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What Church Employees Need to Know About Negotiating Compensation
What Church Employees Need to Know About Negotiating Compensation
Why you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about money in ministry settings.
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Most people who work for a church do so out of a sense of calling: They want to serve Jesus, their fellow believers, and their neighbors.

But they still have to eat, as David A. Miller of the Slingshot Group points out. And they’ve got bills to pay.

Over the past decade, Miller has helped more than 200 youth pastors find work at churches. His advice for them: Ask about the money early on. Few things are deal-breakers for job candidates, he says. Money is one of them.

“If you know that you need to make $50,000 but the church only wants to pay $35,000—that’s not going to work,” he says. “A church is not going to jump that much.”

Pastors and other job candidates are often uncomfortable starting the conversation about compensation. That puts them in a difficult position, says Miller. As a potential solution, he often suggests churches put a compensation range in their job descriptions and advertisements. That’s a big help.

But pastors and other church workers also need to push past feelings of guilt when discussing money. There’s no shame in trying to take care of your family, says Miller.

“It’s gross to think you are going to get rich in ministry,” he says. “It’s not gross to know what you need.”

He advises that a job candidate at a church should ask about the pay range early on. That way they don’t get too far down the road with a church, only to back out.

Dave Fletcher—executive pastor at First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California—agrees. He suggests that candidates ask about the salary/compensation range after the first interview.

“Let’s make sure we are in the same ballpark,” he says.

Think through what you need

Negotiating compensation has two parts.

One part is knowing what a church can realistically afford to pay. The other is knowing what you need in terms of compensation.

Mike Waddy, pastor of First Baptist Maury City—a small town in west Tennessee—has eight kids. So he’s got to be careful when thinking about compensation. It’s not that he deserves more pay due to his higher bills. (In fact, churches that pay based on individual need instead of the value of the role are violating the law.) But a lot of people depend on him, and he’ll need to make sure the role’s compensation is adequate for his needs.

He’s been a pastor at two churches over the past 14 years. He’s also talked with two other churches about possible calls that didn’t pan out.

Waddy suggests that pastors or other church staff members go into an interview with a church knowing what they need to make and being up front about it. That simplifies the negotiating process—at least in the beginning.

“You don’t want to come across as saying, ‘I am in this for the money,’” he says. “But you know what you need to pay your bills.”

Those questions are vital, because money is one of the major stressors for the families of pastors, according to LifeWay Research.

A 2017 survey of the spouses of Protestant senior pastors found that more than one in three (36%) say they worry about making ends meet every month. Nearly half (46%) say they worry about not being able to save for the future. Perhaps most telling of all, the majority (61%) say the compensation paid by the church isn’t enough to support their family.


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