Through the years I’ve encountered pastors who said, “I didn’t take the raise the congregation offered me. They really can’t afford it.”

In a few cases I've heard of pastors who, along with their families, lived in parsonages that no member's family would have tolerated. Why? "The congregation really can't afford to upgrade the parsonage."

While I can understand a well-meaning desire not to hurt a congregation, ironically, that is exactly what agreeing to work for below-guidelines wages does! The willingness to forego raises cheats a congregation by keeping from them the real cost of their operation. If the same pastor stays there long enough, the congregation will get a tremendous sticker shock when it comes time to call their next pastor and they discover that their remuneration is way below where it should be. Or they will be surprised when the candidate says, "I would like to come, but your parsonage is not in livable condition." These sad situations stand in sharp contrast to the philosophy that appears in a synagogue culture. There, I've been told, if the rabbi does not live with a good wage and home, it is a bad reflection on the congregation, and they do not wish that to be the case. The same holds true in some African-American churches. So why do some of our congregations not take enough pride in their parsonages to keep them up-to-date and so protect their investment? (Yes, I am also painfully aware of pastors' families who have created problems by not taking care of parsonages!)

If we believe along with Paul, that the law's command "not to muzzle the ox that treads the grain" applies to the physical support of a preacher, then why do congregations continue to do what that law prohibits? When a pastor agrees to serve where he will be underpaid, he is not saving their congregational life, he is prolonging their death. Of course, economics being what they are, being underpaid may be better than being unemployed, and so these men accept a below-standard wage. The reality is this – nationwide, the work of pastor is slipping from being a middle-class vocation to a lower-class job. It should come as no surprise that the number of graduates will continue to slip until we reach a number equal to those congregations and dual-parishes that can pay their pastors a living wage. I suspect their remuneration may still be below what their skills could let them to earn in the secular marketplace, but then, the goal of ministers has never been to become wealthy, but only be treated as is right for servants of the Most High.