Protestant male clergy are falling below middle class status, a trend bringing new models of the ministry to the surface, writes Matthew J. Price in the Christian Century (Aug. 15-22) magazine.
Until fairly recently, clergymen belonged to the middle class in income along with other professionals who came out of graduate schools. But in the past 20 years, clergy income has remained relatively flat while others in graduate schools, have seen salary rises. The average mean salary for a married clergyman was 11 percent higher in the 1990s than in the 1980s, but salary levels rose by 25 percent for all married males with similar graduate-level degrees.
The cost of college education for children and retirement especially makes it difficult for clergy to retain a place in the middle class. Clergy average income for those between 45 and 55 was $54,044, while the average mean income for those with graduate level degrees was $105,359.This lower income contributes to higher stress levels for clergymen, as well as longer hours and reduced time for family (the total household income for women is 20 percent higher for women clergy).
Price writes that the emergence of the popular megachurch and marketing methods has meant less support given to clergy who are pastors of smaller congregations. In place of the middle class pastor of small or moderate size congregations, two models are emerging. One is the church planting-entrepreneurial model, where pastors “grow their own” congregations and receive salaries commensurate with their success.
Price believes that another motif will increasingly dominate mainline Protestantism. In this “meaningful vocation” model, the pastor is called to the ministry after a defining experience in mid-life. This trend will leave out young ministers and others wanting to embark on a middle class career while catering to those willing to step down a class level or two and those with independent means or spousal support.
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