It’s pretty much a given that church employees are paid less than non-church employees, right? Partially that’s because the intangible benefits of working for a church can be pretty great. Usually there is a lot of flexibility. There is the fulfillment knowing your job is transforming lives and giving people an assurance of heaven. Is there a point where you are paying a church employee too little?
When I worked for Bismarck First Church, this was a struggle. What is the going rate for a youth pastor or church secretary? I was fortunate enough to run across Richard Hammar’s Compensation Survey. That gave me some data to help make that judgment. The next struggle: What do you do if you are overpaying or underpaying a church employee? I dive into what I would recommend in the video below. Also, in the links at the bottom I share a couple of affordable training opportunities that I’ve found helpful over the years.
I’m actually not a real big safety fan…but my wife is. I remember the first time driving with her in the mountains of Montana, and she was kind of freaking out because there are a lot of dangerous curves in the road without any guard rails. I didn’t see the big deal. After all, you only need guard rails if you’re planning on going off the road. Of course my thinking is flawed, if you drive long enough, chances are you’re going to go off the road and wish there was a guard rail.
It’s easy for churches to see personnel policies as unnecessary, too. If we only hire good church people, we should never have any issue with our employees, right? If you have employees long enough…even good church people…you’re going to have problems. Our whole ministry model assumes that people are broken and prone to hurting themselves and others. A church pay check doesn’t change that.
The two places were I see the most hurt happening are:
Different Expectations: You need something in writing that helps the employee or pastor and the church agree on what success looks like (aka Job Description). Otherwise the pastor will feel unappreciated and the church will feel like their pastor is a dud.
Different Rules: It can sometimes be difficult to stay in compliance with written rules. Well, most church policies are unwritten, and it’s impossible to stay in compliance with unwritten and often shifting rules.
A lot of pastors are put in an awkward position. They need a raise or work on the parsonage or time off for renewal. If they ask for they need directly, it can open the pastor up for criticism. They can sound selfish or ungrateful or lazy. “The previous pastor never needed time off and was fine with the pay and parsonage. I guess the new pastor just isn’t that committed.” So pastors may hint about it and grow resentful when no one picks up on the hints.
This is where the Staff/Pastor Relations Committee needs to step in. When it comes to the needs of the pastor and the needs of the congregation, there is often a communication barrier or problem. Here’s what the committee needs to consider:
How are we advocating for our pastor? Look for how you can lead the change in areas that are negatively affecting your pastor but are awkward for your pastor to address head on.
How are you advising your pastor? Don’t bring complaints to your pastor veiled in anonymity. This is a horrible thing to do. Instead, use your filter to bring real needs and concerns to your pastor.
How are you training your pastor and the congregation to respect boundaries? This is an issue on both sides. Define what healthy boundaries look like and work on communicating this to the congregation.
Think about the best boss or teacher or coach you’ve ever had. What were they like? I’m betting they brought the best out of you. I’m betting they were honest yet optimistic about your performance and potential. That is the type of Staff-Pastor Relations Committee your pastor needs. Here’s the secret: Everyone wins when the pastor is at his or her best. The strength and vitality of your ministry will be limited by the overall health of your pastor.
What can you do to build up your pastor?
Be trustworthy: If you are on the Staff-Pastor Relations Committee, never ever break confidentiality. Even if you justify it as a “prayer concern,” it’s gossip and will tear your pastor down.
Do go there: Don’t just dwell church business. Prepare yourself to have the conversation about what your pastor’s biggest concern is apart from church work. Be willing to share your own struggles.
Take action: If it all possible, help the church take some sort of action to help your pastor with that area of concern. If the pastor needs better boundaries between work and family, help define that. Then have the Committee share this with the church…repeatedly.
In the video, I have a bunch of other practical examples of how to build up your pastor.