Clergy Compensation

“Our Staff Parish Relations Committee is not sure we can give our pastor and staff members a raise this year, but we know they are all deserving, and we want to do something.  Can you give us any guidance?”  Having received this phone call more than once, my mind flashed back to seminary days.

My first real job was as a part-time director of music in a large United Methodist Church in Connecticut in the mid 1970’s.  I was also a full-time student at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and then at Yale Divinity School.  During my 5th and last year at Stratford UMC, I became pregnant with our first child.  Unfortunately, I was so sick during the first half of my pregnancy that I was hospitalized several times and had to take a 3 month leave of absence from my music job.

Because Gary and I were planning to move to Michigan 4 months later to begin our ministry career, I assumed that the church would ask me to resign so that they could move on.  After all, I was let go from another part-time job because my employer could not wait for my health to improve.  Imagine my surprise, then, when the church not only held my position but paid my regular salary during the entire time I was sick!  The kindness of Stratford UMC has always remained with me.

Right now Staff Parish Relations Committees are beginning to tackle their paperwork for the fall church conferences, including recommending their pastor’s compensation package for 2010.  Many pastors did not receive a salary increase in 2009, and a few churches even had to reduce their pastor’s salary mid-year.  In addition, several of our district churches reluctantly and painfully made the decision to move from a full-time to a part-time pastor.

I am deeply grateful for the integrity, wisdom and compassion I observe as church leaders carefully determine realistic budgets according to the mission and vision of their particular congregation.  There is nothing more agonizing for a church than to have to freeze salaries, reduce hours or eliminate staff positions. 

As Staff Parish Relations Committees go about their work, I would like to share a few reflections which are important for all clergy and lay persons to remember, especially at this time of year.

  • Even in times of national recession, churches have proven again and again that they can do amazing things when mission and ministry is strong and stewardship is an integral part of congregational life.  It is the responsibility of the local church Finance Committee to consider all possible income streams before recommending the 2010 budget.  Parishioners want to see that their pastor is treated fairly and well, so don’t decide prematurely that a raise for your pastor is impossible.  Let people know what the needs of the church are, create a culture of generosity, and invite them to respond through responsible stewardship.  
  • The Staff Parish Relations Committees of churches who have paid staff other than the pastor also have to recommend 2010 staff salaries to the church council.   While the pastor’s compensation package will, of necessity, be different than staff salaries, it is wise to consider the pastor’s salary in the context of other staff salaries.  Is it just to give the pastor a raise without giving raises to other staff or vice versa? 
  • In order to respond to concerns of local churches, cutbacks are taking place at all levels of our denomination right now.  Every general agency has downsized, our bishops have voluntarily reduced their salaries, and the salaries of West Michigan Conference staff and district superintendents have been frozen for 2010.  However, this should not unduly influence what local churches do in setting their pastor’s salary.    
  • Engage your pastor in conversation around the compensation package.  Although the pastor might not participate in all meetings around compensation, honest and open discussion facilitates healthy relationships and an atmosphere of mutual discernment.
  • Did you know that according to ¶622 of The Book of Discipline 2008, ministry share payments “shall be exactly proportional to the amount paid on the clergy base compensation”?  Churches that are unable to fulfill their financial commitments have to engage in the difficult work of examining their budget and making necessary adjustments in staffing or other expenses.

Most important, please recognize that pastors struggle with the same personal financial concerns as members of their congregation.  Although housing is provided for full-time pastors and some part-time pastors, salaries for most pastors are low compared to professionals with similar education and job responsibilities.

While pastors provide care for parishioners in financial distress, they may be experiencing the same burdens themselves, and you won’t even know it.  Just like other people, some pastors have enormous seminary loans, they may have multiple children in college, their spouses may lose their jobs, they may be facing enormous medical expenses, adult children may move back home, they may be raising grandchildren, or their spouse’s business may have gone under.

How can churches care for their pastor and family, even if they cannot give the same percentage raise that they would like to offer and that their pastor deserves?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Understand the tax consequences of every item in the compensation package, then maximize the use of salary reduction items such as a medical-dental reimbursement and/or dependent care account.  Ensure that you provide adequate professional and travel reimbursement and encourage your pastor to make use of a furnishings allowance.
  2. If you cannot give your pastor a salary increase in 2010, why not consider giving him/her an extra week or two of vacation?  All pastors receive four weeks of vacation, but extra vacation time may go a long way to compensate for the lack of a raise.
  3. Collect a love gift for your pastor and staff at Christmas. 
  4. Occasionally treat your pastor and staff to a potluck or pizza lunch at the church, or take a meal over to the parsonage during a particularly busy time.
  5. Give your pastor a gift certificate to a restaurant and a movie and provide childcare if needed.
  6. Be proactive in taking excellent care of the parsonage so that your pastor and family have a comfortable place to live.
  7. Encourage your pastor to stay healthy – physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually – by taking at least one day off a week and taking periodic days away for rest and renewal (not vacation).
  8. Think about encouraging your pastor to take a renewal leave.  The cumulative effect of being on call 24/7 for many years takes its toll on all pastors, whether they acknowledge it or not.  In the past three years, nine district pastors have taken renewal leaves of from one to three months, and several more are scheduled to take leaves next year.  Burned out pastors come back refreshed, and churches discover that they can do far more than they thought in their pastor’s absence.

The gift that I received from Stratford UMC in Connecticut before I was a pastor taught me that the church is called to lead the way in showing compassion and understanding to clergy and staff members.  Certainly, difficult and responsible decisions must be made in regard to budgets.  However, when we thoughtfully care for our clergy and staff in ways that go far beyond salary, we become “little Christs” to those who have committed their lives to embody the servant love of Jesus for us all.

Blessings, Laurie

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