Monday, September 12, 2011

Marryin' & Buryin': How Much Should I Pay the Pastor?

I decided that the best time to write this post was when I didn't anticipate anyone in the church I pastor needing it. Yeah, I know, that sounds silly - but I wanted to make sure that no one felt as if I was critiquing and/or counting on a particular dollar amount from them.

With that said, I'll try to answer some questions you might have about the odd strange world of "honorariums" and "love offerings".

Honorarium is a weird word - it sounds like "aquarium"?! - so what does it mean?

Merriam-Webster defines honorarium as "a payment for a service (as making a speech) on which custom or propriety forbids a price to be set." And it has nothing to do with tropical fish.

OK, that makes sense - but what in the world is a "love offering"? 

 Generally, a love offering is a collection of money above & beyond the church's normal giving to help out a particular ministry or individual. Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like blog does a lovely (if sarcastic) job of explaining how it works:

For those who don’t know, a love offering is kind of a “volunteer offering” the church takes up during special occasions like when a puppet group from Guam (named Strings of Mercy) is performing at your church. It’s really not that voluntary though because if you don’t contribute anything you’re essentially telling everyone you’re sitting near that your heart is not full of love. By not putting a couple of bucks in the offering plate you’re actually putting in a big fistful of hate. I wish when the ushers collected a love offering they would say out loud when someone didn’t give, “Oh, you don’t have any love for the magical world of puppetry? I guess love your neighbor doesn’t mean anything to you. Fine.”

In the particular situations we're talking about (paying a pastor for a wedding or a funeral), the phrase "love offering" is used as the spiritualized equivalent of "honorarium".

Isn't the pastor already paid by their church? 

 I hate to say "it depends" - but, well, it depends. While many pastors (including myself) are full-time (meaning that leading my church is my only job), many others are bivocational - meaning they work part-time for the church while working part- or full-time at some other job as well. In addition, you have to remember that weddings & funerals are interruptions in a "normal" ministry schedule. 

Interruptions?! Seriously? Do you know how offensive that sounds - as if you can't be bothered with this celebration or crisis in my family!? 

 Yes, I do realize how offensive it sounds... so let me explain. The day-to-day leadership of a church - preparing to speak once (or more) per week, contacting visitors & those who are in need, counseling, meeting with key leaders & staff, etc. - is a full-time job. (For example, my preparation time for each weekly sermon/message - which is spread out over several weeks - usually runs between 8-15 hours... and that's before I get up to speak.) 

 While the honor of being asked to officiate at a wedding or a funeral is one of the great privileges of ministry, the time it takes to prepare & perform those duties has to either shortchange my regular ministry work and/or my time with my family. 

How much time?

It differs from situation to situation, but I can give you some rough estimates.

For a wedding:
  • 4-6 hours of premarital counseling with the couple
  • 3-4 hours of preparation of the wedding sermon
  • 2-3 hours to officiate at the wedding rehearsal & attend the dinner afterward
  • 2-6 hours to officiate at the wedding & attend the festivities following
That's a minimum of 10 or so hours... with 12-15 hours being the most likely for in-town wedding.

For a funeral:
  • 1-2 hours meeting with the family prior to the funeral
  • 3-6 hours of preparation for the funeral message(s) & service(s)
  • 1-6 hours to officiate at the funeral and be with the funeral (timing dependent on the number of services & wake/meal following)
That's a minimum of 5 or so hours... with 10-12 hours being the most likely for in-town funerals.

So, like I pointed out earlier, your average pastor loses either a work day or a day off in order to do a proper & respectful job of officiating at these events. And if the wedding or funeral is out of town, that just adds to the time he gives to the family.

It takes you that long to prepare a funeral or wedding message? Don't you just trot out the same thing each time?
Well, yes, it does take me that long, and no, I don't reuse the same messages over & over. While I often return to the same passages of Scripture (1 Corinthians 13 is a favorite of mine at weddings), I try to personalize each message to fit the couple "gettin' hitched" or the life of the person being buried.

For example, I did a wedding last year where I knew the bride & groom because of boardgaming - so I made references to marriage being the ultimate cooperative game (along with other connections & references).

So, back to the original question... based on what you've told me, how much should I pay the pastor?

As a starting point, you should think about paying him for his time - in California (the state where I live) the minimum wage is $8.00/hour. So, a bottom-end low-ball number for 10 hours of work would be $80.

Of course, that's the same amount that someone would get for running the fryer at the local McDonald's... and you definitely don't want a high school kid performing your wedding. So, you should also consider his experience & training. Unless you have a younger minister, chances are pretty good that they've officiated at a number of weddings and funerals & can offer a level of wisdom & background that has some kind of dollar value.

I actually don't have a definite number in mind - I personally have been paid as little as, well, nothing (zero, zilch, nada) and as much as $500. And while those numbers sometimes have related to the size of the ceremony and/or the wealth of those participating, some of the most generous honorariums (and some of the least generous) have been a complete surprise to me.

The church we're using has a fee for the pastor. Won't that be enough?

It could be - but that depends on the amount of the fee. I've seen some churches charge as little as $50... my own church has a "suggested amount" of $100.

You might want to consider giving the pastor something above & beyond that set number.

I've invited the pastor & his wife to the rehearsal dinner - isn't that part of his payment?

Not to put too fine a point on it... but no. There are two issues with rehearsal dinners:
  1. Unless the pastor is someone who would have already come to the rehearsal dinner (a family member or close friend), you have created for them another ministry opportunity. It's not a nice meal out (and sometimes, depending on the caterer, it's not a nice meal period) with his spouse - it's another 90 minutes or so of work.
  2. In some cases, pastors officiate at services where they know only the bride & the groom and/or a family member or two. Again, this is not a night on the town - it's hard work to strike up conversations & make connections.
By all means, invite your pastor to your rehearsal dinner - particularly if you have a strong connection with him. But don't be offended if he has to decline or slip out early... and don't count that meal as part of his payment. 

In a related subject, please pay your pastor's travel expenses (for an out-of-town ceremony) without counting that as a part of the honorarium. (Note: I've had a number of very pleasant experiences with this - staying in hotels much nicer than I would have chosen for myself or being flown to alternate destinations to help me out - I'm not speaking from personal bad experience here.)

I'm a member of his church - shouldn't I get these services for free?

Before I try & answer that, I want to ask you a question - are you giving to the church? In other words, when you say you're a "member", do you mean that you attend that church & throw a couple of bucks in the plate each week... or are you someone who gives generously of their time, talent & treasure?

Now, I start there because I've found in my nearly 30 years of ministry that folks who support their churches financially almost never ask this question. The people who want the church and/or the pastoral staff to "provide services" are usually the least likely to give on a regular basis.

With that said, it's really up to the individual minister. I don't require anyone to pay me - if asked, I explain that they are welcome to give me an honorarium, but the amount is up to them.

Any final thoughts?

This is going to sound really "church-y", so I'll just note that, apologize (sorry) and go on. I think you should prayerfully consider how you can bless the pastor that officiates the wedding or funeral for you.

I welcome your thoughts, questions & comments on the subject.

For some suggestions on enjoying your wedding day, you're welcome to check out my post entitled Pastoral Advice for Engaged Meeples.


Robo said...

An ALS patient in his last years, my father attended his own church very little toward the end. Living several counties away, his own pastor pretty much abandoned him. When Dad passed, my pastor stepped up to the plate even though he had only talked with my father a handful of times. He did such an awesome job he more than deserved the sum we paid and then some.

Mark Puckett said...

Excellent, Mark.
I will keep this and pass along as appropriate.

PastorBosh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PastorBosh said...

It often amuses me to officiate a wedding where the bride and groom have spent extravagantly on flowers, decorations, dresses and cakes, where they think nothing of paying $1000 for a photographer several hundred for a harpist, and the same again for musicians AND DJ's. A small fortune on booze... and then in a grand gesture, slip me $50.
I once had a pastor friend tell me that a groom once approached him at the reception to offer payment... He was speaking with the bride when the groom walked up with his wallet open, and said... "Well, what do I owe you parson?" to which he replied... "I don't know? What's she worth to you?" She took great interest in his answer!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Agreed - it's stories like yours that prompted me to write this post.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for some clarification. We are members of a local church and we do give, BUT our pastor is retired and sure doesn't make much. The dollar amount was what was bothering me. Loved Pastor Bosh's response!!!

Rev. Duff said...

I am an ordained minister and I myself often struggle with this question. When I did my first wedding it was for a friend and they were very thankful and had asked me before the wedding how much I had charged. Being new to officiating I said that I was not sure and that the local state officiants made $50 for a service however that was at the courthouse and on there time, not the bride and grooms. So I told them to pay me what they felt I was worth. They told me they had discussed it after the ceremony, of which I personalized for them, and that they would send a check to me in my thank you card. I never received the thank you card or the check! Being friends I never pursued it, however for my second ceremony I gave a base rate and explained the amount of work that goes into it. I also set a travel expense (I traveled 100 miles round trip twice). After my base fee and expenses plus a bonus for being "absolutely wonderful" and the ceremony "truly fitting" I made $400. I learned from my early errors before that first ceremony I never knew what kind of work truly goes into creating ceremony that not only captures the essence of the couple but also can be a lasting memory.

Anonymous said...

I was so clueless as a young bride with no extra money, my mom retired with little to contribute for the very small inexpensive wedding at a friend's home, I had not even considered payng our wonderful officiant friend-of- the-family. Now that I'm aware decades later that a fee is appropriate, and am well able to afford it, should I pay now? He has recently retired. We met with him before the ceremony only once. He wrote a brief ceremony for us, as we requested, in the form of a short poem. We cherish it.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...


Absolutely. Your gift to him will be welcome - as will your thankfulness for the poem & how much his services meant to you!

Anonymous said...

Church people are disgusting. Did Jesus charge the people he healed or visited?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...


Sadly, as is normal here on the Internet, you've done a "hit & run" - and dragged Jesus into it.

Arguing with you is useless - but for the benefit of the rest of my readers, here's a couple of Biblical reasons for paying church staff:

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 NLT)

For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this?... In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. (1 Corinthians 9:9,14 NLT)

Anonymous said...

As a minister (with a masters degree), I always counsel a couple for 6 sessions before the wedding. How much would 6 hours of conselling with a trained professional cost anywhere else? I also usually serve as the wedding coordinator. I have officiated at hugely expensive weddings. And for my services I almost always receive nothing. Not even an offer of anything. And I believe my experience is common.

Anonymous said...

I've performed a number of weddings and funerals and used to receive $100 per. But recently for a wedding I received a coffee mug that said "pastor" on it, and for a funeral received absolutely nothing. *Sigh* Although I'm not motivated by money to help officiate these things, it still saddens me. Sure would be nice to take my wife out to dinner after the dozen or so hours she lost with me during my prep. I don't know if people realize that families of pastors suffer a bit for things like this too.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Now that I am outside of vocational ministry, I really miss doing weddings & funerals - which sounds weird - but being a part of an important event in people's lives was a key part of the calling.

What I don't miss is how oblivious folks can be to the financial & emotional costs on a minister & his family.

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

Robert B said...

Thanks for bringing this question up. Your post and the comments provide plenty of food for thought. As a believer, who is also a pastor, I appreciate the encouragement to be generous. I think it's spot on. I would rather be known for being generous, than for being a Scrooge.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great advice. I recently lost my wife of nearly fifty years to a sudden death. A close acquaintance who is a lay minister not only did her service, but offered the church hall which we took for after the service. The ladies from the church provided tea, coffee, and cookies for those who gathered. I'm guessing there was close to a hundred people who came. I want to do the right thing for the minister and his church. When I got the funeral home bill, I found that the huge number didn't include an honorarium to the church or minister. I'm thinking I can send a note of gratitude and $500 to the church and $100 to the minister. Does that sound reasonable?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Anonymous - anything you can do would be wonderful. It's great to see you wanting to take care of this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insight, Mark. This has been a source of frustration for our family. My husband and I serve in ministry in the Southwest - I think maybe it is a cultural thing here, because we have never experienced this before coming here. My husband is on staff as the church's solo pastor. We have now served in this ministry for 5 years and have never, not once, received an honorarium.

On one occasion we were told by the wedding couple that they designated a portion of what was paid to our church as the pastor honorarium. The church collected the fee and deposited it - and never passed it on to him. We were taken aback to say the least.

We have conducted numerous weddings and funerals, including everything from hours of counseling grieving family members, pre- and post- the passing of their loved ones; sitting at the bedside of hospice patients; 6 - 8 one hour premarital counseling sessions. And somehow people think that is just "part of your job." We have traveled 50+ miles one way to conduct a wedding for a FORMER church member (who moved their membership when they purchased a new home 15 miles up the road to the next suburb over - maybe their new pastor had the sense to decline their request to officiate?) who wanted their wedding at an exclusive club. We conducted a funeral for a great grandchild of one of our church members... It was a 3 day event - over 50K was raised for the family (it was a rather tragic childhood passing) for "expenses." I guess we have come to feel that there is a difference between being used of God to minister to people, and being used by people and taken advantage of.

While ministers do feel privileged to be a servant of The Lord, and a minister to your family, these events absolutely are in addition to their "normal" work week. We still have to put together sermons and lessons for the regular services, conduct newcomer and member follow ups, discipleship & counseling, and handle church administration. Often attending these events eliminates the one day a week our family has off (instead we get to attend a wedding or funeral). Please consider all this before you cut expenses by short changing your officiants.

Unknown said...

My brother, sister and I recently lost our Mother. She was 91 years old, and had taught Christian pre-schoolers for over 40 years. We had her cremated back in Ohio where she spent the last couple years in assisted living facilities. Then my brother brought her back to California (Sacramento area)in a box for the Celebration of Life service last Saturday. We held the service at the same church she used to attend, where she sang in the choir. The former pastor of that church is still in the area, and we retained him to do the service. We 3 kids decided on the service details, and my brother and I did some special music. The pastor guided the service, spoke, led in prayer a couple times, and still is pastor to my sister. Anyway, what I want to say is that we had heard that a fee of about $200 seems to be standard now, here in CA. And after reading all your blog comments, I totally agree with that amount. I live in northern CA, and my brother lives in Ohio. So, I appreciate all your comments, and those of your readers. Thanks for sharing!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Dan, thank you for sharing your story.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Anonymous in the Southwest:

Thank you for adding your comment to this - I hope people hear clearly what you are saying.

Sir William said...

Although this blog post is a few years past, I thought I could add a few ideas to the topic as well.

I came across this post as I'm studying to teach 1 Cor 9 this Sunday and handling Paul's comments about receiving compensation for the ministry. Although he did not take anything from the Corinthians because of their immaturity, as he was afraid they may confuse his motive with that of the local Sophists who made a living off of their oratory skills. Paul desired that the gospel message not be hindered in any way and that his taking of money from them - although he had the right to do so - would become a stumbling block to them.

Nonetheless, I am the main teaching pastor at my local church and have been in ministry for 18 years now. We set a policy with our BOE that any paid pastoral staff receive NO honorariums from any outside speaking engagements unless they are on vacation.

This was set with a heart to encourage all of us to "shepherd the flock of God among us" and to dissuade distractions to speak at other venues - even church camps, etc. The motivation to speak somewhere should ALWAYS be about the gospel message and never about compensation.

As for weddings and funerals, our BOE approved that we may receive and keep any gift given by the family for such a task; however, every minister of the gospel should lay down their life and trust that God will provide whether they get a gift or not. I personally never expect anything. I have asked our Deacon team who oversees our finances to take this into consideration to the point that each minister should be paid enough that he is not burdened by lack of finances for his family, and not so much that he is out of touch with the average person within the church family.

Doing weddings and funerals is a necessary part of responsibility for the local church pastor. If we can't perform them than we should consider why we are in this service to begin with; and our Elders and Deacons should be educated to the point that they make sure we are taken care of financially so that we may gladly embrace the responsibility of shepherding the local flock.

Thanks for the practical and seasoned wisdom in your post!

Blessings -

Jeff Bower
Highland Gospel Community
Fort Wayne, IN

Unknown said...

Thank you for your wisdom, choice of words and analogies. I wasn't far off on the amount I had purposed to give. Being self employed I also took in consideration the rehearsal dinner and premaritial classes and all of his time that he willfully gave. Blessings to you

Anonymous said...

A friend shared this post with me with great interest so; I can only say how sad it is to see what looks more like a Human Resource officer's checklist than anything remotely Scriptural. Without a trace of Biblical authority or frame of reference; this article's riddled with an assumption on the part of both the author and majority of commentators that somehow pastors have "earned the right to be compensated," add nauseum. This is one of the great crimes within modern day Christendom with the incorporated state church mentality. It is a grotesque counterfeit in light of the example the Lord Jesus Christ left for us . . . "FREELY ye have received, FREELY give" (Matthew 10:8). Quite literally, the article made me wanna vomit! Shameful, at best.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...


I am reposting my reply to a previous commenter.


Sadly, as is normal here on the Internet, you've done a "hit & run" - and dragged Jesus into it.

Arguing with you is useless - but for the benefit of the rest of my readers, here's a couple of Biblical reasons for paying church staff:

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:17-18 NLT)

For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this?... In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. (1 Corinthians 9:9,14 NLT)

krenee said...

It seems that the ones who are railing against compensation, offering, honorarium or a love gift for the pastor, minister, or ordained officiant are sorely misled. First, all are called to be ministers, in a sense, whatever vocation they may be in. So should those who are served in restaurants not pay or tip the servers? What about hair stylists, nail technicians and dog groomers? Christian medical doctors perhaps should not be compensated either. It is always curious to me that ministers are treated differently and often disdainfully, when we give and give and give. Further, many of us continue in some type of academia to continue growing and expanding to better be able to touch others with relevancy. While weddings and funerals provide opportunities to reach out to many people, there is nothing in many ministers' job descriptions that states we have to do this. Common decency, in this culture, requires an acknowledgement and gift. It is pathetic when jars are filed with wads of bills for tipping the bartender at an open bar reception, not to mention the amount spent on alcohol, which is one of the largest expenses for the wedding, but the minister is considered less worthy than the person who pours a drink? Something is askew here. The partying is because the couple have been joined, before God, in the presence of witnesses. I think it is repreh nibble to not compensate a minister very well for his/her services. The comments that have been made stating that the food at either the rehearsal or reception was part of the compensation--that is laughable. If a couple is so stingy they cannot properly see their way to bless the one who officiated and has no doubt prayed for them in private and with them together, then perhaps that couple should simply go to Vegas, walk in off of the street and say a few words and be married. --I did that, folks, as a young person and it seemed utterly meaningless--nothing like a heartfelt Word given for the most important event in a life! Also, an offering to the church is NOT an offering to the pastor. If a church facility is used there is normally a set fee for the use, which is necessary (wear and tear, utilities, etc.). If the minister's church facility was not used then giving an offering to the church does not compensate the minister, still. By all mans, bless the church, if you will, all share in that blessing--but do not count it as the compensation for the minister. Give, pay, compensate --whatever you may call it, but do it generously and without feeling irritated about it.

krenee said...

The word above is a typo "repreh nibble" should be "reprehensible"

Anonymous said...

This was helpful My mother-in-law passed away and we had to ask a pastor in Canada to do a small graveside service for her. So many times I see pastors asked to do weddings and funerals for people not associated with their congregations. Of course they should receive something for their service. If the funeral or wedding is for a supporting member then I can see a pastor choosing to do a service out of love. That should be their choice. In no other profession can I imagine someone saying "you do some work with my friend or relative so I expect you'll do it free for me even though you've never met me before."

Anonymous said...

Is it normal for a Pastor to sign during the Rosary at the Funeral Home, sing during the viewing of the open casket prior to the church funeral service, sing every hymn along with the Church Singer, sing when they should be speaking then sing at the burial service? Its a first and seemed like the pastor was on a stage signing to hear himself.

Anonymous said...


One suggestion:

Would you wish to add to the table of tasks: meeting with the funeral director to coordinate funeral specifics?

A very good article.

God Bless

Rev. Andrew

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Rev. Andrew:

That does happen - though most of the time, I was able to take care of this with a phone call (as I worked with the same few funeral homes in our area).

Thank you for the kind words.