The Myth of the $15 Per Month Pastor

“They’re profiting from the ministry!”

A donor exclaimed that to me over the telephone a couple of years ago, concerned that one ministry ACTION has visited in Cuba was utilizing donations from overseas to pay its church planters $38 per month. If a Cuban pastor only makes $10 to $15 per month — the donor reasoned — then these families were “profiting” from the Gospel by making three times that amount. After all, in Cuba even a doctor only makes $31 per month!

Though it is true that these church planters were being supported at a higher level than a Cuban doctor, it is untrue that a pastor and his family can really live on less. The $15 per month pastor is simply a myth. I can state that unequivocally based on my own time in Cuba (twenty trips) and based on a recent survey we took of pastoral families.

For a family of four, it will cost them $6.25 per month for the basic food items that the government provides at highly subsidized prices. They will also spend $18.50 on other food that they will have to shop for on the black market.

Add to that $10.50 per month for personal hygiene products. (Toothpaste, shampoo, soap, detergent, deodorant, feminine products — none of these is available on the black market. They are only available in the stores and cost at least $1 each.)

Tack on $3.75 for utilities such as water and electricity, and we have reached a total of $39 per month. That amount is still too little, however, because it assumes that their clothes are given to them by generous visitors to the country, and that their Russian-made appliances never need repair, and that their bike tires never go flat. Nonetheless, $39 per month begins to resemble a more reasonable amount.

So, what are we to make of the pastor who makes $15 per month, or in many cases even less? While his income allows him to make the work of shepherding God’s flock his primary focus, it does not permit him to really be a full-time minister.

Instead, he must devote much of his time to what the Cubans call resolviendo, which in their context means “finding a way.” He has to find a way to make a few extra pesos that day, find a way to barter for some food, find a way to fix his bicycle tire without spending any money, find a way to travel to another town by hitchhiking since he doesn’t have bus fare. Resolviendo takes a lot of energy and a lot of time — energy and time he cannot employ in serving his church. The $15 per month pastor cannot really focus on his church because he constantly must keep busy to just make sure his own family makes it through the month.

So, the myth is that $15 keeps a pastor fully-employed and fully-focused on his church. It does not. Perhaps this also applies to other pastor sponsorship programs you have heard of in India, or Uganda, or elsewhere. I encourage you to ask, when you hear that pastors in such a country make “only” a certain salary per month, “Yes, but what does it take for them not only to be devoted to their flock but also responsible toward their family?” The two amounts may prove to be quite different!

PS. Unfortunately, due to government restrictions, ACTION USA cannot accept donations for Cuban pastors’ personal support. However, we have a license that allows us to invest financially in pastoral training through conferences and Bible schools.