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Minding the Gap: Gender and Compensation in Churches and Ministries
Minding the Gap: Gender and Compensation in Churches and Ministries
How churches can provide equitable pay for the women and men they employ.
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There are “so many hurdles on the pastoral side, on the female side of things, to have to figure out,” says Diaz. “How do we jump across those mental barriers and some of those internal struggles that we have in order to be fairly compensated?”

Finding individual solutions

Diaz’s work with Charlotte—whose situation was briefly outlined at the start of this piece—offers a basic potential framework for jumping across those barriers. Diaz coached Charlotte for a year, spending several months discussing her compensation issues.

“I think the first step was her just coming to grips with [the truth that] ‘I need to value myself enough to ask [for] what is warranted to me,’” Diaz explains. “Not in an entitled way, but [realizing], ‘I bring a great amount of value to this church and to these students, and because I have value, I need to be able to stick up for myself, defend myself.’”

After this realization came more concrete steps. She did some research—using the Church Law & Tax compensation handbook as one of her sources—and wrote down her request, “her own proposal around how long she’d been at the church and what the growth of the ministry had been and what she does.” In the proposal, she asked for a $5,000 raise.

“She proposed it to the senior pastor, and he looked at it and said ‘yeah’ right away,” Diaz says. “And it was effective the next week.”

Of course, not every story ends like Charlotte’s. “In some churches, it’s just bringing an awareness and then they go, ‘Oh, okay—we need to fix that,’” says Sommerville. “And then in other cases, it’s, ‘Oh, okay—that’s the way it is.’”

Potential rejections from supervisors “are real fears for women,” says Diaz. “I think the fears keep women back from actually saying what it is they actually need and want.”

Diaz advises “that women need to do a better job of exploring what it is that’s hindering them from not pursuing that justice—both legally and theologically.”

But the first steps toward change don’t necessarily involve a confrontation with senior leadership.

Instead, Sommerville recommends “go[ing] to the employee manual first to figure out what are the remedies…if there’s a grievance.” After that, it might be time to start a conversation: “sometimes it’s raising it with your boss, sometimes it’s raising it with the church HR director. In a smaller church, it’s raising it with the personnel committee or the finance committee or church council.”

Finding church-wide solutions

In that vein, Simmons encourages churches to intentionally include women in those committees and councils and denominational efforts. “If they have a diaconate, another board, a finance board, board of elders—make sure that there are women who are part of the human resource effort,” she says. “Make sure that there are women there who can make the case: not women who will agree with the men, but women who will make the case. . . . You don’t see enough women in those positions that determine salaries and bonuses and work hours and how you get ordained. You don’t see women in those positions. And until that changes, much of this will never change.”

According to Simmons, another key step in the path to change concerns awareness and discussion among male clergy and staff—not just female. “You have to do both,” she says. “You have to talk to women, but you certainly have to talk to men.”

In her interactions with male pastors, Simmons has “help[ed] them understand what is just, what is fair, and—when their budget increases—who to take care of first, because these are the people who are doing the heavy lifting.”

Ultimately, however, “until women are willing to join the fight for their own liberation and proper pay, until more women are willing to join this fight—not just men, but more women, young and old—it’s not going to change,” says Simmons. “If you really want to be paid properly, you’re going to have to fight for it.”

In Depth:

For further guidance on employment and compensation issues in the church, see these resources:

1. The 2016-2017 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff

2. Understanding Labor Laws

3. Your Guide to Ministry Employee Handbooks


Emily Lund is the Assistant Editor for Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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