PRESBYTERY OF MICHIGAN AND ONTARIO
Policies and Guidelines on Pastors’ Salaries

I. The support of the ministry of God’s Word: basic biblical principles A. Churches should support their pastors financially
B. The giving of God’s people
C. Adequate support
D. The sin of withholding compensation
E. Leadership of the elders
II. Application of biblical principles A. Standard: the Home Missions Scale (HMS) 1. The HMS as the presbytery standard
2. Origin, purpose, and nature of the HMS
3. HMS breakdown
4. Local adjustment
5. Difficulty of alternative approach
B. Determining the terms of a call: the task of the congregation 1. A model call (FOG 22:9 expanded)
2. A procedure for determining the terms (three steps)
3. Consulting with the pastor or candidate
4. Consulting the Candidates and Credentials Committee
5. Inability to give full support
6. Some things a congregation should understand
7. Some questions a congregation should ask itself
C. Responsibilities and authority of the presbytery 1. Responsibilities
2. Authority
3. Implementation a. Adoption of policies and guidelines
b. Directives to Candidates and Credentials Committee
c. Directives to sessions—review of minutes
d. Directive to Diaconal Committee—the right of pastors
e. Discernment
f. Calculating need

I. Biblical teaching on the support of the ministry of God’s Word

A. Churches should support their pastors financially. The Bible teaches that "the laborer is worthy of his hire." It has never been seriously disputed in the Reformed churches that ministers of the Word ought to be financially supported by the churches to which they minister (1 Cor. 9:4-14, 1 Tim. 5:17 ff., Gal. 6:6-8). The ministry of God’s Word, being ordained by the Lord, must take precedence over buildings and other secondary matters in the church’s finances. The value which congregations place on the ministry of the Word has much to do with the degree to which the Lord will bless them through that Word. This is emphatically stated in Galatians 6:6-8: "Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh from the flesh shall reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit, shall from the Spirit reap eternal life." The members of our congregations should give priority to the kingdom of heaven in the stewardship of their personal finances (Mt. 6:33). They should value the ministry of God’s Word above earthly possessions and comforts. If they do not, then the day may come when that Word will no longer be ministered to them (Amos 8:11 ff., Rev. 2:5).

B. The giving of God’s people. God has revealed that the ministry of the Word is to be supported through the tithes and offerings of His people. The Bible teaches regular giving as a part of our corporate worship of God, expressing thankfulness and devotion to Him (Ps. 50:14, 61:8, 116:14,17,18, Mt. 5:23 ff., 1 Cor 16:2, 2 Cor. 9:7). The law of Moses commanded God’s people to give a tithe to the Lord (one tenth of all the increase from fields, vines, orchards, flocks, etc., Lev. 27:30 et. al.). This went principally to support the priests and Levites in their ministry (intercession for the people, leading in worship, teaching the law, serving as judges). Part of the tithe also went to aid the needy. While all wealth belongs to the Lord, He laid a special claim to the tithes, so that withholding the tithe is theft from God (Mal. 3:8 ff.) and brings chastening from Him. At the same time God promised that tithing would not impoverish His people but would result in His blessing them (Mal. 3:10 ff.). The blessings and curses of Malachi are those specified in the Mosaic covenant (especially in Deuteronomy) for covenant faithfulness or covenant breaking. Tithing preceded the law of Moses, as Abraham paid tithes to the priest-king of the Most High God, Melchizedek (Gen. 14:17). Hebrews 7 teaches that in giving a tithe to this man who was a type of Christ, Abraham (and his priestly descendants in him) was giving a tithe to Christ. While the New Testament does not explicitly command tithing, neither does it annul the Old Testament requirement. There are indications in the New Testament that tithing continues beyond the Mosaic covenant. Jesus, while condemning the Pharisees for their neglect of the weighty matters of the law (justice and mercy), did say of their scrupulous tithing: "which things you should have done" (Mt. 23:23). But our Lord may be affirming this duty strictly in terms of the Mosaic covenant which continued in effect until his death and resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 9:13 ff. Paul argues from the Old Testament provision for the support of the tabernacle ministry (which was by tithes) to the church’s obligation to support its ministers of the gospel. Certainly, if the new order does leave tithing behind as a legal obligation, it is not with the intent of promoting less giving for the church’s ministry! Our Lord commends the widow who gave all her wealth (Lk. 24:1-4) as a rebuke to those wealthy worshipers who gave only a tithe. Ultimately our model in giving must be Christ Himself: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). Because the ministry of the church is properly supported only by the freewill offerings of God’s people, and because the church is the only agency ordained by God in His Word for the ministry of the gospel, the tithe should be given only to the church. Giving to other worthy causes should be over and above the tithe.

C. Adequate support. What is adequate support for the ministry of God’s Word? Are there biblical guidelines? The law of Moses forbade oppressing the laborer in his wages (Dt. 24:14); that is, using the advantage that a land-owner had over the dispossessed to pay less than would be needed to properly care for himself and his family. Certainly the minister should be paid enough to meet the needs of his family. The apostle Paul, in encouraging the Greek churches to give generously for poor Christians in Judea, states that God’s purpose is "that there may be equality" (2 Cor. 8:12-15), for which he cites the example of God’s provision of manna in the wilderness. As the Lord provided miraculously for His people in such a way that each had enough, so He would provide equitably for His people in this age through the labors of their own hands and their generosity toward each other. Applying this principle to the support of those who "get their living by the Word" (1 Cor. 9:14), a minister should be paid at least enough to live at the accepted standard of the congregation which he is serving. This way of stating the principle needs to be qualified, lest a too narrow focus on the local community lead to "muzzling the ox" contrary to God’s will (1 Cor. 9:7-11). Some communities may be characterized by grinding poverty. We do not pay the missionary to Rwanda $50 per year just because that is the per capita income of the people in that nation. On the other hand, we would not give a home missionary to Beverly Hills an expense account to provide a chauffeured Cadillac limo and house servants, just because inordinate ostentation is the community standard of living there.

D. The sin of withholding compensation. It occasionally happens that a congregation or a large part thereof becomes so dissatisfied with their pastor’s service that they contrive by one means or another to withhold his compensation in order to force his resignation. This is a sinful violation of trust, for the congregation has pledged in its call to its pastor to compensate him for his labors at a certain amount so long as he continues to be their pastor. As God is faithful to his promised Word, so we are called to be faithful (2 Cor. 1:18). The righteous man "swears to his own hurt and does not change" (Ps. 15:4). Putting this kind of financial pressure on a pastor is also an unprincipled effort to exercise control that circumvents the biblical and constitutional procedures provided in our Form of Government and Book of Discipline. Those who are dissatisfied with their pastor are obligated by the Word and their membership vows and ordination vows (if they are officers) to pursue their grievances lawfully, that is, to follow biblical and constitutional procedures while continuing to support their pastor financially.

E. Leadership of elders. As shepherds of the flock, sessions must lead congregations to understand, embrace and joyfully act on biblical principles of stewardship and the support of the ministry of the Word. Elders must lead by precept and example. They must see to it that scriptural instruction is provided, and they themselves ought at least to tithe. If unscriptural attitudes are expressed by members of the congregation, session members should correct them with love and firmness.

II. Application of biblical principles

A. Standard: the Home Missions Scale (HMS)

1. As a standard for comparison the presbytery will employ the annually published Home Missions Scale (HMS hereafter), as found in the most recently printed general assembly minutes at the start of each year.

2. Origin, purpose, and nature of the HMS

The HMS governs only the work of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE). Ordinarily it does not have authority over the churches or presbyteries. The CHMCE devised the HMS in an effort to bring fairness and equity to the matter of salary aid being given to home missions around the country. In setting the Scale the aim was to arrive at a salary amount that would enable a growing family to live in modest comfort in the context of the American standard of living. Items that vary widely from area to area (such as housing, car, and medical expenses) are treated separately from the "Basic Salary Scale" which is intended to be a realistic estimate of an adequate cost of living for such items as food, clothing, furniture, recreation, education, etc. Each year the CHMCE revises the HMS based on official government reports on the cost of living.

3. HMS breakdown

  • Base salary, with graduated increases for years of service (up to 16)
  • Hospitalization: full premium coverage
  • Housing: either (a) housing allowance to cover rent or purchase, plus utilities, or
    (b) a manse plus full utilities (except personal long distance phone calls)
  • Full pension premium
  • 1/2 pastor’s self-employment tax
  • Car allowance
  • 4. Local adjustments

    Is the HMS realistic for a particular area? The following procedure can determine this. Leaving aside special items (car, housing, medical, retirement, Self-Employment tax), list the major areas of family expense. Are they higher or lower in your area than in the nation as a whole? Some examples: in some midwest communities the cost of food is much higher than in eastern and southern farming communities which produce an abundance of vegetables, fruit, and dairy products for local markets; manufactured items are more expensive in rural areas (small markets, higher transportation costs); labor and service costs are generally much higher in urban areas, as are housing and medical expenses. It may be hard to obtain reliable information to make such comparisons, and it is probable that up and down variations will cancel each other out in most cases. Using the HMS a church may take the Base Salary Scale as is or adjust it to their local cost of living. The other items of the HMS are easily figured. Car allowance, housing, and utility expenses will be determined by the experience of the previous pastor or the expense record of the present pastor in consultation with a local realtor. Medical insurance premiums will be determined by the chosen carrier, and so on.

    5. Difficulty of alternative approach

    Why not simply start from scratch and determine the average cost of living for a particular area? Because that is very difficult to do. Reliable data are hard to obtain. Averages for an area will be skewed downward by the number of retired persons living on small income and by the number of people on welfare. The question is: what is the average cost of living for a working man with a growing family? Do we take into account the cost of Christian school tuition? Planning for a college education for children? The value of the pastor’s seven years of post-high school education (equivalent to that of a lawyer) and his accumulated experience? Do most of the wives in the community work outside the home? Does the congregation want the pastor’s wife to have to contribute to the family income in this way? Suppose the church contains a high percentage of laid-off factory workers, farm families who have been losing money, or retired pensioners. If the pastor is to be paid the average wage of the congregation, he might have to take a loss! Determining the pastor’s salary by this means may require more information, competence, and objectivity than is possible. Use of the HMS may be much simpler.

    B. Determining the terms of a call: the task of the congregation

    1. A model call (expanded from Form of Government 22:9)

    The congregation of .................. Church being, on sufficient grounds, well satisfied with the ministerial qualifications of you, ......................, and having good hopes that your ministrations in the gospel will be profitable to our spiritual interests, do earnestly call and desire you to undertake the pastoral office in said congregation; promising you in the discharge of your duty all proper support, encouragement, and obedience in the Lord. And [that you may be free from worldly care and employment,]* we promise and oblige ourselves to pay you the sum of $.................. per year in regular ............... payments as a base salary during the time of your being and continuing the regular pastor of this church, together with $.................... as a housing and utility allowance,** $.................... as a car allowance,*** both to be paid in regular ................ payments, full premium payment for hospitalization insurance, $................. for pension premium,**** and 1/2 reimbursement for your Self-Employment Tax, and also ............. vacation each year.

    *Optional, see 5 below

    **Or: free use of the manse and all utilities except personal long distance phone calls.

    ***Or: church related car expenses to be reimbursed. [Use a voucher system, or buy a car for church use and set up accounts with a local gas station for maintenance.]

    ****Or some other retirement plan.

    NOTE: Church budget committees are well advised, in the interest of good stewardship, to consult a tax expert with knowledge in the area of ministerial compensation in order to structure the breakdown of salary and allowances for maximum tax advantage to the pastor. More allowances than those listed above may be beneficial (e.g., professional expenses). It may be best for the church to own the car used by the pastor for his ministry, etc.

    2. A procedure for determining the terms

    Step 1. A congregation (pulpit committee or session) determines what it should pay its pastor, based on HMS (II:A:3:4 above).

    Step 2. A congregation determines what it is able to pay its pastor. Method: number of employed and contributing members (not number of communicant members) x estimated average income x 10% = the total giving that can reasonably be expected from the congregation. If actual giving is significantly below this level, there is need for greater faithfulness in the congregation to biblical stewardship. It is the task of the elders to teach and lead the congregation in this matter (see above). From total expected giving subtract budget items that must be met besides salary items ("must" items are true obligations and minimal operating expenses, not "wish" items and optional expenses). The resulting amount is what the congregation should be able to pay its pastor.

    Step 3. Apportion this amount among the various categories of the HMS. Consult with the pastor or candidate regarding each item, including such matters as housing preference (if there is no manse), retirement plan, self-employment tax, and insurance carrier. Make the fullest possible use of tax-sheltering allowances and expense reimbursements. If the church pays the full medical premium, the pastor does not have to report it as taxable income; but a reimbursement for a part of the premium does have to be so reported.

    3. Consulting with the pastor or candidate

    It is certainly better to ask a pastor what his needs are than to assume (or presume) a knowledge of them. Since few pastors will feel free to raise the subject themselves, the church leaders should take the initiative both with candidates and as part of the annual budget-making process. But certain things should be kept in mind. A candidate (particularly if he is right out of seminary) may not have an accurate knowledge of what his financial needs will be in a particular community. Furthermore, the question "How much do you need?" invariably translates in the pastor’s mind into: How little can my family get by on? Do the children’s teeth really need to be checked each year? Does Suzie really have to have her teeth straightened? Do I really need to take my wife out once in a while? Do we have to visit our parents this year? Can I make the old car last just one more year? As stated earlier, it is preferable to follow the HMS for the base salary and rely on consulting the pastor/candidate for such matters as housing preference, retirement plan, etc.

    4. Consulting the Candidates and Credentials Committee

    In preparing to bring a call to the presbytery a session or pulpit committee should work on the form and terms of the call in consultation with the Candidates and Credentials Committee. This should be done before the congregation meets to adopt a call (see II.C.3.b,c below).

    5. Inability to give full support

    If a congregation is not able to give its pastor full support (HMS); that is, if the result of Step 1 above is more than the result of Step 2, then:

    a. The words "that you may be free from worldly care and employment" should not be used in the call. This is only honest.

    b. The call should explicitly permit the pastor to supplement his income through outside employment (perhaps specifying permitted hours of outside employment, though this may be best left to the discretion of the session). Note, however, that presbytery does not recommend, but only acquiesces to this arrangement in cases where there seem to be no reasonable alternatives. Granted that pastors may be scripturally free to labor outside the ministry for their own support, this may not be wise in most cases. That model "tentmaker," the apostle Paul, did not "lead about a wife;" but Peter, who did, received support from the churches (implied by I Cor. 9:5 in context). A self-supporting pastor will constantly be pressured by the competing demands of his outside job, the needs of the church and the needs of his family, and all three plus the pastor himself are likely to suffer. In addition, in areas experiencing recession it may not be possible for a pastor to find adequate supplemental employment.

    c. The congregation may appeal to the presbytery for financial assistance.

    d. The congregation must indicate to presbytery its intention to work toward full support of its pastor as it is able, and shall review salary provisions annually with that goal in view.

    6. Some things a congregation should understand

    a. A minister lives on a fixed monthly income which he may have less freedom than others in the church to influence. For example, the congregation may feel strongly that their pastor’s wife should not work outside the home, although the wives in the congregation do. If the pastor takes supplemental employment, members may feel he is not earning the salary they are paying him (assuming such employment is available). Most ministers have no equity or capital to borrow from or to fall back on in case of emergency. If they are paid just enough to get by on from month to month, they cannot save for the future.

    b. A minister depends on the giving of the congregation, but is usually very reluctant ever to express any dissatisfaction with what he is receiving. Generally, if he does, it is serious!

    c. If the church provides a manse, the minister is building no equity toward housing in his retirement. This makes provision for retirement all the more essential.

    d. A retirement plan is not a luxury, unless the church intends to continue supporting a minister by continuing his salary after he is no longer able to serve.

    e. Good medical coverage is a necessity. If the church does not provide for it (despite high premiums), it may end up shouldering the burden of staggering medical expenses and passing that burden to the rest of the churches of the presbytery and denomination.

    7. Some questions a congregation should ask itself:

  • Do we place a biblically high value on the ministry of God’s Word?
  • In a crunch, which comes first: giving the pastor a good wage or making improvements on the building?
  • Is the ministry seen as a sort of second-rate occupation, necessary to keep a church going and perform weddings and funerals and baptisms, but not really worth much?
  • Do some feel that it is more spiritual for ministers and their families to be poor?
  • Do some argue for holding down the pastor’s salary, but then feel good about giving him various kinds of charity?
  • What is the value of the training, experience, and education (equal to that of a lawyer) of a minister?
  • Do members of the congregation tithe?
  • Do some fail to tithe, pleading their own financial squeeze, but then spend money on personal items that the pastor cannot afford?
  • Would members of the congregation be willing to change jobs and move their families to a strange place, if they were offered the salary package they are proposing for a new pastor?
  • Will the proposed salary package enable a family to live at the standard of living that is reasonably hoped for by working people with families in your community?
  • Will having our minister and his family live within the income we propose commend or detract from the reputation of our congregation in this community?
  • Does the session promote understanding and acceptance of biblical stewardship by their own example and by providing for instruction (in pulpit, Sunday school literature, etc.)?
  • C. Responsibilities and authority of the presbytery

    1. Responsibilities

    We are committed to the unity of Christ’s church as expressed in our presbyterian system of inter-connection. "Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2) applies as much between churches as it does between individual Christians. The whole church bears a responsibility for the well-being of its individual parts, not only locally, but also regionally. Therefore, the whole church in the presbytery bears a responsibility for the ministry of the Word and sacraments in its individual congregations. If some congregations have enough of this world’s goods to provide for the means of grace for themselves and have a surplus, and they behold sister congregations in need, if the love of God truly abides in them, they will not close their hearts but will love in deed and in truth (1 Jn. 3:17 ff.). Such sharing is not for the ease of the needy and the affliction of the more prosperous, but by way of equality (2 Cor. 8:13 ff.). Therefore:

    a. Presbytery should do all in its power to see that each congregation receives the regular ministry of the Word and sacraments through the services of a duly appointed pastor.

    b. Presbytery should do all in its power to see that each pastor is adequately provided for, not only for his and his family’s sake, but also for the honor of the Lord of the church.

    2. Authority

    a. Presbytery may and must pass on all calls to service in its congregations. In doing so it may approve or disapprove the terms of such calls. To that end presbytery has the right to adopt and circulate for its own guidance and the guidance of its churches a standard by which to measure the terms of calls.

    b. Presbytery may instruct and exhort congregations, either in general or particular. It may do so by written communications or by appointing a committee to meet face-to-face with a session or others in a congregation. Presbytery may not command a church with a pastor already installed to pay him any particular amount.

    c. Presbytery may devise methods for giving financial help to pastors and churches in need.

    3. Implementation

    a. The presbytery adopts this document as its policy on pastor’s salaries.

    b. The presbytery directs its candidates and credentials committee to communicate with the sessions of vacant churches in order to be involved with the preparation of calls well in advance of their coming to the presbytery for approval (see II.B.4). The committee should consult with the candidate regarding the adequacy of the terms of the calling church. The committee might even advise a candidate not to accept a call under the terms proposed.

    c. The presbytery directs sessions to include in their minutes for annual review by the presbytery a statement of the current remuneration provided their pastor. The appropriate committee of presbytery shall review these arrangements and may make recommendations to the presbytery and/or the sessions. The presbytery directs the sessions and/or pulpit committees of vacant churches to read this document and follow its procedures (especially II:B).

    d. The presbytery directs its diaconal committee to seek to discover cases of pastors in need and give them aid as they are able. Any pastor may request aid directly from the presbytery diaconal committee (since the presbytery is the locus of his membership).

    e. Discernment

    When it becomes aware that a certain pastor may be receiving inadequate remuneration, how is the presbytery to respond? There is a difference between a congregation that desires and seeks to pay its pastor adequately but cannot, and a congregation that might have the means but does not value the ministry of God’s Word highly enough to do so. No doubt, in the membership of every congregation there is a mixture of attitudes, though one or the other may be more dominant and decisive in a congregation as a whole. Presbytery and its committees need to be sensitive to this distinction. Presbytery must not discourage a struggling congregation by administering admonition when the real need is for encouragement and help. Yet presbytery must be willing and able to call to greater faithfulness to Christ a congregation in which there appear to be real problems of unbiblical stewardship. Presbytery or its committee should begin with polite inquiries that seek information and offer assistance (as able). Presbytery should work with and through the local session, relying on their good will, integrity and competence.

    f. Calculating need

    Refer back to "B. Determining the terms of a call," section 2, "A procedure for determining the terms." If the amount resulting from step 1 is more than the amount resulting from step 2, then there is a need. The congregation and pastor may agree together to meet that need through the pastor’s outside employment. The congregation may seek salary aid from the presbytery (which may or may not have the resources to assist them). If the actual giving of the congregation is less than it may reasonably be expected to be (step 2), then presbytery may seek to meet the "need" by exhorting the congregation to increase its giving or rearrange the priorities of its budget.


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