Do We Pay Pastors Too Much? Understanding The Costs Of Pastoral Education

Another great post from Pastor Matt Richard on PMnotes


So, let’s talk about pastoral salaries.  Are they too high?  In the case of some prosperity teachers and mega-church pastors, that may be the case.  However, for this post we are not going to examine the extreme cases but the typical Lutheran parish pastor.



To begin with we need to understand that a pastoral education is equivalent to an education a lawyer receives.  In other words, a Juris Doctor graduate degree is comparable to a Master of Divinity graduate degree.  Like a lawyer in training, a seminarian must also complete 3 years of education after completing a four year undergraduate degree. (Note: Typically a Master of Divinity degree is required before entering the ministry and before ordination in most Lutheran contexts.)  Where the Juris Doctorate attempts to train lawyers in a scientific approach of logically handling the law, a Master of Divinity degree attempts to train pastors in properly handling and dividing the scriptures through the learning and application of Koine Greek, Hebrew, Systematic Theology, Church History, Pastoral Care, Missiology, Preaching and Biblical Interpretation.  


Cost of Education:

Not only does a Master of Divinity degree academically meet and sometimes supersede the academic requirements of a Juris Doctor degree, the Master of Divinity degree generally costs about the same too.  Typical Juris Doctorate credits start around $600 per credit hour and can be as expensive as $1,200.  On the other hand, Concordia Seminary charges $615.00 per academic credit hour and Lutheran Brethren Seminary charges $340 per credit hour.  Lutheran Brethren Seminary is able to charge substantially less due to the seminary being graciously subsidized by the CLBA denomination.  Without the denominational subsidization, Lutheran Brethren Seminary would be around $900-$1000 per credit hour, making the total cost of seminary well over $90,000.  Therefore, an average Master of Divinity Student from Lutheran Brethren Seminary is responsible for $40,000 of out of pocket education expenses. ($340 x 96 credit hours = $32,640 + Books + Extra Fees = $40,000)  Keep in mind that this does not factor in the cost of living, health insurance and moving expenses.  Debt can also be incurred for seminarians not only in tuition charges but also in the realm of living expense due to the impossibility of having a full time job while being enrolled as a full time student.  Furthermore, many students also bear the responsibility of the expenses for a previous four year undergraduate degree.  


Starting Salaries:

Usually obtaining a Juris Doctor degree is worth it because the average starting salary for a new lawyer in 2010 was $84.111 plus benefits.  From the starting average of $84,111, lawyers can increase in salary up to the six digit income bracket.  Is this the same with a starting salary for a new pastor?  According to the 2010 Church of the Lutheran Brethren Clergy Compensation report, for pastors under the age of 30 the average compensation is $44, 517.  From the starting average in the mid 40’s, pastors in the Church of the Lutheran Brethren can increase in salary up to the mid 50’s or low 60’s. (Note: 2010 CLBA Average Salary = $54,264 plus insurance and pension benefits)


The Need For Understanding:

Churches many times expect and want the professionalism of a pastor trained with a Master of Divinity degree but then fail to realize the time, energy and expenses that go into obtaining a Master of Divinity.  With the financial burdens of getting trained combined with modest pay after seminary, newer pastors can struggle financially in the parish yet be hesitant to bring up these financial struggles to their new congregations because they don’t want to be perceived as greedy.  Please don’t misunderstand me though.  For myself as a pastor as well as other pastors we certainly don’t go into the ministry to make a fortune, but pastors do want to make an average living and many are barely able to do just this.  In other words, I am not advocating for lawyer salaries in the parish but merely ‘understanding’ on behalf of congregations. 


Support And Aid:

What can churches do to help individuals that are considering seminary?

  • Local Churches have adopted seminarians, helping with costs and praying for them through their seminary journey.  My local church, Sidney Lutheran Brethren Church, is sponsoring a seminarian.  The church raised over $8,000 to offset 25% of his tuition costs.  This is a wonderful way to bless a seminarian and also a future church that will receive his ministry of the Word and Sacraments.
  • Individuals and congregations can financially support a seminary like LBS or Concordia in order to help fund the school’s operating expenses.  By doing this, the operating costs are not passed on down to the average student training for the ministry.  


What about after seminary?

  • A very good friend of mine in the LCMS incurred over $76,000 in debt to obtain his undergraduate and Master of Divinity Degree.  The church that he was called to did a fundraiser and raised $7,000 to pay down his balance.  What a blessing!
  • I also heard of a story in the LCMS where 12 parishioners got together and each parishioner decided to give the pastor $250 a month to offset his monthly student loan payment.  Great!
  • Churches can be proactive in inquiring from pastors about any debt that they might have and creatively explore ways in which they might help offset any potential financial concerns.  

The reality is that seminarians/pastors are trained to be a blessing to the local church body.  Each seminarian/pastor devotes 3 years of his life to read thousands of pages and study the scriptures in order to faithfully bless his future parish.  


So are Pastors getting paid too much?  A better and more appropriate question for us to ask is, how can we as members of local churches support, encourage and “yes” financially invest in Pastors?  My friends, we invest into the pastoral office because we value the Word!


For more on this topic, including how to compare apples-to-apples a “salary package” that you see in normal church budgets with normal “salaries” that most laymen are familiar with, see Part 2 of this post on PMnotes. Quick summary: A $42,000 pastoral compensation package is the same as a $29,405 take home salary with a nice benefits package.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at:


Do We Pay Pastors Too Much? Understanding The Costs Of Pastoral Education — 59 Comments

  1. @Ted Crandall #49
    But Helen, the longer you delay ordination [SNAP! SNAP! SNAP!], the more souls end up in you-know-where! Have you no heart for the lost?

    Pr. Crandall,
    Perhaps the guys working Walmart and other menial jobs on CRM can take care of that till the new ordinand gets there! IF some congregation will please honor them with a call… preferably from a congregation that intends to support them as well as they support themselves! 😉

    I could tell you where the “no heart for confessional Pastors” is, but perhaps I’d better not. I’ve seen people write that they have become LCMS because of Issues, or some other Lutherans, I haven’t seen that one mentioned.

  2. @Lumpenkönig #27

    I disagree with making it free. If it were free, the sems would be flooded with men who are not actually called. Why not go if its free. The burden of the cost serves as some what of a check, a cause for the man to reflect on his calling.

    I do however agree that the current structure is out of balance and is more likely than not keeping men whom God has called to be pastors from fulfilling their vocation. As a Synod we should be subsidizing a larger portion of the cost to the sem. students.

  3. @Joe Olson #53

    The problem with this, is that the pastoral office ought not be a market driven reality. Pastors ought not be free-lance professionals petitioning for the next gig. Seminaries ought not be in operation for financial imperitives. Congregations ought not be competing for the “best” pastoral candidates.

    One of the few values I see of a Synod, is to help bring properly prepared men into the pastoral office, and provide these men to the congregations of the Synod. They could, if they wanted to, do all the screening of applicants against the registered need of congregations, and fund the training of exactly the number of pastors we need. They could make the hard calls about who is really ready for seminary training, or who really ought to consider other endeavors.

    Of course, that would mean radically reducing the various wastes of monetary resources across the Synod, and likely the shrinking of our seminaries to a single campus. Our professional theologians might also have to be working associate pastors at local congregations, who partner with the Synod to keep the best teachers on the rolls. Districts would have to be partnered with the seminary(s) to ensure their best candidates and their needs were met, with long term strategies toward the realities of their congregations.

    If you ask me, I think the free market economy was about the worst thing to hit the pastoral office since Pietism. Just another existential angst we seem to foist upon ourselves, and then moan about as unsolvable. It is resolvable– I just don’t see anyone with the guts to do what would be necessary to solve the problem.

  4. 1. We wouldn’t have “too many Pastors” if the DP’s weren’t licensing unqualified men instead of utilizing the ordained men on the roster.

    2. Congregations have gotten the idea that they can pick a Pastor out of the air when they need one, instead of being concerned about pastoral education all the time. The notion that any congregation that has a Pastor should be contributing to educate his eventual successor hasn’t been heard for a long time. (IMO, it’s because DP’s have been building their own “kingdoms” which have little to do with the Kingdom of Heaven.) YMMV!

    3. And, bluntly, many congregations aren’t that educated in Lutheranism re the “care and feeding of Pastors.” We’ve been steeped in the “business model” and we haven’t gotten out of that swamp yet. Where congregations used to take pride in providing well for the Pastor, Lutheran congregations go for “cheap”; their own “wants” come ahead of the church’s needs.
    And they don’t learn that you don’t get rid of a Pastor w/o cause, because nothing happens to the congregation when they do.

    FINALLY: we need two seminaries as check and balance. We can pay for two seminaries, if we cut the surplus empires at district level; that’s where the idea that “we can’t afford two seminaries” comes from. [They’d rather “license” their own pliable not very educated ‘not very Lutherans’. Or men off the synod roster who somehow get back on via the district… not only in Minnesota.]

    In Texas District we can afford several VP’s (who are Pastors but have expenses for district meetings and ‘retreats’), several “facilitators” to speed our conversion to methobaptocostalism, and staff to support all this, plus communications that mostly waste the working Pastor’s time.

    [Is your district different? SDG!]

  5. Most people are unaware that an LCMS pastor works well over 40 hours a week. Does anyone have any statistics to support this?

    If the seminaries were not to burden students with loans, new pastors would automatically get a big raise by getting to keep more of their net pay.

    Shout it from the housetops: LCMS Districts are a waste of resources. Where is the push to reform them?

  6. @Lumpenkönig #56
    Shout it from the housetops: LCMS Districts are a waste of resources. Where is the push to reform them?


    Most people are unaware that an LCMS pastor works well over 40 hours a week.
    (Why would the bureaucracy want to collect statistics which would make them look bad by comparison?)

    Anybody who knows a parish pastor at all well knows that the clock has little to do with his responsibilities. Members do not land in hospital in “business hours”. Sermon preparation takes more time than anyone would believe, if the Pastor is conscientious.
    [Yes, I know about “canned sermons”. I’ve heard the exact same one twice in one day at two different occasions! Right down to the “jokes”. I’m thankful it has happened rarely.]
    People drop by, (and sometimes forget to leave after a reasonable interval.) I’m talking about chat here, not C&A, but sometimes it’s what a member needs even if it’s not obvious. Being welcomed for a little thing may create the confidence necessary to bring up the bigger problem on another day. It’s all part of the work.

  7. I actually do think that it should be nearly as free as can be especially for a man who is called later in life as he must stop everything he is doing an sell a house, quit a job and maybe the wife does too, possibly have children and devote one’s self to four years of rigorous study and maybe more if he needs remedial language courses. Because the training being undertaken is within the context of the church for the benefit of the church, then the costs for this education should be borne by the church. This would be a major first step in removing the mentality of the hireling professional from our churches.

    Obviously, when something is offered “free” this might encourage some who do not have a genuine call from the Lord to take advantage of the opportunity to study. But as men aspire to the ministry, they should not do so in an autonomous fashion, as though they were the sole arbiter of whether this is their calling or not. Studying for the ministry is not like studying law, dentistry, or architecture. With such other callings and vocations, a person who has the intelligence, money, and willingness to work, can make it happen. A person who is spending his own money is really a consumer—a customer. He is purchasing goods or services. In the case of seminary, he is purchasing graduate level theological instruction. This means he has authority over what he has purchased.

    The call to the ministry, and preparation for it, should not be approached the same way. Of course the individual should understand himself to be called, but this by itself is not sufficient. The church, which will be the beneficiary of the training, should be involved in the decision to train someone for the ministry. Men should not be preparing for the ministry unless there is good reason to believe that they have the gifts and calling for that ministry. This understanding should be shared by others in the church, and particularly by the leaders of the church. Far too many pious young men, zealous for ministry, have been misled into thinking that intense desire for ministry is an adequate substitute for ability and call. The church which provides the training should testify that she believes a young man is called to the work of ministry by paying for the costs of instruction. If a church has sent someone to be trained at another church, then that sending church can add her testimony by paying for books, or helping with living expenses. Obviously this will not be done unless the churches in question have a good understanding of the students’ character and ability.

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