So the first thing I did when I sat down to research just a few bits for this episode (it’s a subject I know well, but let’s face it, it’s been 30 years) is how much money a youth pastor in America can expect to make their first year. The answers were all over the map and I have to wonder if churches who answer surveys or dare to make their records public might not be… over-inflating what they’re spending. Just on the first page of a Google search, I found this wildly variable set of figures:
According to ChurchSalary.com, it’s $48,938
Salary.com seems to think it’s in the six-figure category: $82,352 to $113,561 with the average base salary of $100,197
Payscale.com thinks it’s $39,514, less than $200 off from Indeed
ZipRecruiter says it’s $37125
Comparably.com puts it at $46696 - watch out for all them sixes…
I found one source on a first page search that was even remotely honest…
In churches with less than 50 members, youth ministers average about $10,500 a year. With 50 to 100 members, salaries increase to $20,092 a year, while youth pastors for congregations of 200 to 250 earn $41,096 a year. When congregations reach over 2,500 members, a youth pastor can expect to earn at least $48,500 a year.
But it gets worse…
Years of experience in youth ministry also affects pay. For example, youth ministers with fewer than five years of experience average $32,500 a year, while those with six to 10 years of experience earn between $35,000 and $45,000. At 11 to 15 years of experience, youth ministers earn $48,528 a year, on average. With 16 to 20 years of experience, a youth minister could earn almost $51,000 to $62,000 a year.
Think about that for just a few minutes. For starters, the churches with numbers in the 50 to 150 category are out there in the highest numbers and no megachurch is going to hire you as a youth pastor with zero experience and turn you loose on a “youth group” of 5000. Unless you’re a legacy or a PK with a pastor in a sizeable church, you are starting out at the bottom and, young person, $10k is nothing and, the truth of the matter is, you’re likely to be paid less.
Let’s keep in mind that the federal minimum wage is in the $15k category. Churches can skirt this by tagging on anything and everything they do for you as part of your “salary.” If they invite you to a church luncheon, they can tag on a dollar amount and count what you ate as part of your salary. If you request money to purchase things for your ministry, they can tag that on. And in many cases, you’re on your own to buy those things anyway. Mission Impossible’s solution to this was to take an offering that I then had to hand over to the church and ask for a reimbursement. I was never reimbursed for any of it. They took the money and justified it by telling me I’d never made a request for the funds and that any money that came in was allocated to the ministry. I couldn’t recoup any of it. Fortunately, once the coffers got a little fuller I didn’t have to spend out of pocket anymore, but a large percentage of money in that fund was money that I indirectly put into it. So basically, I was funding the youth ministry and never saw anything in return.
So let’s talk a little more about some of MY experiences now that I’ve steered things in that direction. I’m a person, not an algorithm, and I can tell it to you straight: the likelihood that the first church that hires you will pay you ANYTHING is slim and the ones that have money to spend on a youth pastor are going to expect you to work until you’re half dead for them AND hold down a job to pay your bills. This was the MAJORITY of “opportunities” that were presented to me. And here’s just a small sampling of things I experienced interviewing for youth pastor positions my senior year…
How I spent my internship (hours, pay, etc.) - most pastoral internships are unpaid - I got $125 a week before taxes and sometimes worked up to 16 hours a day. Average was about 10 and I worked sometimes seven days a week. I got most Mondays off with the rest of the pastoral staff but if there was an event or special meeting or whatever, I had to be there
The “best foot forward” guy
The “you’ll be talking over the church in a couple years” guy
Almost all had questions about whether I was engaged, when I expected to get married and what my wife brought to the table. I was told I was being rude when I asked one of them if they intended to hire us both and pay us both given the sheer number of questions about things like whether or not she played the piano, if she intended to work, etc.
The one well-paying position I applied for (about 35k a year) was with a church whose YP was being disciplined out because his wife had an affair. And they put Shelle in the hot seat over the whole working outside the church thing. In 1993, 35K would have gotten us far, no doubt, but we would have been under such a microscope, especially her, that I was actually relieved that we didn’t get that one.
The Utica Crazies
The burned out SP with the “sensitive spirit”
The job I got: Mission Impossible - I HIGHLY recommend listening to episode 11 - all 100+ minutes of it - if you want to know how some churches treat first-year youth pastors. For the record, the person they brought in after me was granted a salary in the high 30s. He was also a long-time member with a history of no-so-exemplary behavior before he got “serious” about his walk.
The Fairy Tales they tell you in Bible College
You will be told tales about clothing allowances, book allowances, rent-free parsonages, church-supplied vehicles for work and personal use, expenses paid conferences and more. Much more.
Any sense of self you ever had will be CONSUMED with the work of your ministry. You don’t get to be you anymore. It’s all about promoting every damn thing that’s going on in church, encouraging people to be involved in church activities to the point where they’re always there, and putting on this plastic persona that emanates an air of spiritual authority and perfection. You aren’t allowed to be tired. You aren’t allowed to have an opinion about ANYTHING and if you get on the wrong side of just ONE board member, they will make your life a living, breathing hell until you quit… but if God doesn’t tell you to quit, you’ll just keep putting up with it and putting up with it, and putting up with it… until the board asks for your resignation. More on that later…
For the record, I didn’t wait for God to tell me to quit Mission Impossible. I quit because I knew there was no more good for me to do there. I took my cues from the book itself. I shook their dust from my sandals and moved on. God never voiced his opinion about it.
When church leadership changes
When the wrong people get elected to the board
Senior pastors will always side with the board to protect their own position even when they’re wrong, even when they know you’re right, even if they tell you to your face that you’re right. Put them in the hot seat and they will turn on you like a rabid dog.
How churches fire pastors
Your money isn’t yours anymore either - whether your church is paying you or not
You are expected to be super human
You take on the problems of everyone in the congregation and you have to assume the role of the parent, the counselor, the mediator in relationships, etc.
Whenever things aren’t going right it’s your fault
You’re wrong to think your time is valuable
You aren’t allowed to be angry, frustrated, sad, depressed, or upset about ANYTHING.
You have to encourage people no matter what that means for you
You can never judge people even when you KNOW that the problems they are experiencing are self-inflicted
Even if you have practical advice to give, it had better be biblically based - your own opinions and experiences do not matter
You will learn precisely what it means to die to self - even if that means your health, your relationships, and your finances completely tank
Reasons you shouldn’t go into the ministry:
Someone else tells you (and keeps telling you over and over and over again) that you should
Someone else claims to speak for God about things that won’t affect them as they apply to you
You have your future plans mapped out already
You have a tendency to want to think for yourself
You question any of your church’s doctrine
You feel coerced into making the decision
Your intuition tells you this is a bad idea
You know you don’t have the personality or demeanor for it - God will not equip you, change you, guide you, or give you what you need to be successful
You have difficulty feeling empathy for people whose lives are in chaos because of their own bad decisions and behaviors
You don’t think you have the capacity to just love everyone in your church without judgment or condition
You don’t have a sizable savings account or marketable skill to fall back on
You have a tendency to question authority
You have no plans to get married straight out of bible school