Focus: The Problem of the Underpaid Pastor

Six pastors were pictured after the Good Shepherd Sunday service holding red envelopes with money inside which was given by Chengdong Church in Pingnan, Ningde, Fujian Province, on May 8, 2022.
Six pastors were pictured after the Good Shepherd Sunday service holding red envelopes with money inside which was given by Chengdong Church in Pingnan, Ningde, Fujian Province, on May 8, 2022. (photo: Pingnan CC&TSPM)
By Su Ran November 9th, 2022

The topic of the low salaries of pastors has become somewhat clichéd. Since there are still many preachers trapped in this situation and suffering physically and spiritually, this issue should be discussed often, whether it is a cut-and-dried speech or not. What I have learned is that preachers of grassroots churches in various regions face some salary challenges. 

A pastor at a grass-roots church in Shanxi 

Pastor S has served in a grassroots church in his hometown for 18 years. Even though there have been many challenges along the way, Pastor S claims that he has a passion for pastoral ministry and will not give up despite his reluctance in the beginning. But now the reason for quitting doesn't lie in pastoral care challenges, but in financial difficulties. 

Pastor S lives with his parents and children. He and his wife were married in 2010 and now have two children. His parents are in their 70s and his father is still ill. Their biggest hardship is financial difficulty. The couple has been serving full-time in the church for a long time, but there is no fixed salary for pastors or preachers. His first salary was 35 dollars a month when he started working in the church. He also led a study class at that time, earning 140 to 200 dollars a month, but the study class was soon disbanded. There is only a Sunday sermon now, he earns eight dollars for each sermon or 16 dollars a day. "The church advocates the slogan of 'faith', but my heart is too heavy these years," he said. 

This year his wife works outside the church, but she doesn’t have time to pick up the kids due to the work time, which disrupts his schedule in ministry. They are still waiting and seeking what to do in the future. 

A preacher in a grassroots church in Shandong  

It seems natural to Preacher L, a sixth-generation Christian, to choose ministry as his career. He is currently in his third year at Shandong Seminary and will graduate in a year. However, he finds it difficult to choose between a full-time or part-time ministry after graduation. 

Preacher L shared that in his hometown, there is no salary for preachers, and they start as volunteers. The stipend for Sunday sermons is currently three dollars. 

His church is a little better than other churches in the same area in that it supports tuition and living expenses for those who stop the ministry to study theology (this was decided after many meetings). He asked his classmates who came from the same region about the support and they all paid by themselves. "It is already a great step forward for the church over here to pay for tuition and living expenses," he said with a bitter smile. 

Two preachers from a grassroots church in Henan 

Preacher L graduated from seminary in 2019 and returned to the grassroots church in his hometown as a full-time preacher. It didn’t take long that all the ministries were transferred from on-site to online owing to COVID-19. Due to the impact of the epidemic, he was only paid 60 dollars per month in the first half of 2021, and the rest was not paid. 

At present, in addition to doing online services, Preacher L does some odd jobs during the rest of the time, which are used for living expenses and providing for his two children to go to school. Because of his ministry, he has no stable job. Sometimes he earns 15 or 30 dollars a day, and he has no work to do for a few days at times.

Although he was called and touched by God to serve, Preacher L still fell into weakness. "Spirituality has been quite low in recent years," he said.

Preacher W also serves in a grassroots church in Henan and receives a monthly subsidy of 70 dollars that cannot be called a salary. There is no salary for working in the church there, just some subsidies. The pastor's subsidy is 15 dollars less than that of the preacher. Preacher W’s family doesn’t count on her subsidy at all. She doesn't have much financial pressure since her husband works outside of the church all year round, and her parents help raise her children, but she still hopes the church can raise the salaries of pastors and preachers. 

Why do pastors and preachers have low salaries and even some churches lack awareness of paying them? Undoubtedly, some grassroots churches are struggling financially and are not prosperous. 

However, in the exchange with the preachers mentioned above, a common phenomenon becomes evident, that is, the older generation of believers, influenced by traditional concepts and their experiences in the old days, believe that ministry is to serve God, that committing time and money to God is an everyday occurrence. What is the point of preachers still taking money from church members? A preacher should "live by faith". The Lord will provide for you if you devote yourself to Him. Their generation lived like this, and they all depended on themselves. They did not take the church’s money, even donated to the church. They can’t understand why the church needs to supply the preachers. Grassroots churches don't lack money, but instead of using it to pay preachers, they use it to build churches, provide social service, and support charities. 

The problem of low salaries for preachers deserves consideration by churches and believers. It not only makes preachers' lives miserable but also discourages believers and seminarians from pursuing ministry careers.

- Translated by Richard Zou

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