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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thursday, Thursday. Ask the Matriarch!

WooHoo! It’s Thursday!

And we have a fabulous question:

I am a first call pastor. When I was hired, I was given reasonable acknowledgement for my previous life experience and was provided with a pay package that met our institutional church's compensation guidelines. My housing allowance was low but at least it met guidelines (barely).

For the first few months of my call, nobody said a word about the pay package. In the last few months (as summer arrived and giving decreased), the church treasurer has been dropping hints about what a stretch it was to bring me aboard. For example, "You know, Pastor Before You didn't require health insurance, that's a large expense for us now," and "Before we called you, we really thought that the moving expenses would be about half of what they were for you and your family," and "In the past, we've always given just a modest raise annually - we only followed synod guidelines when calling a new pastor because the synod insisted."

After digging into the annual reports of the last 20+ years, I recently discovered that my longtime predecessor was paid 26% below suggested minimum church compensation guidelines. The pastor in-between the longtime pastor and me never spent his continuing education funds, was also below guidelines at the end of his time at the church, and seldom took any vacation (big surprise...he burned out and is no longer a pastor).

As budget time sneaks up on us this fall, how would the experienced among us handle the situation? I was taught in seminary that insisting upon minimum guidelines consistently is the way to go. Am I an idealist nut to still believe this is the proper course of action?

The quick synopsis from one Matriarch: Dear first call pastor: no. You are not an idealist nut.

From Jan:
My first response is to say "run" - these people may be wonderful, salt-of-the-earth children of God, but they sound as if they are living in survival mode with no idea they could be living in thriving mode. In coming up with their budget, I wonder if they first budget the non-negotiable (utilities, insurance for the building) and consider staff a second priority. From what I read, this is backwards. They need to discern prayerfully what it their highest priority, what they can't live without. My hope is that they will say they can't live without the hope of the gospel and therefore someone to proclaim it (that would be you.) The way they treasure their pastor (or not) reflects the way their passion for spiritual growth and discipleship. Again, it sounds like they are focused on getting by, offering the least they can offer, etc. It's a matter of hospitality among other things. Be careful and take care of yourself (because it, sadly, doesn't sound like they take good care of their pastors.)

First Call, I left my first church when they started suggesting I take a cut in salary to help them balance their budget. It’s not that I was unsympathetic to them; it’s that they were asking me to make sacrifices they were not willing to make. As a colleague at the time advised, if they had, for many years prior, taken stewardship more seriously, this would likely not be a problem. What if they had come to me and told me that ever member had pledged to give 10% more, and would I be willing to give 10% more as well?

I’m sure that there are one or two (or fifty) of you out there who have some thoughts about this. What say you?

Have a question you want answered? Just send it on,


  1. Yes, I would insist on minimum guidelines.

    This kind of stuff is icky. It is very easy to feel like we ought to help the church out by taking a smaller package, not using up all our funds, not using up all our vacation, etc. It is also easy to feel when such things are suggested that maybe the reality is that we are not "worth" what they are paying us.

    It is unethical (imho) that the church treasurer would drop hints to you about this. In what other line of work does the employer do such a thing? If they are going to ask you to take a cut, let them do so directly, so that you can directly address it (as in: No. That does not work for me. I was hired with the expectations that you would provide the package you promised, and I cannot accept less than that.).

    If they do not address it directly with you, then let them keep hanging onto their anxiety and stew in their own juices. They can try to manipulate you into feeling guilty and offering to take less, but you can choose not to be manipulated. Do not accept the guilt and anxiety they are trying to lay on you - that is yours. And if they keep trying to put it on you, I would agree with Jan - look for a way out of there.

  2. I have way too many thoughts. You are not being idealistic.

    1. The treasurer is behaving badly, inappropriately. Some would say "Passive-aggressive." That needs to be addressed somehow. I would suggest by other lay leaders in the congregation and on the governing board who called the new pastor. A simple, this is the agreed to package, "we live into our agreements."

    2. I agree with the "sort out priotities" and let's hope the Gospel is one.

    3. Teach about a theology of abudance - what do we have a lot of?

    4. Since there is such a long history from previous pastors of accepting these misguided financial expectations of clergy, it's going to be tough to turn it around.

    5. call in the denominational leadership, those who help establish and live into the guidelines to come and teach about why we take care of our clergy.

    6. Contact the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center or the Alban Institute, or some other organization skilled in "healthy congregation" dynamics. Hire them for a congregational workshop or at least get some materials to read.

    7. Look for a new call.

    Best wishes for this time ahead. Take care of yourself, and maybe you can help them in the process.

  3. I agree with earthchick - it's unethical - but it is good that you found out what the situation was before you came.

    Sadly I think the time of full-time paid pastors is over and we will (all ) have to start re-thinking how we do church.

    You should not take a pay cut. And yes you should ask for (and insist on)at least the mimimum recommended salary and housing allowance.

    I believe too you should call in some expert help - and have teachings about giving (not just to get your salary covered tee hee - but to help with setting priorities)

    what is the vision for this local church and how are you (all) going to get the church there? :)

  4. Looking back at what I wrote, I realize I made a bad typo. When I said "Do not accept the guilt and anxiety they are trying to lay on you - that is yours." I meant THEIRS. That is THEIRS!

    I agree that calling in professionals is probably a good idea.

  5. I faced a similar situation last year. The church pays me bare minimun to meet the requirements and several session members kept saying that "we didn't need a full time pastor" or "the pastor's salary and call package make up over 60% of our budget." (that includes all the staff!). Here is what it is helpfule for me to remember:

    1) When this Presbyterian church ordained and installed me one of the promises they made was to pay me a fair wage. Is the minimum fair? Well, that's debatable, but they promised to pay me fairly and I expect them to live up to that, just as I livfe up to the promises I made. Is there a way to gently remind them of that?

    2) DO NOT LET THEM MAKE YOU FEEL GUILTY ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU COMPRISE THE BUDGET. Yes, full time pastors often are the largest budget item in a small church, that's they way it is. This is not your fault. it took me a ling time to be able to hear "most of our expenses this month were for KnittinPreacher's Salary" without wanting to crawl into a hole and cry. It's not a judgment but a statement of fact. if you left tomorrow and they hired soemone else at the reduced rate (if someone would accept it) it would still be the largest chunk.

    3) Con. ed time and all the other non-salary stuff is there to keep us healthy as pastors. it is when we can learn and grow (and run away from home for a while). It's much cheaper for them to pay your con ed than your therapy bills because you gave up your vacation or your con ed to "help" the church.

    This is an icky thing to have to deal with. My prayers are with you!

  6. What Mompriest said .. and I would add ... start looking for that new call today!

  7. Oh yeah, knittinpreacher, I hate discussions about how much of budget is personnel costs. *Bleh*. I think most churches pay anywhere from 60-80% of their budget on personnel, and in some cases more than that. I have to remind myself of that every time our self-appointed church statistician decides to pull out his graphs and charts about where our budget goes.

    knittinpreacher makes a good point about what it would cost the church if they had to hire a new pastor. Chances are, they could not offer anyone new anything less than what you are getting, unless they were to change the job requirements drastically (make it bivocational, for instance). Also, they would of course incur new moving costs for a new pastor. I'm not suggesting you tell them all this. I just think it's helpful to keep this sort of thing in mind when people try to make you feel guilty.

  8. Add me to the list of folks who say that you're NOT an idealistic nut to insist on minimum guidelines. Here's my reasoning,

    1. These are not "stock options and country club" wages. Some congregations do pay exorbitant salaries, but yours is obviously not one of them. Don't feel guilty for insisting on fair compensation for your work. Considering this week's gospel text, it might be easy to feel guilty about this issue: DON'T. You're not hoarding or being selfish - you're asking the church to honor your vocation as you attempt to help them honor their own through your work as pastor.

    2. Most of us in this gig took on significant educational debt for the sake of our congregations. I'd wager that if you're in a rural call, you're one of the top five people in town in terms of education. Are you in the top five in salary? Doubtful. You've got to pay back that educational debt somehow, and if the church at large wasn't able to provide you the education you needed, it will now fall on the shoulders of the local church to pay some of that debt. That may not be fair, but it's where we are today, and it's time the congregations we serve realized what goes into "making a pastor."

    3. During my internship, I watched my supervisor fight for minimum guidelines pay for the third year in a row. It goes way past icky - salary fights are ugly, time-consuming and a complete "missing of the mark" in terms of what the church should be. When I interviewed for my first call, I decided to cut the fight off at its knees. So I told the congregation during my interview that we wouldn't fight over salary at all. If they paid me at guidelines, that would be fine, and if they couldn't afford it, I'd start looking for a new call. In the four years I've been here, salary has been a five minute discussion every year as a result. Our colleagues who allow congregations to cheat them out of fair compensation don't do their congregations (or the rest of us clergy types) any favors.

    I'll say this again: it's not a matter of greed! It's a matter of fair compensation and congregational stewardship practices. Helping the church out by reducing your salary would be akin to my doctor helping me out by telling me I could smoke two cigarettes a day instead of quitting entirely. There is nothing healthy about what's going on regarding your salary at the present time - and maybe there's also room to address the lack of faith on the part of your treasurer, who seems more worried than is warranted. Why not pray that the giving practices of your church will improve to meet the needs of the congregation?

    I'll pray for you and your congregation - this is not going to be an easy fall. Use the resources you have at your disposal, including your bishop and synod staff. Feel free to email me or anyone else on the list for moral or spiritual support.

  9. I am writing this after just rotating off Session as three years in the position of stewardship chair. It amazes me is how much people will spend on everything but the Gospel and someone to proclaim it. By everything in the church budget and the way they spend their own income. The clergy are well educated professionals with several years of post graduate education and are usually on call for emergencies speaking with and ministering to people in crisis all hours of the day and night in addition to preaching the Gospel. You guys should be paid accordingly. I had this argument several times with the chair of personel.

  10. This is an observation, not advice: the ones who scream about the cost of personnel (or anything besides sin) generally worship their building (or some other idol) instead of the Lord.

    Here's the advice: 1) Ascertain whether the Treasurer speaks for the group, or is a loudmouthed worrywart. (Feel free to quote me.) History tells a lot, but not everything: there may be one or two pushing this, not a whole church.

    2) Decide for yourself whether you want to work at turning the church from idolatry. This is not about your salary. It's about what we are willing to give up (our money, our building, whatever) to follow Jesus.

    They may not need a fulltime pastor to follow Jesus, but they can't decide that well until they learn the other.

  11. I can't find the verse I'm really looking for, but when all else fails, you can quote scripture to them.

    Romans 4:4 (the message) If you're a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay. (nrsv) now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.

    Don't let the bully you into less than the minimum. All too often the minimum is not adequate.

  12. Everyone really nailed it on the head. As for the guilt, my friend helped me get over that one. He said that we work really hard (schooling, internships, etc...) and in return for that work we join a union and the union says we get paid certain minimums.

    You agree to less? You are hurting others in the union.

    There are far more churches than pastors. If it turns out the rumblings are not just from 1-2 people then unfortunately you really should look at moving on.

    Let them dig their own hole without your turn at the shovel.

  13. Hi Do you sense a trend, first call Pastor??? do you sense you might have hit a great big nerve. I had the same thing in my first call, and tried to respond. Finally figured out that the treasurer (who was married to the prez of council) had strong armed other pastors. I gave in. Shouldn't have. (And in addiition they paid me less than synodical guide lines. Like the others said, look for another call (if you can? I'm aware this isn't always easy...and apparently you are Lutheran-- I think we are the only synodical group) So I know some of the difficulties. Be aware you are not idealist, only honest. Shalom Gail

  14. Hi I'm actually prgrl, new blogger and Jocularity was old blog name (which I never figured out how to use) and so just wanted you to know..Lutheran, second career pastor, in Califnorina..and second loudly what all the others are saying. hang in there... Gail

  15. Often I find that some treasurers have no idea what they are doing when they speak to clergy re. their salaries. Most of the time they just feel pressure to keep the budget balanced.

    I remember that my first treasurer didn't want to give the parish a treasurer's report because she didn't want them to know how much money they had because she was afraid they would spend it! It is kind of like the librarian who doesn't want anyone to check out any books.

    Go to your president of council and speak to him/her about what it means for the treasurer to speak to you like that. You should NEVER be willing to take a salary cut. It does not help the church understand their responsibility to you as their pastor.

    If they didn't know it was going to cost so much then you need to speak to synodial officials. But most likely your treasurer is speaking for him/herself, not the parish.

    But work on your employment profile and start looking for something new if it doesn't straighten out.

  16. I agree with all who have already commented. ANd this is one of tghose times when I feel glad to be in the denomination I am in. We don't have guidelines, we have minimums, as in thou shalt not pay less than this. (Not that games don't get played to get around them but still the letter of policy allows clergy to call in the Presbytery.

    One thing that is important, especially if you move on, is name it openly. Name it to the leadership, to the general congregation and to thenominational officials. THis should help break the cycle, or at least get people asking if it needs breaking.

  17. Another piece of info---

    When we do our stewardship campaign each year (a big topic for another day) the staff is asked to estimate what percentage of our time we spend on various activities. Then when the narrative budget is presented to the congregation the categories are Worship, Education, Congregational Care, and Mission, or something like that. There is NO Personnel category. Instead my salary is distributed into those four areas depending on how much time I estimate spending on each. So just as they spend their Worship money on flowers and candles, they also spend it on the salary of the preacher.

    Yes the actual line-item budget still has a personnel item. But a narrative budget like this could help foster to a paradigm shift for the congregation---when they pay you, they aren't just paying a person. They are paying for worship, and for education, and whatever else you spend your time on.

    Or, just look for another call. :-)

  18. Structuring the budget as the reverendmother's congregation does is very helpful and the congregation that I am a part of is moving into this but there is still this issue of the congregation voting on the "terms of call." Again, I feel there are so many issues here. One is what I have already commented on which is that you guys (gals - guys is a generic term where I come from but women's pay is another issue, as it is usually 60% of what men make doing the same job)work many long, hard, at times extremely stressful hours and deserved more compensation than you get. The other issue is self-care with adequate time off, continuing ed. and good health insurance which is part of the cost of your compensation. Also, you are role models for your congregation. I remember the first time I looked at the Presbytery minimum for vacation. I went back to my group of physicians and told them we needed to be taking more time off. I would never have been that bold with out seeing how much time the minister was required to take.

  19. And a last thing from Jan. . .

    I think maybe seminaries should offer a class/a day in polity class talking about this subject. It seems that we all know someone who has been abused in this way by a treasurer/personnel cte. A discussion on the theology behind all this would have been helpful.

    First Call: you are probably worth much more than the minimum.

  20. In the end, it's not really helping the church for you to take less than minimum. Like others have said, they need to figure their priorities and if a full-time, seminary educated pastor is not one of them, so be it. But unless they recognize that as a church, they need to fulfill their promise to pay you the agreed upon amount.
    While it may be a call, it is also the job you take to make a living. You have bills and expenses like any other person. No other organization could ever get away with paying a Master's or Doctoral recipient the pitance that is most pastors' salaries.
    Hmm, can you tell this hit a button?

  21. This is a JUSTICE issue - just pay for work. Pastors who accept below-average pay do us not favors. And the issue of scarcity, I have found, is alive and well among pastors just as it is among church members. You must hold the church accountable for (a)a negotiated salary & benefits package; (b) that 'collecting' enough from members is not solely the pastor's work, but its leadership and (c)wages commensurate with education and experience.

    Stand firm, sister, you are NOT alone.

  22. Sounds as though they want a full time pastor for a 1/2 time (or thereabouts)package. They probably need to seek a pastor they can share with another church or who probably wants to serve part time and they will need to step up to administrative and pastoral care of their church if it is to do more than merely survive. Most members will probably be very reluctant to do church differently, but there is nothing quite like ministry of all the baptized to keep small churches going.

    You are not really doing them any favors by doing all the ministerial duties for what little they can afford to pay. Sounds to me like God is knocking on a few doors there.

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