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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ask the Matriarch: A First Call

Peripatetic Polar Bear and RevAbi wrote this week's answers—I merely stitched them together.

Teri of Clever Title Here writes:

I am about to accept my first call as an Associate Pastor. Do you have any tips for negotiating the salary package, things to watch out for in a new church, transitioning from student (or missionary, in my case) to pastor, moving, etc?

Congratulations on having your first call as an Associate Pastor. These are great questions that all of us need to be asking ourselves when we are appointed, get a call, or decide to move up.

When it comes to salary, look at the big picture
For starters, negotiating the salary package may not be as involved as you think. Unlike businesses, churches don't have as much wiggle room for negotiating in money matters. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Tax savings and financial security:One area where you can negotiate financially is in how much money is housing allowance, and how much is salary. Since housing allowance is untaxed, do not underestimate your housing costs! Be sure to talk to a tax planner or an accountant, who can help you familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of your budding relationship with the IRS in your new role. Check with your denomination's pension advisor and insurance agent. PPB knows others that have negotiated clothing allowances and book allowances in exchange for less salary—less taxes, again—and Abi points out that you can also negotiate continuing education funds (sometimes it's required).
  • Getting there: Are they required to pay for moving expenses? Find out how much relocation allowance is available, if any.
  • Job description, schedule and leave policy: Some of the other areas that you'll want clear—up front—are study leave, study leave money, days off, sundays off, expectations for how much work is in the office and how much can be flex. Be sure you get a clear job definition with the hours you're expected to work and your responsibilites spelled out. Get it in writing, too—for instance, your salary has to be in writing for tax purposes, but sometimes churches just want to keep this stuff verbal and tell you not to worry about it—but then they start demanding more of you. No, no, no! And watch out for the catch-all "other duties as assigned." Does that mean the Senior Pastor can put on you anything, at anytime? How much authority will you have, and how much independence?
  • Environment and supplies: Will you have an office? What do you require or need to fulfill your responsibilities as Associate Pastor? Secretarial help? A budget for your ministry areas? Will you do your own copying? etc. These kinds of questions can be addressed at this time. Also, needed repairs to a manse should be agreed to ahead of time, as well as anything that needs done to an office. (PPB assumed that since her office had no chair, one would be didn't.)

How to negotiate (and not lose the farm)
When it comes time to actually negotiate, here are PPB's recommendations.
  • Compare apples with apples. Don't ask for 3 pigs and a duck because the Episcopalians (Lutherans, Methodists, etc.) in your town are paying 3 pigs and a duck. Find out what the going salary is for your denomination and your region. Salaries vary widely by region and by denomination. Find out, also, your judicatory's minimum standards, if there are any.
  • Don't ask for everything at once. Have a backup plan. Give them a chance to say yes. So, if the offer is 2 pigs and a rooster, and you were hoping for a chicken also, ask for the chicken, but if the answer to the chicken is no, then ask for something you do want that doesn't cost them anything (or very little). "Could I take 2 pigs in salary and pull a rooster out for a book allowance? Could I have a quarterly retreat day?"

Preparing for the transition
PPB offers three suggestions:
  1. Find more experienced folks for advising. "In my case," she writes, "that meant folks outside my geographic region because I was overly sensitive about my lack of practical knowledge (practicality was not the strong suit of my theological education). I went to continuing ed events where I knew I would find wise souls. Scholarships are often available for new or underpaid ministers. If you go to events where you are one of only a handful of newbies, I think you'll find you get lots of support, attention (me loves attention), and wisdom."
  2. Stay in touch with your seminary friends. They're in the same boat, and are a good place for serious whining. ("My graduating class has an electronic newsletter that is still going strong--only now it's in larger print!" she writes.)
  3. Start a blog. Oh, wait--you have! See, you're already ahead of the game!

Helpful links and required reading
Abi, our ever helpful matriarchal book- and link-finder, offers these sites and book titles.

  • Ministry is a High Calling (Aim Low): Reflections of a Parish Novice by Kurt R. Schuermann
  • Surviving Your First Year as Pastor(What Seminary Couln't Teach You) by Angie Best-Boss
  • Effective Ministry as an Associate Pastor by Robert Radcliff (Abi notes that it's kind of male-centric, but otherwise fine.)


  1. About the blog... seriously consider whether you want the blog to be public or not. Some have decided to be public - and that's fine - you just have to be comfortable that not everyone is necessarily going to approve of the blog and/or its content... or my favorite, its perceived content.

    If you are willing to live with that, then fine. If not, then you might want to consider blogging under an assumed name.

    It is not that the congregants cannot happen across your blog even if it is anonymous - for instance if anyone who knows me read mine they would quickly realize who I am - it just makes it so they can't google your name to learn more about you and there is your every thought, feeling and rant for the world to see.

    Again, some are quite comfortable with this. I tend to be a bit more cynical and would advise young clergy to steer away from the open blog.

    imho - will smama

  2. PS: Well done matriarchs. Way to knock it out of the park again!

  3. This is rapidly becoming my favorite feature. I can't wait for Thursday afternoons. Bravo!

  4. I love this feature, and getting the wisdom of our matriarchs - it helps me keep a long-term perspective.

    About the blogging...My blog has been a crucial coping mechanism in my first year and then some of ministry, and I don't know how I would have survived without it. However, will smama is right; blogging can be dangerous. Even if you think you are anonymous, you can be surprisingly easy to find and identify. My advice, having been through some major blogging-related tension, is be discreet. Posting about yourself and your own struggles can quickly cross the line into blogging about your congregation, and that can cause big problems.

  5. Thanks matriarchs!

    I have successfully negotiated, I think. well, i got what I asked for, anyway. yay!

    now for the COM meeting, the congregational meeting, moving, and the transition! woohoo!

    thanks for the advice. I'll be keeping it in mind, especially re the blog. y'all are awesome!

  6. A success, and so glad for you Teri, blessings on your new ministry.


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