The above is a phrase extracted from a paragraph in the form call-letter in use in our churches. The whole paragraph reads as follows:
Convinced that the laborer is worthy of his hire, and to encourage you in the discharge of your duties, and to free you from all worldly cares and avocations while. you are dispensing spiritual blessings to us, we, the elders and deacons of the . . . . . Protestant Reformed Church do promise and oblige ourselves to pay you the sum of . . . . . dollars, in . . . . payments, yearly, and every year as long as yap continue the minister of this church, together with free use of parsonage, and free use of a telephone . . . . .
As you have guessed, the subject of this editorial is ministers’ salaries. More specifically, it is low salaries.
Before I proceed, let me exclude myself, lest anyone think that the intent of this editorial is self-serving. I am adequately cared for.
Now let me explain.
It is almost an annual occurrence at our synodical meetings that when subsidy requests are treated, someone makes the remark that the salaries of ministers in subsidized churches are low,—low to the point of being downright inadequate. The trouble with that remark is, however, two-fold. In the first place, synod can do nothing about this situation. It does not have the right, for example, to say to a congregation, “We will give you $500 more subsidy- than you have requested, provided you raise your minister’s salary by that amount.” In the second place, the remark is really made at the wrong place: for the most part, it does not reach those who should hear it.
Hence, I decided to make the remark(s) where they could be heard by all, both in subsidized and in nonsubsidized consistories and congregations. This is not an attempt to dictate to any consistory. Moreover, I am aware that some consistories inquire annually of their pastors whether their salaries are adequate,—although I am also aware that many a pastor is reluctant to ask for a salary increase, especially in a subsidized congregation. This is merely an attempt to call attention to what I believe is a real problem, and to do so at the time of year when proposed budgets are being considered by consistories.
Consider the following facts:
1. Of ten churches whit h requested subsidy this year, seven listed proposed salaries of $4,800 down to $4,500. I have no statistics for non-subsidized churches. Besides, I am listing only the more extreme cases.
2. Usually, let alone the fact that salaries are already below average, increases in salary do not keep up with increases in the cost of living. This is according to government statistics.
3. As a rule, increases in salary do not keep up with increases in size of family, nor with increased costs as a family grows up.
4. The average per family income in the United States is said to be around $9,500 per year.
5. In comparison with other denominations, salaries in our denomination as a whole are at the bottom of the scale. I do not say this because we should “keep up with the Joneses.” But I present these statistics merely to give some idea of what other churches do. For example, the average (not the highest) Christian Reformed salary in 1967 is $6,734.52; the projected average for 1968 is $6,935.00. Recently gleaned from a Chicago newspaper some statistics as to average salaries in Protestant denominations in that area. For example: The Episcopal Church pays an average of $6,500, plus utilities, pension and hospitalization allowances. The United Church of Christ reports a “low average salary” of $5,200, plus car allowances of $1,000 to $1,500. The United Presbyterian Church will not install a pastor unless the congregation pays a minimum salary of $6,000, with provision of $200 additional for each dependent child. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod reports that base salaries, plus housing and benefits, start at approximately $7,000 to $7,500.
Understand well, I am not saying that the salary standard for our churches ought to be the average salary standard of all other denominations, even though the newspaper article previously referred to made a point of commenting that while the average earnings of ministers have come up in recent years, they have not come up as much as the cost of living. Other churches are not our standard, even in salary matters.
We have a standard, and it is a good one.
It is the Biblical standard expressed in the words: “Convinced that the laborer is worthy of his hire….” And, secondly, that standard is expressed in the words which state the purpose of the salary: “. . .to free you from all worldly cares and avocations while you are dispensing spiritual blessings to us. . . .”
This standard must be observed, and observed diligently and carefully. And it must be observed, of course, in the light of the facts of economic life and of the cost of living and the standard of living.
And then, I submit that it does not take a financial expert to discover that some of our ministers and their wives do some “nail biting” to figure out how to “make ends meet” on a salary of, say, $4,500 for a family that has two or three little ones.
But what, then, is the solution for a small congregation which should raise and desires to raise the pastor’s salary?
I would suggest two things:
1. Let the consistory first make a careful and comparative appraisal of the weekly budget per family. Is it already high in comparison with the budget of our other churches and in comparison with the ability of the congregation? Or can the congregation do more, perhaps, without difficulty? Remember: for a congregation of 20 families a fifty cent increase in the weekly budget will produce a salary increase of $500 for the pastor.
2. If the consistory, after careful appraisal, is convinced that the congregation is already doing its best, then let them freely ask for an increase in subsidy. To my knowledge, our churches have never yet rejected a well founded request for subsidy. And, contrary to the thinking of some, our synodical budget is not a high one.
Think about it,—before the annual congregational meeting.