The Average Starting Salary for a Master of Divinity

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Priests and pastors who hold master of divinity degrees earn modest salaries.
Priests and pastors who hold master of divinity degrees earn modest salaries. (Image: Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

The starting salary for someone holding a master of divinity degree, or M.Div., depends on many factors, including denomination, job title and location. M.Div.s are awarded within the Christian faith to those seeking leadership roles within a church, usually as priests, pastors or associate pastors. Priests within the Catholic Church usually are paid directly by the diocese or other organizational structure, whereas pastors generally are paid by the church for which they serve. Congregational size and location greatly affect pastors’ and priests’ salaries.

Education

M.Div. degrees can take anywhere from three to five years to complete if tackled on a full-time basis. Curriculum coursework and duration vary among theological schools and seminaries, but a heavy emphasis is placed on languages — particularly Latin and Greek — as well as religious studies. Classic liberal arts classes usually are required, and speaking and communication skills are emphasized.

Pastor or Priest

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t isolate Christian clergy data from those of other faiths, but reports a 10th percentile salary of $24,210, which represents the lower end of the pay scale, close to a starting salary. The median salary, according to 2010 data, was $43,970. The Diocese of Marquette, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, paid pastors with five years or less of experience $24,601 a year for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Reflecting a much larger diocese size, the Episcopal Diocese of New York paid a salary, or stipend, of $39,400 to priests with less than three years of experience in 2011. Priests also receive housing or housing allowances, health insurance, a pension and other benefits.

Associate Pastor

The Diocese of Marquette pays new associate pastors a salary of $24,193. As with pastors, associate pastors also receive allowances for such things as travel, clothing, continuing education and annual retreats. The Church of the United Brethren in Christ USA, which has more than 200 churches in the United States, has a web site dedicated to formulating local pastors’ salaries, which includes a suggested base salary of $36,000 for pastors and associate pastors. Ten percent is added for those with M.Div. degrees, and other factors — such as congregation size and pastor performance — also affect salary levels.

Youth Pastor

A 2007 Youth Ministry survey showed a national base salary of $32,500 for youth ministers, with the total jumping to $42,500 when benefits are included. Small churches — those with less than 100 members — paid a base wage of $22,500 a year, while larger churches of more than 1,000 averaged $47,500 a year in base pay. According to PayScale June 2011 data, youth pastors with less than one year on the job earn a median salary of $12,208 to $40,007, based on salaries within the 10th to 90th percentile range.

Trends

The average U.S. pastor with a congregation of 300 people earns a salary under $28,000, according to a National Association of Church Business Administration survey as reported in a 2010 article published by Crown Financial Ministries. The report also stated that one in five pastors works a second job to make ends meet, and that only five percent make more than $50,000 a year. Fourteen percent earned less than $25,000.

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