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Church Staff Salary—How Much Is Enough?

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


Chinese Christians have traditionally expected their pastors to live frugally and to receive little to no compensation for their pastoral duties. It was expected that those in the ministry would endure much suffering as a result of their call to ministry. As a result, some pastors and ministry staff live on quite meager means and many are bi-vocational in order to make ends meet.

As China modernizes, many congregations, particularly urban churches, recognize a need to better financially care for their pastors, as well as to invest in the well-being of the congregation as a whole. Congregations are starting to see the health of a church improve when the entire body is spiritually and financially committed to compensating their ministry staff. So, how much should a pastor in China make? How should Chinese churches compensate their ministry staff? This writer from Christian Student Union gives an important look inside the life of the Chinese church that many do not see.

How Much Is Appropriate to Pay Full-Time Ministry Staff?

Not long ago, an article online called, “The Voice of a Grassroots Preacher Who Intends to Resign” triggered a lot attention and discussions about the personal economic situations of full-time ministry staff. Indeed, for churches in China to grow in a long-term and healthy way and to open up for overseas mission work, more full-time preaching staff and missionaries are needed. That means it is necessary for churches and Christian institutions to ensure adequate economic support.

Frontline first-tier and emerging cities are more forward thinking in terms of the concept of and the system for supporting salaries for full-time staff. On the one hand, their staff have more knowledge about and understand standard practices in domestic and international churches regarding salaries. On the other hand, church members are mostly white-color workers and tithe amply, which lays a foundation to pay a higher salary for their preachers. Compared with the average salary of people in the same city, the income for preaching staff still needs to be increased. But compared with traditional churches, there has already been a great deal of progress.

So, what should the actual, appropriate salary be for full-time ministry staff in the church? The following is the compensation system of a church in Beijing for reference:

Beijing ** Church Salary System
(Excerpt)

A few points of explanation regarding the salary system:

  1. A salary is worked out based on the staff’s personal life and his or her family and work situation. Living costs vary wildly from domestic to international cities, from different cities in China, and even from different areas in one city, so there will be big differences in salaries among churches.
  2. Our church attaches great importance to accumulated years of experience in serving, so a salary increases with years of service.
  3. Theological training can help pastoral staff to better serve in a church, so they are encouraged to obtain a theology degree and make continual effort to improve themselves. This is reflected in the progression of ministry duties (student, preacher, and pastor). This will also be reflected in their salaries. Taking non-theological related coursework is also beneficial for ministry and is taken into consideration in the salary calculation as well, but the weight coefficient is slightly smaller.
  4. Workload and responsibility are also considered for a salary calculation. Full-time staff are classified into three categories: pastoral staff (including pastors and preachers who are responsible for leading and decision-making in the church); executive team (including preachers and administration staff who implement the work arranged by pastoral staff); and interns.
  5. An intern generally has a one-year introduction period for a performance evaluation. After one year, the pastoral staff will make a decision to either continue with the hire or extend the internship, or to terminate the hire. One who has church service experience can be exempt from an internship and can be hired directly.
  6. All newly hired staff undergo a probation period, in accordance with the stipulations in the Labor Law and the Employment Law.
  7. In general, the salary system represents the principles of “recognize past investment, ensure current needs, and encourage future commitment.”
  8. A unified salary system is implemented in the church that is not related to the pastoral staff’s residence, the church/meeting site, or the meeting site’s financial situation. Each meeting site of the church should first strive to financially contribute in accordance with biblical teachings, and to provide for their own pastoral staff. Request for support from other churches/meeting sites can be made to make up the balance if needed.
  9. When the church encounters economic difficulties, first try to cut other expenses instead of decreasing salaries. Only when there are still insufficient funds should you consider cutting full-time staff salaries.
  10. Full-time pastoral staff assume their positions in response to God’s calling. A salary provided by the church is a tool to realize the calling so that they can devote themselves to ministry. In church, people work to serve God instead of only gaining an income. When we submit to the Lord’s calling and live a Christ-centered life, money no longer has authority over us. Our life is not focused on physical things but on a much higher goal. Therefore our lifestyle will not become a stumbling block to others in any aspect.

Salary structure

Salary for pastoral staff includes: personal lifestyle needs, family responsibilities, insurance costs, ministry-related transportation and communication costs, tithing, and debt repayment.

Total salary is composed of base salary (starting salary and point subsidies) and allowances (for transportation, communication, insurances, housing, and children).

Base salary is composed of two parts: starting salary and subsidies calculated based on “points.” The starting salary is 2000RMB. Each point is 200RMB. The calculations are as follows:

  1. Service time: Time calculation normally starts from the date of full-time service recognized by the pastoral group and church committee. One year of service in the current church is recorded as one point and one year of serve in other churches is recorded as half a point. One point is accumulated for each year served, canceling out the previous salary’s annuity.
  2. Theological education: PhD in theology = 4 points. DMin/Th.M = 3.5 points (with an official academic degree that is accredited by ATA or another higher accrediting body, such as ATS). MDiv = 3 points (with an official academic degree that is accredited by ATA or another higher accrediting body, such as ATS, having already completed a bachelor’s degree). Theology-related master’s degree = 2.5 points (two-year course, a non-MDiv theology-related master’s degree. Or, a completed MDiv from a non-ATA or higher-level accredited seminary). Bachelor’s degree = 2 points (without bachelor’s degree, but a completed seminary degree (MDiv) at a domestic seminary – will be considered the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree). A certificate program = 1 point. (Studied through online seminary and completed no less than ten courses to obtain certificate).
  3. Non-theological education: PhD = 4 points; master’s degree or an equivalent = 3 points; bachelor’s degree or an equivalent = 2 points; vocational training school or lower = 1 point.
  4. Position level: 2.5 points will be added for an ordained pastor.
  5. Responsibilities:
    • Pastoral staff + 1 point (Lead Pastor + 4 points).
    • Solely in charge of one meeting site + 1 point; exceeding any more than three meeting sites will still be counted as 3 points (in the case that a meeting site is manned by several staff, the point will be added to one staff or at most two staff according to the actual situation); executive staff + 0.5 point.

The third component of a salary is allowances, including the following aspects:

  1. Transportation allowance: pastoral staff and executive staff receive 200RMB per month while interns receive100RMB and part-time staff receive 50RMB.
  2. Communication allowance: (for telephone and internet): pastoral staff receive 300RMB per month; executive staff receive 200; interns receive 100RMB and part-time staff receive 50RMB.
  3. Insurance allowance: All social insurance including pension, medical, and unemployment shall be paid by the individual. Those with a Beijing residence permit can pay for their insurance as an “individual filer.” Those with a signed work contract,  with or without a Beijing residence permit must equally split insurance costs—including pension, medical, unemployment, on-job injury and childrearing costs—between employer and employee.
  4. Housing allowance: Base housing allowance is 2000RMB for pastoral staff, 1500RMB for executive staff, and 1000RMB for interns.

Notes on allowances:

  1. Housing subsidy will be provided to those who do not have a house/apartment or have one but have a mortgage to pay;
  2. Arrangements will be made according to a family’s income (for example, no income for a spouse), family members and expenses for housing; and a church’s financial situation as well;
  3. Staff are encouraged to live close to the church, but each staff will be handled according to their level of importance;
  4. If a staff’s spouse has a paid job, this allowance will be paid by half;
  5. No allowance to be paid for staff who live in a property rented by a church.
  6. Child allowance: Each staff (pastoral, executive, and intern) will be provided with an allowance of 400RMB per month per child until they graduate from college and get a job.

According to these criteria, if a single Christian brother, for example, graduated from university and received a bachelor’s degree, went on to a domestic, unaccredited seminary, assisted a pastor in pastoral ministry at a meeting site following seminary, and lived at the church property, his salary would be calculated as follows:

Starting salary = 2000RMB

Points

  • Theological Education: Bachelor’s Degree = 2
  • Non-theological Education: Bachelor’s Degree = 2
  • Position:Pastoral staff = 1

Subtotal of points: (2+2+1) x 200RMB = 1000RMB

Allowances

  • Transportation: 200RMB
  • Communication: 300RMB
  • Insurance: 600RMB
  • There is no housing allowance because he lives in the church’s property. And there is no allowance for children because he is still single.

Sub-total of allowances: 200RMB + 300RMB + 600RMB = 1100RMB

Total income: 2000RMB + 1000RMB + 1100RMB = 4100RMB

The 2016 Shanghai College Graduates Salary Report jointly published by Shanghai Human Resources and Social Security Bureau Employment Promotion Center and Shanghai Students Affairs Center released on November 10, 2016 shows that the average monthly salary for a graduate is 4,410RMB. Please note that the amount does not include the subsidy for insurance. That means that the brother’s salary is below the monthly average of college graduates.

2016 Shanghai College Graduates Average Starting Salary

What kind of results will this bring? To a graduate, even if he has a heart for full-time ministry, he will be more inclined toward bi-vocational ministry, considering the need to continue to invest time to be equipped theologically, the high living standard of living in a first-tier city with limited income, plus pressure and opposition from family. This is why in recent years fewer and fewer graduates want to serve full-time. It’s increasingly difficult for domestic seminaries to enroll students and the supply of good students is dwindling.

Take a 30-something-year-old adult for example. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from a university in China and then completing his MDiv abroad, being married with one child, his spouse a housewife, and he is responsible for one church site. His income should be as follows:

Starting salary 2000RMB

Points:                 

  • Theological Education: MDiv = 3
  • Non-theological Education: Bachelor’s = 2
  • Position: Pastoral staff = 1; In charge of a church/site = 1

Subtotal of points: (3+2+1+1) x 200 = 1400RMB

Allowances:

  • Transportation: 200RMB
  • Communication: 300RMB
  • Insurances: 1000RMB
  • Housing: 2000RMB
  • Children: 400RMB

Subtotal of allowances: 200RMB + 300RMB + 1000RMB + 2000RMB + 400RMB = 3900RMB

His total salary would be: 2000RMB (starting salary)+ 1400RMB (points subsidy)+3900RMB (allowances) = 7300RMB

With this salary, it is not easy for a family of three to live in a big city like Beijing or Shanghai. This is why many overseas seminary graduates decide to serve abroad instead of returning to China. It’s a more sensible choice to stay and serve abroad considering the compensation level, environment quality, and their children’s education. Moreover, with the increase in Chinese immigrants, there is also a great need in overseas Chinese churches.

For overseas seminary graduates with a strong sense of mission, their real life situation requires them to get economic support from overseas churches to keep their life and service going in China. Under current conditions in China, this brings them under suspicion of collaborating with “foreign religious forces,” in essence increasing pressure from relevant government departments. At the same time, the churches they serve do not have a real sense of independence and self-support.

Merely looking at first-tier and emerging cities as an example, there have been many breakthroughs and developments in recent years in the institutionalization and justification for full-time church staff’s compensation. However, rising price levels, income increases in various industries, and the extra costs associated with domestic preachers due to their “special identities,” all pose challenges to churches to make changes in ideas and systems so that churches in China are able to develop smoothly and healthily.

On the one hand, we currently pray for rapid church growth in China. And on the other hand we actively promote missions. But, if we do not ensure ample economic support for full-time church workers it will result in insufficient frontline support for this spiritual battle. This is the painful experience of many wounded workers who have withdrawn from the front. This is truly an issue that we as God’s children in the churches of China must consider and face seriously.

Editor’s note: The blog included a survey at the end of the article to gauge readers’ perceptions of compensation for church staff. Although the results of the survey have not yet been released, the following gives a helpful look into questions that many “frontline” church members are starting to ask themselves.

1. According to the above compensation standards, I think that ministry staff (choose one):

  • Shouldn’t get paid but live by faith instead
  • Are being paid higher and should be decreased a bit
  • Are being paid at a basically reasonable rate
  • Are being paid too low and should be increased a bit

2. Compared with church members, the average income of a pastor/preacher should be (choose one)

  • Lower than the average believer
  • At the same level as the average believer
  • Higher than the average believer

3. What do you think of the compensation for pastors/preachers in your church? (choose one)

  • Low
  • Basically reasonable
  • High
  • Don't know

4. Is there a compensation system in your church? (choose one)

  • Yes, there is.
  • No, there isn’t.
  • Don’t know.

5. What’s your attitude toward a full-time church staff doing a part-time job on the side? (choose one)

  • They should focus on praying and preaching instead of doing a part-time job on the side
  • It’s understandable to meet their life needs
  • Church staff should have a secular job while they serve.

Original article: 全职同工拿多少工资合适?  (基督徒学生联会—Christian Student Union

Image credit: more maos 006 by adam via Flickr.

ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio


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