Fourteen percent of pastors in this country earn less than $6,000. Truck drivers average $18,300.

Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy is a sad book. The National Council of Churches’ most recent Clergy Support Study, however, is much sadder. It speaks in cold, hard statistics.

For instance, the average American pastor earns a salary of $10,348. He ministers to a congregation of about 300. He is married and has three children, but his job security is less than five years at each location. He pays more than $ 1,000 per year in expenses related to his profession, and there is better than a one-out-of-five chance that he moonlights to supplement his salary. If you think your pastor earns too much, you might be interested to note that less than 5 percent of American ministers earn more than $15,000. Fourteen percent of pastors in this country earn less than $6,000. Nearly half of all clergy have spouses who must work. Even if these salaries didn’t include housing allowances or parsonages, the final annual figure would still fall short of providing a stable economic picture for most pastors.

Now juxtapose these painful figures with statistics published by the U.S. Department of Labor. Truck drivers, for instance, average $18,300. Electricians earn $18,000. Lawyers average more than $25,000; dentists are in the $40.000 bracket. Specialist physicians earn anywhere from $100,000 to a quarter of a million annually. Many assembly line workers make in excess of $20,000.

The average pastor’s formal education costs up to $50,000, usually paid out of his own pocket, and covers four to eight years. This, in itself, should warrant a better return for his investment. But, too often, as it was a decade, two decades, and a century ago, churches continue to underpay their pastors.

Whom does this hurt most? The pastor, the church, or both? The church is silent, speaking only in terms of directionless congregations, ineffective programs, decreasing memberships, and the difficulty of securing able, effective pastors. The pastor, too, is silent because he perceives that he would deny his calling if he should draw too much attention to his material well-being.

Church financial advisers, however, will tell you their files are full of letters from pastors citing all the things pastors cannot do because they don’t have the money. Consider the pastor’s family; things like piano lessons, orthodontists, opticians, and quality college educations are often off limits. Unrealistic? Not at all. Hundreds of 46-year-old seminary graduates pastor churches with annual budgets of less than $40,000. These pastors can barely afford peanuts and Pepsi at ball games.

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Far more serious than the surface manifestations of low clergy salaries are the unhealthy psychological implications and social deprivations that inferior pay breeds. Low-paid ministers, for instance, feel negative about their churches. They have committed themselves to shepherding souls according to the Bible, and see their work as a ministry, not just another job. Yet when they are taken advantage of, they get angry at the injustice of their paychecks. They are not necessarily being materialistic; they just have bills to pay like everyone else.

Communities suffer, too. Do you remember the last time you talked to a pastor who had time and money enough to give to Rotary and United Fund appeals? Moonlighting pastors and their spouses have little time for PTA, Little League, and Girl Scouts as well. These organizations are unquestionably denied the moral counsel and guidance they could and should get from the clergy.

Church members, especially in small congregations, often wonder why many pastors do not retire “at a normal age like 65.” The sobering answer is simple: The benefits of most retirement plans are based on contributions, and contributions are based on salary. If a church pays a low salary, it pays a low retirement income as well—if at all. And if a pastor cannot afford to retire, he’ll be around past 65, 70, even 75. He becomes a burden to his church, and his job becomes a burden to himself.

Some say this is all changing. Negotiating leverage for ministers is supposedly increasing through professional associations designed for pastoral support. “If,” as G. Curtis Jones warns in The Naked Shepherd, “these negotiations are not allowed to take on the offensive and impersonal characteristics of labor and management hassles, it will be a good experience for all involved, and hopefully improve the church’s employment process.”

Unilateral upward adjustments are seldom received with open arms: however, if negotiating takes place, salary adjustments should be discussed from the pastor’s point of view as well as the congregation’s. Reading this editorial to the church board could be a starting point. Certainly, the church should decide on the final salary figure, but the minister should be able to present himself and his concerns to the congregation and finance committee.

Most pastors feel that it is inappropriate for them to ask for a higher salary, even if they genuinely need it. Members of the church board, therefore, should take the responsibility to insure that the pastor’s salary is fair and in line with the average living standard of the congregation. Afford your pastor a scheduled appointment to unravel carefully his long list of payroll concerns. Reexamine tax advantages; separate professional expense reimbursement from actual payroll compensation; determine the mean salary of the members of your congregation; and then set a salary figure within honest and reasonable limits of your church’s budget. You will have done more than you realize to secure an effective man of God in the ministry of your congregation.

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You will also have fulfilled the apostolic injunction to give preaching and teaching elders “double honor,” which, whatever else it may mean, certainly includes adequate wages (1 Tim. 5:17–18).

Volcanic eruptions sometimes destroy more than trees and rivers and lakes. They can also destroy ideologies and world views. The eruption of Mount Saint Helens on May 18 disturbed a lot of people with the religion I like to call “ecology romanticism.” One of the basic theological doctrines of ecology romanticism is that Nature never hurts anyone—only man hurts and destroys. Man kills the buffalo, rips off the land, poisons the air and water.

But suddenly an ugly fact slays this beautiful theory. A volcano, the most beautiful peak in the Cascade range, suddenly explodes violently, killing dozens of people, destroying millions of beautiful trees, clogging up miles of lake and river, scattering tons of ugly ash over millions of square acres.

How could Mother Nature suddenly and unthinkingly turn on her children with such destructive fury?

The question has been asked before. One of the most celebrated natural disasters in history was the earthquake that struck Lisbon, Portugal, at 9:40 on the morning of All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1755. In six minutes 30 churches and a thousand houses were demolished, 15 thousand people were killed immediately and 15 thousand more were fatally injured.

Earthquakes had happened before, but this one brought perplexing theological questions in its wake.

One keen thinker who was deeply disturbed by the Lisbon earthquake was François Marie Arouet. known to history as Voltaire (1694–1778). He found all explanations of the disaster hollow and hypocritical. Where now was Leibnitz’s notion of this as “the best of all possible worlds”? What now should one think of Alexander Pope’s dictum, “Whatever is, is right,” or his claim that “all partial evil is universal good”?

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Voltaire was strongly opposed to organized religion but he wasn’t an atheist. He was a deist. He believed in a secular monotheism without Bible, priesthood, clergy, dogma, or ritual. For the Jehovah of the Bible the deists substituted a super-Newton who created the great world machine that functioned perfectly. Deism gave God names like Supreme Being, First Cause, the Great Contriver, or Architect of the Universe.

The Lisbon earthquake gave Voltaire and all reflective deists a troubled conscience. It was difficult to believe in a just God and a perfect Nature after this event. It weakened this surrogate faith just like the eruption of Mount Saint Helens will probably weaken ecology romanticism. Voltaire supposedly believed in God for the rest of his life, but the problem of evil dogged him to his grave.

Voltaire’s puzzle could have been cleared up if he had simply rejected the myth of Mother Nature. This creeps into one’s thinking when one gives up the biblical God and accepts a mechanical world view, a philosophy based on scientism. The deists of Voltaire’s century became the evolutionary humanists of Darwin’s century. God the Father is gradually supplanted by Nature the Mother, from whose impersonal cosmic womb all things have gradually evolved.

The Bible-believing Christian must contradict this myth of Mother Nature. As G. K. Chesterton correctly observed. Nature is not our Mother but our Sister. We have the same Father, Jehovah, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who brought us both into existence in one mighty creative act (Gen. 1–2). As a brother to Nature we can admire her beauty, as any brother would, but we should not worship Nature or, at least in any literal sense, call her “Mother.”

One doctrine we must never forget in interpreting the role of Nature is the Fall of man. Genesis 3 is one of the most crucial chapters in God’s Word, because without it the rest of the Bible would be meaningless. Theism without the biblical doctrine of the Fall is irrational. The rest of the Bible from Genesis 3 onward was written because of what happened in that chapter—the Fall of man. God cursed not only man and woman but also Nature because of human sin.

Not only did Nature suffer with us when we sinned; Nature will also enjoy with us the effects of redemption, as Paul says in Romans 8. Paul was obviously using metaphorical language to describe the process of degeneration we know goes on in Nature. The phrase “bondage to decay” used in Romans 8:21 is a very apt description of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the scientific law which says that the universe is running down like a huge clock, or better, cooling off like a giant stove. Paul’s remarks in Romans 8 give us reason to believe that this decay process, this degradation of energy, began with the Fall of man and will end with the final redemption of man.

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Let no one ever say, therefore, like the deists, that Nature is perfect. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions disprove that assertion. Let no one ever say that this is the best of all possible worlds. Heaven will be much better; Eden was much better. And we can make this world better than it is by resisting evil and maintaining a cautious respect for Nature. Until Christ returns, both man and Nature will be a problem. God will ultimately redeem both, but in the meantime, expect no utopias, either of humanistic perfectionism or ecology romanticism.


Academic Dean

Columbia Christian College

Portland, Oreg.

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