the scriptures.
    “But being an elder is unique in that your decisions have an impact on the souls of hundreds or thousands. The stakes could not be higher ”
    If there was not a command for Christians to read and understand the scriptures today then you might have a case. But, no Elder today is to be in a position to dominate all of the education of any Christian. Even when there was not copies of the letters to the churches which became the Bible that we know, each and every Christian was given a gift of The Holy Spirit to guide their lives, no Elder even then was the only source of God’s instructions. Therefore, an Elder should have never been able to (snow) followers of Jesus with a doctrine which would damn their souls. If any Elder’s today had that much influence upon the assembly of Christians, we would never see Christians abandoning the assemblies which have taught doctrines not found in scriptures. How are these Christ followers enlightened from these teachings, from outsiders throwing bricks at the assembly proclaiming the false teachings there? Or by their own comparison of the proclaimed messages? I believe that common so to speak Christians are given a gift to more easily see the false teachings than any of the Elders or Preachers or Leaders can imagine. Talk to those who have left assemblies and not found places to worship comfortably. I believe that you will see the root problem.

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