BLOG | Preacher's Salary

The table below represents the compensation package the membership of DOWNTOWN CHURCH will vote to affirm on the recommendation of the session at our congregational meeting this Sunday. If you are surprised to see this information shared on the internets, then keep reading past the math.

Terms Amount
Professional Expenses $7,000
Cash Salary (taxable) $32,180
Housing Allowance $39,020
SECA Tax reimbursement $6280
Pension and Medical Benefits $25,988
Total 2015 Compensation $110,468

If you aren't surprised by our ineffectiveness at keeping secrets, stop reading. The rest of the post is going to sound preachy and judgmental even if the judgments are deserved.

These days, institutions large and small are concerned with transparency. Public trust of institutions has steadily declined since the 1970's. I thought the Enron collapse was the valley of the shadow of death. But the valley found a few more sinkholes in the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the subsequent recession.

This month, Standard and Poors, the venerable ratings agency that was supposed to offer unbiased assesments of investment vehicles, settled with the government and nineteen state attorney generals for 1.37 billion dollars to avoid a trial. Standard and Poors is paid by the banks to assess the health of the same bank's investment products. It wasn't a conflict of interest until their inflated ratings proved to be spurious and biased towards the banks.

The purpose of institutions like Standard and Poors is to be a transparent arbiter. We trust that they are telling the truth because any hint otherwise undermines their reason for existence. But still, they lied. They weren't transparent.

Another institution that too often abuses it's credibility and takes the public's trust for granted is the Church. The popularity of the new Pope, hasn't stopped new cases of sexual misconduct and abuse in the priesthood to surface on both sides of the Atlantic. The offenders are in many cases, not merely the local priest, but also include their bosses. Some bishops transferred guilty priests to new churches without revealing to the new church why they were so lucky to get a new pastor.

Churches from other traditions, like DOWNTOWN CHURCH, may ask what's wrong with the priests, but let's be honest, protestant institutions got explaining to do as well. Check out what happened at Oral Roberts University or the Crystal Cathedral (google it, I'm too lazy to link you through).

This long lead may seem overdone relative to the point of this post. Nevertheless, I'd argue that churches as public institutions should be proactive in telling the truth, all of it, whenever it is possible.

Transparency, a cute nickname for honesty and a frequent antonym for "public relations," is what should set us apart and mark us as the bridegroom of Christ. I'll be presumptious enough to speak for a couple of generations before and after mine that are so cynical about public institutions that we now believe we are being lied to until proven otherwise.

To help shift such perceptions, we will post my annual compensation package on our website and we will leave it there until it changes. The congregation must approve it when that happens. Normally, that 5 minute meeting is the one time each year we air the secret about how much the pastor makes.

An annual tell-a-thon might be sufficient for other institutions that depend on the public's trust. Publically traded companies annually report salaries of their executives. But we aren't a business. On most Sundays I stand up before preaching the sermon to remind everyone to drop their offering in a bowl as they exit. If we drop the subtle guilt-trip and the religious jargon, which includes phrases like being a good steward, giving out of your abundance, and fulfilling your tithe, we should admit that I'm effectively asking you to give me money.

So, why isn't the amount of money you give me each year a matter of our public record?

As you might have noticed, I am rich. Add in my wife's salary and our household income puts us in the top 9% of Americans. It isn't fair to leverage the authority the church extends me and silence any questions by justifying the math or apologizing for it. Nevertheless, know that I'm thankful to live and serve in a community where we can talk about money without looking away in shame or waiting until we get to the parking lot.