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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - It's That Time of Year Edition

We have two related questions this week, both from the same person.

So it's that special time of year when congregations have to finalize their budgets for next year and that means finalizing the pastor's pay package for next year. It is one of those awkward moments where the pastor is all of a sudden keenly aware that they are an independent contractor working wishing for a nice supportive union rep to intervene on their behalf but the best I can hope for in my denomination is a chart offering synod guidelines for pay based on years in ministry and housing allowance based on what county I live in.

I don't know how other denominations work but I am frustrated with our processes. For starters I believe the word "guidelines" is unhelpful because it means something different to the congregation than what is intended by synod office. It reminds me of conversations between scientists and creationist about the "theory" of evolution. To the scientists the word "theory" implies a high level of certainty - like the theory of gravity. But to creationists "theory" means hunch, idea, current guess - like the best theory we have to explain the absence of cookies is that Santa came and ate them. To the synod offices and pastors it means minimum salaries, but to many in my congregation it means suggestions or lofty goals which are not really meant to be obtained and certainly not required.

I was wondering if anyone had any advice about how to negotiate a raise, nothing fancy, just keeping up with guidelines. I am not in ministry for the money but I do have a family to support and student loans to repay.


Follow up question

I am due my annual raise for years of experience and cost of living. Our synod for some reason is 2 years behind in the way the follow the SS cost of living increases so that means 2010's is based on 2008 when the economy was still good. The church council wants to give me guidelines but is afraid of the congregation's response. There are a few people who are very vocal about how the church cannot afford to increase my salary at all but some of these same people are also equally passionate about their desire to put in new stain glass windows! For them it has nothing to do with how they experience me as their pastor, its just numbers and a way to contain the budget. They are not trying to freeze my salary to send me the message to leave, the congregation is very clear they want me to stay for a long time. I firmly believe none of these people have considered how this might effect me or how it feels to hear them talking about new stained glass windows in the same breath that they object to paying me.

Pastor "Let the Windows Preach then!"

Jennifer, who blogs at offers our only response this week:

In a perfect world, a clergyperson doesn’t have to be her own advocate related to salary and other personnel matters. That’s not helpful advice here in December, but it does provide a chance to lobby for clergy having a pastoral relations committee/personnel committee that becomes self-educated and educates others (including the congregation). Paying one’s pastor fairly is really not a subjective thing, yet lots of congregations handle it very subjectively. Begin at the beginning of a new church year and ask your council or consistory or session or somebody (!) to appoint a committee to study such personnel policies and salary guidelines/ranges and work with them to formulate a plan. With time and careful planning, you can work on all kinds of creative ways to see that fair and just compensation are carefully considered and planned for. It’s an emotionally charged topic, and it’s often helpful to talk about it all outside of budget planning…. In the meantime, here in December, could you ask your synod office to send a clarifying memo regarding these “guidelines”. Perhaps some strong wording would help congregations to feel guided to minimums rather than let off the hook.

Hope this helps!

I hope you can offer some help...and accept my apologies for a late post today. I have been in internet neverland today...

May you live in God's amazing grace+



  1. I am also ELCA clergy, and am well aware of the dynamic you describe with "guidelines" (great analogy with scientific "theory", btw!)...

    I would suggest contacting your synod office and asking to talk to whoever the Assistant to the Bishop is that handles Stewardship. Explain your situation (it's common), and invite him/her to come and preach.

    This is really a larger stewardship issue, and s/he can deal with the congregation's [bad] theology of stewardship while at the same time, re-framing your particular situation in stewardship terms all the while giving it the synod "authority" stamp.


  2. I try to remind the council and executive committee that decides the salaries for all our employees that the guidelines are just that (and there is a helpful introduction in our about how they determine them).

    But also the value of our employees, and for their sake, if something should happen to one of us, or me.. falling behind would be a huge problem when calling a new pastor or youth minister.

    I am also struggling with them about including my first child on the insurance. One member just sees numbers, and I had to gently remind him that it is in my contract that my whole family is offered coverage (my husband works elsewhere and we took him off a few years ago to save the church money)

    They are difficult conversations, but you have to be your own advocate! And I agree with Sarah, contact the synod and get some help from them!

    Good luck and spirit-filled conversation to you!

  3. And remember - in the current economy it's possible that many members of your congregation did not get a raise in 2009 and won't get one in 2010. Perhaps some took serious salary cuts. It's really difficult for them to understand why you should get a pay increase if they haven't.


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