Five Awkward Questions Churches Need to Answer (Part Two)

These are the awkward questions during any board or Vestry meeting. You can feel a quiet come over the room. Everyone is hoping the subject will pass.

But there are five awkward questions that your church needs to be able to discuss.

Previously, we tackled the question of access to giving records. Hopefully, I’ve given you enough to open a dialogue. Because, remember: the head pastor is likely the only one who will bring these topics to the forefront. Get informed, consider your context, pray continually, then lead the conversation.

This next question might be the most awkward one you can ask:

How Do We Set the Pastor’s Compensation?

This question is as important as it is awkward, for obvious reasons. The ordained minister who will have spiritual leadership over the people in the congregation needs to be paid. Every Vestry gets that part of it. But not every Vestry has thought through the issues, challenges, implications, and realities of this very important part of the congregation’s responsibility.

This article will simply place those considerations on the table for you (and your church’s leadership) to discuss and pray over. Of course, your situation will be unique, and no article can capture the complexity of every circumstance. I offer these important factors in setting the pastor’s compensation as ‘discussion starters.’ Hopefully, by having some tangible talking points, you will be able to wade into this tough conversation.

Ministry is NOT a Job

Ministry isn’t ‘better’ than other jobs, but it is different.

This will be a surprise to most people on the Vestry or board because there are so many features of the work that seem like a job. There’s a desk, expected hours, and clear responsibilities. But most ministers do not (or should not) think of themselves as ‘doing a job.’ They are in fact, answering a call. Put plainly, ministry is not a job, it is a calling.

This is not to say that a career in ministry is somehow ‘better’ or ‘more holy’ than the vocations of laypersons. Far from it. It’s simply a recognition that ordained ministry requires a commitment of the whole self. Unlike in other fields, you can’t just take the ‘pastor hat’ off at the end of a long day. There are day-to-day responsibilities that can (and should!) be listed in a job description, but the calling to shepherd God’s people will always extend beyond that.

This means that a Vestry’s considerations for compensation need to extend beyond that as well. If they were looking at their pastor simply as a job prospect, it would be appropriate to ask, “What is the minimum we can pay this person and still seem reasonable?” That is a wrongheaded approach for a person who is called. The better question is: “What is the maximum compensation we can offer this individual to support them in their calling to serve as our pastor?”

Never Negotiate

Pastors shouldn’t be asked to negotiate their compensation package. It is the wrong thing to do and they are probably really bad at it. Why not employ a practice that is standard across commerce? Pastors are called to a church to tend the sheep, so to speak. It is very uncomfortable and (I would say) inappropriate for the pastor to need to ask for more money or less hours for the same money. It would feel a bit like ‘shearing’ instead of feeding.

(A personal comment here. I made it a habit to NEVER discuss my salary with anyone but the wardens and then only in an oblique way. One year I got off track and actually did present a ‘suggested amount’ to the wardens. It was a big mistake. I felt my role in their life go from preacher to peddler in about 20 minutes. It was a very unhappy mistake and, subsequent to the Vestry giving me my suggested amount, I watched both wardens pull back from the church and finally leave the parish altogether. My bad.)

A much better posture for a pastor who has been called to serve is to ask the wardens to do their homework and present to the vestry a ‘suggested amount.’ If the pastor can live on that, great. If not, the pastor can simply say, “I’m sorry…I can’t live on that. Let me reconsider my lifestyle and ask you to reconsider your research and let’s talk again in a few days.”

Do Your Research

A Vestry might be able to come up with a fair salary figure on their own, but chances are they need to dig into some data to really understand what reasonable compensation looks like. I have found that there are five different methods that a Vestry can use to accomplish its research. Some of these approaches, as you will see, are more helpful than others: 

  1. Kick the Can: Far from the most helpful method, this is probably the most widely used research model. A Vestry will often just use last year’s budget as the basis and add a small cost of living increase. Note that the Vestry isn’t asking critical questions about calling or support; they are presuming someone else did their homework and now they are kicking the can down the road.

    Don’t kick the can down the road.

  2. Diocesan Standards: It is interesting to note that all ordained ministers are NOT employees of the congregation; they are not even members of the church they serve. The ordained leaders on a church staff in the Anglican tradition are members of a diocese. While they work in the parish, they work for the bishop. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask the bishop to provide a generic ‘salary survey’ or compensation framework to help set compensation amounts. Some of the newly-formed dioceses may not have a standard amount, but other dioceses are usually free about sharing their data.
  3. Look it Up: There are ample books, websites, tables, charts, and graphs available to any Vestry. The Church Law and Tax Store has this very thorough resource. You can also become a member of The Church Network to gain access to nationwide salary survey data on over 100 ministry positions through MinistryPay. A committee of the Vestry could listen to this episode of Tom Rainer’s Leadership Podcast on fair compensation for pastors.
  4. The Science Guy: I really don’t know where this idea came from but I have used it for setting salaries for staff clergy in years past. I think it is a strong contender for being the most creative, fair-minded, easiest ‘hack’ to determine salary and benefits. What does a similarity educated and experienced High School Science Teacher in this community make? Local school districts post their salary schedules, so it’s easy to use this as a benchmark or even a standard!

The point to be made clear here is that the issue of salary and compensation levels affects over 50% of your church’s budget. It is the chief role of the Vestry to ensure that it is well researched, fair, and gracious.

Keeping It Real

There are leaders and readers here who are wondering when I am going to get real and address the issues that smaller churches face. It’s all well and good to have a Vestry do research and then decide what fair compensation would look like for their minister. But what about those many churches who do not have adequate size or financial strength. What do you do then?  

Those of you who know this blog or have read my book, Giving Up, know that I get very simple and basic when questions about money are raised. And my simply answer to the very important question of how we can pay our pastor more money is likewise simple: ASK FOR MORE MONEY.

If a congregation wants a full-time pastor, they must find the resources to fairly compensate for it. Sometimes the pastor can be called to serve and enter into a process of fund-raising or deputation (becoming a ‘send and supported’ missionary). Sometimes the Vestry can call a pastor to serve part-time at first with a clear plan for growing the church into a full-time parish. It is also clear that future generations of church leaders are going to include lots of bi-vocational ministers. They must be honored and upheld for their willingness to work in two different arenas to fulfill their calling.

But most importantly, a Vestry that cannot pay its pastor adequately must first look around the meeting table and the congregational family with serious and prayerful questions. Is the Lord calling us to give more for the mission of our church?

Final Thoughts

As I said, these are serious matters, and a short blog post can only be a starting point. There are plenty more resources out there and approaches to consider.

If there is a watchword to guide the conversations about compensation and income and salary, would simply say it is, “Generosity.” Generosity should define every aspect of your church’s ministry. That includes generously supporting its leadership. There aren’t easy answers, but working toward generosity in all things will bring blessings to you, your family, and the life of your church.

The Next Awkward Question: Do We Need to Fund a Retirement Account for our Clergy and Staff?

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By | 2018-02-26T12:27:43+00:00 February 26th, 2018|Leadership, Pastoral Ministry|0 Comments

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