Far less than what they are worth! It costs less to hire an interim pastor than what you might think.

What do specialists charge?

Bear in mind that intentional interim pastors are specialists. Interims are the skilled surgeons, the orthopedic specialists, the discerning diagnosticians and the relentless physical therapists who will put your church right.

“The way a congregation chooses to use its interim time will shape congregational growth, identity, and health for years to come. We also know that what is done in the interim time really determines whether the new minister and congregation will form a solid ministry team.”

R. Neil Chafin

Interims have post graduate training (beyond seminary). Interims have mastered skills specific to churches in transition, and they bring the vast resources of their affiliated organization with them. Interims are subject matter experts in righting churches adrift, effecting repairs and setting them on course.

Interims are uniquely capable of fixing whatever’s broken in your church. A skilled intentional interim pastor is worth far more to the church than the typical settled pastor.

Think about that last sentence for a moment.

Now think about the cost of specialized service.

Who charges more for an office visit, your family physician (for a routine checkup) or the surgeon who’s going to repair that aneurism? Will you receive a larger invoice from a general practice attorney, or the lawyer who specializes in protecting people from the IRS?

Intentional interim pastors are the same.

Don’t think you can scrimp and save by underpaying a skilled interim pastor. If your church needs to save for the future or retire debt you’re going to need an interim pastor capable of addressing the church’s financial problems!

Cost of an interim pastor

On the matter of compensation, interim pastors fall into one of two camps. One is inhabited by those who don’t rely solely on their salary. They have other sources of income. They may be able to accept a call to serve your church at a reduced salary or perhaps they may work out a deferred compensation plan for their services.

The other camp consists of those who rely largely, perhaps even solely, on their salary.

Begin with the previous pastor’s base salary. Take the pastor’s base salary and answer two questions:

  1. Did we underpay our previous pastor?
  2. Did we overpay our previous pastor? (yes, it does happen!)

There are plenty of tools on the Internet that will help answer these questions.

If you search the phrase “calculate pastor’s salary” and confine your search to only those items published in the last year you’ll find hundreds of them. Bookmark search results published by your denomination. If you’re not part of a denomination then look for a denomination that shares similar values with yours.

Factor in the additional cost.

It is possible you may not need to cover health insurance costs; some interims will have coverage through a spouse’s workplace or may have other insurance. You should offer to pay the premiums and trust that if the interim doesn’t need the financial assistance in this area it will be waived. In addition you will not be paying for continuing education, conferences & etc. But there are other expenses you should cover.

This includes travel expenses (if the interim pastor has to commute from another city), coaching (you absolutely must include this; if you don’t you shortchange the church and cheat the pastor) and administrative fees (if a placement agency is involved).

Then, divide the cost for the budget. Typically it will look like this:

  • Direct payments to the interim pastor
    • Direct salary
    • Housing allowance
    • 403(b) or other retirement plan
  • Additional expenses (if needed)
    • Travel expenses
    • Per diem
    • Coaching
    • Agency fees
    • Matching social security

Direct salary is money the interim pastor can use to keep up daily life. It is subject to local, state and federal taxes. The housing allowance gives the pastor a bit of a break. Those funds are subject to social security taxes but exempt from state and federal income taxes.

You may wish to offer a matching 403(b) plan. If you cannot afford a matching program, you should at least offer the pastor the chance to earmark a portion of the direct salary to such a plan. The enrollment costs are minimal and the pastor gains some tax advantage.

403(b) contributions by the pastor are “before taxes” money. Those funds are not taxed as income when it is deposited. And, years later, when the pastor takes distribution it is treated as a housing allowance – exempt from state and federal income taxes.

Other interim pastor costs

If you choose to call an interim pastor who has a long commute you will have to cover the travel expenses and define a per diem amount. These are direct costs to the church, they are not part of the pastor’s compensation.

If the pastor was placed by an agency (we recommend Interim Pastor Ministries) there will be an administrative cost; these typically run in the 12% to 15% range.

Finally, you will need to pay the interim pastor’s coach. There are a number of reasons why a coach is a mission critical member of the transition team:

  • The coach will have strengths that supplement the interim pastor’s weaknesses
  • The coach will help the interim pastor maintain focus on the goal – From time-to-time the interim may become so involved in putting out fires that he becomes focused on the immediate and loses track of the big picture!
  • The coach will resource the interim pastor if they are dealing with issues that need additional expertise
  • The coach will maintain the interim pastor’s morale through encouragement and counsel.
  • The coach will serve as a “back stop” for the interim’s written reports, analysis of assessment results and proposed training materials and schedules.
  • The coach will help the interim stay on course – remember, the interim pastor has a very short time frame (18-24 months) to produce significant changes in the congregation!

The coach is an essential team member. The coach assists the interim pastor by evaluating the assessments and making recommendations, helps the interim pastor stay on task (it’s easy to get lost in the blur of activity), offers sage advice when needed and connects the interim pastor to other experts in the field when needed.

Remember, Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs; no one ever went out by themselves. Neither should an interim pastor! Be sure to nail down those fees, and prepare your book-keeper to receive invoices from the coach.

Do not expect the interim pastor to pay the coach. That complicates the relationship because the coach is working for the church in conjunction with the interim pastor.

Now comes the most important question of all.

The cost of not hiring an interim pastor

What will it end up costing you if don’t hire an intentional interim pastor?

That, my friend, is the subject of another article.