By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments
Dear Tom,

The PPRC met today to decide on my salary for 1999.  Some wanted to know if
I got a raise last year at my appointment (no I did not).  They also wanted
to know if I got a lateral move or a substantial raise in moving here.  I
told them it was not a terrific jump.  They decided not to increase because
Gibsom Memorial said they are so far behind on the budget although they have
raised all of this money for the new property.  They didn’t think it would
look right if they raised my salary and did not pay the Conference again.

I gathered from my discussion with Eugene, that today’s action carried a lot
of past baggage with it that needs to be worked through. He is glad that I
didn’t take today’s action as a reflection upon me.  After what we just went
through, it is hard to really hear people saying “We’re glad to have you
hear, but we just can’t raise salaries this year.” when their finance
committee does and has done nothing about stewardship and the church lacks a
clear sense of mission and is clear about its core values.

With all of Gibson Memorial’s recent expenses, purchasing the land, and
being so far behind on apportionments, Donna was not surprised that we
didn’t get a raise.  But she was disappointed (interpreted HURT!!!)that we
did not at least get a cost of living increase.  (I really think it is
unwise to send pastoral families who were abused like we were into places
with so much baggage.  It’s like marrying two people who just divorced
yesterday and think the marriage has a chance.  It does concern us that two
of the pastors before us both left the ordained ministry after being here
and the one who stayed here 9 years went through a divorce and remarried
while he was here.) I really do desire for both of these churches to get
healthier and grow, but I can’t equip that process alone.  And after this
year, I can’t keep not getting a raise! Maybe this charge needs an outside
consultant to help them work through their issues.  If they can’t afford a
raise on the salary they already paying, then why did they ask for a
full-time appointment at their current salary level?  This is not healthy!

Now went I came here, neither you nor I knew that the charge paid the
pastor’s part of the Health Insurance.  This is not down on paper as part of my compensation in the eyes of the conference and no longer needs to be hidden for tax purposes.  It could very easily be moved back over into
salary (which would increase the one church’s part on pension about $311 and the other church’s $55) and still not be reportable for taxes according to the information we’re sent from the Methodist Building each year.

I mentioned this to a board member who thought it would be ok to move that back to salary which in effect would only give me a raise on paper but not in reality.  It would also increase my contribution to Pension, but only to the tune of about $7 a month.  I’m going to talk with the board member about this some more this week.  Maybe I could ask the finance committee about this Thursday night when we meet.

I’m 41 years old with 15 years of pastoral experience, and 10 years of lay ministry experience with about 26 or more years of pastoral experience before me.  At no time have I ever understood God’s call for me to be an undertaker or a caretaker, I’m a risk taker for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom to be in mission.  Over those years, I saw a revival break out on the two college campuses I attended and one church  turn around from maintenance to mission by God’s grace.

In Christ,

(Name Withheld)

Reflections on Compensation…From Thomas F. Fischer

Dear Fellow-Yoked,

As far as the letter goes, I have the following comments…

1) I think the letter is a letter born of reaction. Typically such letters indicate hurt, lack of appreciation, and a sense of dashed expectations all of which can combine into a reactive mode.

2) I’m not really sure what “good” the letter will do. I don’t know what power the DS has in your denomination re: Salaries. The best that the DS may be able to do is to listen, hear you vent, and offer suggestions for next year.

3) I don’t know the polity in your church, but in my experience whatever the salary level suggested by a lower board to the BD of Directors is pretty well it. The only way this is changed is if…
a) some very interested and influential supportive member of the church recognizes what is happening and wants it changed, and/or
b) the pastor approaches a a key, trusted member of the church to share pastoral concerns and reflections on what has transpired. Making members aware of the situation can be very helpful. That is perhaps what they were looking for in #2 above (or at least just going through the motions?). It is best to respond when they present the opportunity. It is a bit more awkward and precarious, especially in the early going of a ministry, to bring the issue up yourself. To do the latter can appear self-serving (“You greedy, materialistic pastor, you!” “Why can’t you live on dedication!” etc.) The former, of course, can be misinterpreted, too.

4) One of the major pitfalls in the salary issue is that you are still fresh in your church. without healthy relationships with key leaders able to influence the salary positively, they won’t have the “awareness” of what they should be doing unless you give it to them in an appropriate manner.

5) I think that it was unfortunate that you answered the questions as you did re: your salary history. I know you were trying to be fair, respectful, pastoral, etc. But frankly I don’t think it was any of their business. In fact, I think it was just plain unfair on their part. It demonstrates that they have given the whole issue little thought other than just what they’ve always done (the church is consistent in that, huh?:-) )

When they heard “a little jump in pay” they probably thought, “he got a raise…so we don’t have to give him one.” They also heard, “we can’t be that bad since we’re paying more than the other church. Therefore we’re doing fine.” That may have been a lost opportunity to educate them in this critical area.  It may be “water over the dam” as they say.

6) The issue is not “what were you last paid?” but “What is fair
compensation?” The first of these questions is born of a minimalist
compensation philosophy, i.e. we just want to get away with whatever we can vs. the second question which aspires to higher values of the appropriate, Biblical reasons for compensation and a desire to recognize the unique giftedness and value of the Office of the Ministry in their midst.

Your response, for future reference, might be:

* “What is a Biblical standard for compensation?”

* “What are your goals, objectives, rationale and philosophy in arriving at a compensation level?”

* “Do you wish to be a pay leader or a pay laggard relative to other churches?”

* “Do you take into account cost of living in compensation which, of course, vary from area to area?”

This kind of stuff is all Human Resources stuff that I got from my MSA studies in human resources. But it is important for churches not to react to the most important budget expense with some sort of minimalist knee-jerk response. Instead, as with any major budget expense, lots of care and thought ought to be given so
that they recognize:
a) What the value of that expense is,
b) what it says to the congregation about the importance of that expense,
c) how it affects (encourages or discourages) the worker,
d) how it reflects on the mission of the church
e) how it relates to similar professionals with similar training (e.g. local Public School teachers and administrator salaries are often a good baseline since both are in the area of public service, and have analogous responsibilities, etc.),
e) what happens in the long-term if current compensation policies continue (e.g. if not making inflation, they are establishing a policy of reducing your baseline salary each year and not giving recognition for experience, growth, additional education (D min),
f) in what ways does this reflect upon their response to God for His gift of ministry in the highest office in the church?

Often denominations will print recommended salary guidelines for pastors and church professionals. Especially when these are set on the higher side and listed a “minimum recommended salary levels”

As for what you can do…
1) First ask if its worth while to pursue the compensation issue further. Some considerations might be
a) what is the potential increase in compensation that might result? $500 or $5,000? Divide it by the month. What’s the difference? It’s its only an annual $500, it may not be worthwhile to fight for it..
b) what is the current political climate that could make it happen?
c) Will additional information help the cause at this time or is it best to wait till next time around?

2) If you do decide to pursue it, chat with the most trusted, influential, supportive leader you have. Sit down in his or her home and share your concerns in a way that is not reactive. Find out what their attitude is about the salary and indicate the most valid concerns including…
a) Cost of living adjustments for inflation
b) Cost of living for the area (e.g. It’s cheaper to live in San Antonio, TX than in Chicago, Illinois). The same dollar stretches differently in different areas.
c) Long-term compensation philosophy (cf. above).
d) Financial recognition of further schooling..
e) Financial support/subsidy of formal academic schooling
f) Other concerns you may have.

3) Before chatting with such person, call the Administrative offices for the public school. As for their pay scale for teachers. Look up what a teacher with a masters and 15 years experience is paid…including housing, health, retirement, education bonuses, vacation, etc. Compare the results. Also ask to see their contract regarding terms for salary increases. Churches can save lots of headaches if they set up a policy for pastoral compensation
such as 2% per year over and above the cost of living adjustment.

For example, if the COLA in a given year was 3%, then the total raise would be 5%.

4) Have other congregational workers received increases this past year? Check major employers in the area and see what they have received. It would certainly be an unfair situation in the church if God’s people did not share this blessing with their church and pastor. Indeed, it would demonstrate a very, very poor stewardship attitude. If not born of ignorance (yes, those
who get raises themselves can be ignorant or apathetic of congregational compensation issues) If members of a church withhold it from their pastor, they’ll withhold it from his leadership, from his ministry program, and from the Lord’s church.

5) Stewardship education is a must. Financial emphasis has to occur at least once a year for a 3-4 week period. There are different styles, all very effective. The key is to tie the stewardship emphasis in to a well-defined vision and philosophy of ministry. It must have vision, specifics–including payment to the Denomination. When people see the vision, they will respond
with healthy increases.

My experience, and that of many pastors, is that increased giving nearly always results in higher levels of pastoral compensation. Though it may seem unspiritual to make a connection between increases in giving and pastoral compensation, it is the reality.

6) Educate the people at every appropriate opportunity re: fair treatment of all workers, volunteer and paid. Recognize and affirm volunteers. Support fair wages for all other workers on staff–secretary, musicians, etc. The message you give when that occurs is, “We should not be paying just what is needed just to get by when we pay so-and-so. Instead, we ought to recognize
them as God’s special gifts. We need to recognize the cost of living
adjustments are needed so that we don’t give them a pay reduction.” Such support for others gives you an opportunity to build in a philosophy of compensation and a better position in the next round. “We paid our organist with a recognition of cost of living allowances and included a modest increase. Perhaps we should consider that as fair for all staff…including the pastor.”

As a former organist, organist are often unfairly paid in our circles. Organizations such as the American Guild of Organists regularly
print guidelines for compensation.

7) Don’t place yourself in too much financial limelight. I believe this is where the DS can be of greatest assistance to you. Give him a call. Share your concerns with him at the earliest possible opportunity so that if any changes can be made, they can be suggested while still relatively early in the budget process. Work with him to develop some possible long-term compensation strategies for your congregation based on the above. A good,
Biblically-based and economically fair philosophy of compensation can go a long way to avoiding unnecessary conflict, affirming the congregation in knowing they are treating their called, God-given workers fairly, and can ease great bitterness in the parsonage (as you are discovering).

8) Consider your relative propensity toward reactiveness in this situation. Reactiveness, unlike responsiveness, is an anxious, emotive and volatile dynamic to infuse into your congregational system (and family)…especially when it concerns money. Family systems literature (e.g. Edwin Friedman, et al) indicate that reactivity is one of the most unhealthy, devastating emotions especially for a leader to infuse into a system. It sets off all kinds of anxious (read “uncontrollable and unpredictable”) responses. It is such anxiety that sets off the Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde stress shifts (cf. MH Article #81 “How To Deal With Mr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde“). It sets off defensiveness of various kinds and moves systems away from a non-anxious “reflective” and “responsive” mode.

Translation: If you make a really big issue out of this, or if people perceive your anxiousness consciously or unconsciously, other things could trigger. I am not saying to ignore the situation because that, too, causes anxiety. But the use of the non-anxious presence is absolutely critical for leaders, especially in those areas where they tend to be reactive.

9) Often associated with the issue of reactivity is self-differentiation. The degree of reactivity is inappropriately proportionate to the degree of self-differentiation. To increase self-differentiation you can
a) develop other interests outside the church,
b) not work more than 45-50 hours per week at church
c) Develop healthy boundaries for self and family, and d) learn to
deal with reconcile whatever unresolved developmental issues that may need dealing with. Such issues include trust, fairness, safety and security (cf. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), am I valued, etc. Your reactivity has likely set some of these off. Erikson’s “Eight Developmental Stages” is the most helpful outline of the developmental process that I am aware of. When you are healthily self-differentiated you will be able to respond instead of react because your self-esteem will be solidly based on Christ’s grace
first, then His gifts to you, your family, and then whatever else happens to come in tertiary rankings, etc.

10) One thing that happened in my church is that a transfer came in and introduced a “Christmas Gift for Pastor” last year. The results were such that Christmas gifts quadrupled. This can be a helpful thing. Given that “Pastor Appreciation Day” is coming in October, perhaps the DS could send a letter to all his congregations indicating they
1) observe that Sunday,
2) Consider acknowledging the pastor in a special way with special gifts, and
3) enclose guidelines for compensation, specifically  reminding the
congregations of:
i) Biblical standards of compensation,
ii) minimal need for COLA so that the worker does not get their salary effectively reduced,
iii) a reminder to pass on the increases they’ve received from their work,
iv) encourage the development of congregational philosophy of compensation (how about the DS putting on a workshop in 1999 on this?),
v) encourage the promotion of Stewardship as the essential ministry program for the support of the Lord’s church…including pastors and other workers.
vi) other appropriate ideas that he can suggest.

11) You may learn to deal with the whole issue expectations for yourself and family. It’s a tough lesson for Pastors. It’s a tough lesson of life. It’s especially tough for “TJ” types (cf. MBTI) who feel everything ought to make sense: hard workers should be paid well, etc. The spiritual focus is always, “Seek first the kingdom of God and everything will be added.” The Old sinful Adam
inside us insidiously seeks to reverse the process, “Add to me and then I’ll add to the Kingdom of God.” Hmmm, sounds like a stewardship issue.

12) Don’t forget to pray daily, with THANKS, even for your congregational members on the salary committee. They, like you, are sinners. We all need God, his love, etc. Pray that they will be grace-driven so that when they see that they have been given “every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3) they will share it with you, too! 🙂

That’s about all I have. Blessings to you.

Thomas F. Fischer

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