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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Elder Robert C. Oaks, a member of the Presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands next to the Reverend Al Sharpton as the reverend addresses the media inside the LDS Family History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Debates over clergy compensation are no longer relegated to congregational meetings. A series of recent articles brought the conversation into the public sphere with pastors and commentators questioning how asking for a raise squares with serving the Lord.

It's a problem of shrinking church budgets, The Atlantic reported. Fewer pastors are able to find full-time, well-paid positions because fewer churches are able to afford them.

"Many new pastors either ask friends and family for donations (a time-honored clerical tradition) or take on other jobs. Working two jobs has become so common for clergy members, in fact, that churches and seminaries have a euphemistic term for it: bi-vocational ministry," The Atlantic explained.

Carol Howard Merritt doesn't think that's fair. In a piece for Christian Century, Merritt outlined nine ways to help pastors in poverty.

Her bottom line was pastors should be paid more, especially when they have to take on extra student debt to attend seminary.

"We have seen how denominational bodies ask for a multitude of requirements of their candidates on top of the (Master of Divinity) … without the knowledge that they are forcing more debt on individuals who are going into poverty-wage calls," Merritt wrote.

But a blogger for Sojourners worries that talking about compensation packages distracts from a pastor's true purpose: serving God.

"Seminaries are places for the formation of pastors, not employees. I am afraid, however, that we have lost the sense of that," wrote Tripp Hudgins, the director of admissions at American Baptist Seminary of the West. "Have we lost our middle-class status? I wonder why we had it in the first place."

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for clergy was $47,540 as of May 2013. The Atlantic noted that wages are decreasing as the role of the church in American society changes.

"The trend dovetails with other recent developments that are troubling to many religious communities. Not only is church attendance in long-term decline, but financial giving by church members is at Depression-era lows," The Atlantic reported.

However, many pastors recognize that their wage woes are not unique.

The Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell serves part time for an American Baptist Congregation. In a post for (D)mergent, she detailed struggling with debt after seminary, explaining her sense that poor pastors are indicators of the larger American poverty crisis.

"While pastors are becoming poorer, so are all of the people around me," she wrote. "This is not just a pastor problem, this is not just a church problem; this is a problem for us collectively as followers of Jesus: the poor are getting poorer."

Email: kdallas@deseretnews.com Twitter: @kelsey_dallas