Hard to negotiate


Along with Advent comes salary-negotiating time here in the Merritt house. My least favorite part of the year. Honestly, I hate it. I wish that everyone just got paid from the Local Governing Body (LGB). You know, a socialized system where everyone is given as they have need. I wish that each pastor had a set amount, based on cost of living, housing, experience, and education. A set salary, where certain things don’t matter–things like ethnicity, age, gender. And certain things do matter, like how much you had to go into debt to get your seminary education.

I’m not even sure that the size of the congregation should matter. I mean at this point there ought to be some systemic realization that women are in small parishes and associate positions, not because they are less wise, intelligent, or capable, but because there’s that thick stained glass ceiling that we’re slowly, surely trying to crack through.

I long for a compensation package that does not consider how many children you have or don’t have, whether your spouse has a good job or not, or whether the ladies in the church think you eat out too much. A salary structure where associate pastors do not make less than half of the head of staff (I mean, really. Are they doing half the work? We all know the answer to that one).

I long for a system that realizes that the Baby Boomers who bought their houses twenty years ago for 20K, and have been receiving 2% increases every year, may be comfortable sitting on their increased housing equity. But they are in a much different position than the members of a new generation, who enter into the pastorate with education loans and possible mortgages that make our debt to income ratio way out of whack. The realities of a new generation who looks into the future and realizes how much college will cost for their children and that the social security system will not be there in the same way that it is now.

For me, at this time of year, the major struggle is to stay above the minimum salary requirements that are required by the LGB. After ten years of being on church staffs, I’m still dog paddling, trying to keep my head above that line (obviously, I’m not the best negotiator…but I do have a good shared equity housing deal).

I used to try to rise above it–I mean rise above grappling with this issue altogether. I’m not a very materialistic person. Every December, my husband asks me what I want for Christmas and he’s greeted by a blank stare, because I really don’t know…. Nobody goes into the pastorate for the money. I’m in it to spread the good news, help people, and work for social justice. So, it was always just simpler for me to ignore that my salary had slipped beneath the minimum, once again. Of course, it was really easy for the church and LGB to ignore it as well.

But then years ago someone asked me to compile a graph of the area pastors in our denomination, and their salaries. So I did. It was shocking. The women made much less than the men. People of color made less too, especially if they were serving immigrant congregations. It was common for some pastors to make five times more than others (I’m not like many people, I don’t think that the upper-end should be making less. I think we should smooth out the inequities by letting the lower end make more. I mean, in that case, the minimum salary requirement left families below the poverty level).

I labeled the gender, ethnic, and age differences and showed it to a wonderful member of my congregation–an engineering professor at Brown. He saw how the bars of men who were a certain age and color towered over the rest. He didn’t know any of the pastors or churches, and with the stark numbers in front of him, he was appalled, “How could the denomination let this happen? This is terrible. There should never be this much discrimination going on in the church.”

I shrugged and tried to explain, “The salaries are negotiated on a local level, between the church and the individual pastor. There’s a bit of general oversight, but it’s really up to the pastor. And…you know…churches are struggling….” But that’s when it occurred to me that I needed to start caring. I could not call for justice in a discriminating environment if I wasn’t willing to do my part. And how could we stand for justice in our society if we can’t model fairness in our own churches?

The fact is, our system isn’t socialized. I don’t mean to blame the victims in this scenario, but, as grueling and painful as it may be, we have to begin seeing that advocating for our own salaries (or better yet, finding a member who will advocate on our behalf) goes beyond our personal pocketbook. Individually, especially as pastors who are a part of a minority group in our churches, if we don’t negotiate for ourselves, then we contribute to a much larger problem.

So, what about you? What’s your situation? How does your denomination do it? If you could change something about how salaries are doled out, what would you change? It’s a tough issue. I always accept fair, anonymous comments, if you prefer to reply that way.


17 thoughts on “Hard to negotiate

  1. I am not a pastor, but a seminarian on the verge of graduation. I am terrified to go into ministry. All of the fears you spoke of add to my anxiety. What shall I do to ensure I can afford to raise a family or even serve in a congregation? I heard far too much, “trust God!” I agree trusting God is the beginning. This stance removes the responsibility from congregations, the Body, and all have in supporting the church. We do not train pastors for free. Is it fair and good stewardship to expect these individuals to shoulder the cost of training that is required? We have to pay 80dollars per ordination exam that is 400 dollars if you can pass these antiquated monsters in the first shot. Not many do! Then there are the psychological evaluations, anywhere from 600 to 2500 dollars. Then the cost of seminary itself, from 10,000 to 15,000 per year for tuition and an additional 10,000 or so to live each year. That is about 60,000 to 75,000 in debt to begin your service with. We need to be smarter with this. We say we are concerned with he death of our church then we need to sep up.
    Carol I am pleased to have you out there with this level of honesty on a subject that is down right ugly. Please keep up the fight. How can we seek justice in an unjust circumstance? We are quick to do good there or over there, but it is difficult to do good here…as it is convicting of our continued need to live in grace and seek forgiveness for what we do and for what we do not do.

    Blessings, Ryan

    p.s. this is one of the reasons why I am seriously considering not serving in ministry.

  2. I’m UCC, and as befits our Congregational polity, it seems to all be about what the market will bear. That is hideously unfair not just to pastors of certain ages, genders or family configurations, but also to small churches. Our Conference recommends salary and benefits based on church size, but it’s up to the church and the pastor to negotiate the contract, and while the local Association could object to an inadequate contract, the chances they actually would follow through and refuse to transfer pastoral standing or install a pastor are slim.

    The area in which the inequity is becoming most obvious is health insurance. Larger, more affluent churches, which often have more business people in leadership here, are balking at the insurance expenses, and frankly, they can get away with it. The Conference isn’t going to pick a fight with them, because the Conference needs their five figure annual donations. Smaller churches are told they MUST provide family health insurance, and often they are going from full to part time ministry simply because of that expense. To illustrate, Small Church’s previous settled pastor required $1800 for health insurance. Five years later, the church was paying $13,000 for my family to have the same insurance. Now they are seeking a part-time pastor, and relieved to have an interim who is single, cutting that part of the package in half.
    I hate this stuff. I feel pressure to seek a job in a more affluent church just to assure some security for my family, yet I know call doesn’t work that way.
    Working as an Interim, I had to fight for the typical insurance and vacation, got no con ed time, and will have to go through the same thing one quarter at a time in 2008 until they call a settled pastor.

  3. It is a very tough subject and I see the UMC seem to have that pay scale all worked out, based on experience and education. I have an issue with it on a personal note as I don’t have the education but still do the work.
    I am PCUSA and a commissioned lay pastor — someone suggested we drop the lay part of the title. I know some ordained clergy in my town who will not share the work in the community ie hospital chaplain, nursing home services, etc.
    I must confess I get paid well, particularly for a CLP and I never ask for a raise and normally get some plus additional insurance.
    Had a curious thought once that pastor should maybe be like the appliance repairman….. hospital call is $X, sunday service $X, Wedding $X, and the list goes on. Not sure anyone would call the pastor and how to get the hospital visit on the insurance.
    When I first was discussing with a session pastoral compensation someone suggested pastors get paid like in the old days, chickens, produce, etc. After all it is a calling not a job. I was greatly encouraged and said I would work for chickens but felt the congregation had no clue how many chickens it would take. ;o)
    We go on, not sure how but somehow the church always survives. WaynO

  4. Ryan,

    I’m stressing out that I’ve added to your anxiety…. Don’t turn back now!

    The good news is that we have made it. We’ve always made it. In fact, we’re doing fine.

    Our church as a whole will need to put some correctives into place, to be sure. (When will this happen? I imagine soon… when the Boomers all retire….) But there’s hope out there. Have you found out about the BOP’s debt relief plan for clergy in small churches? Every year that you’re in the ministry, they forgive X amount of student loans. It was a huge help to me.

    The other thing to remember is that this is not just a situation for clergy, it’s going on all around. Student loans, high rent, and low wages have converged on an entire generation so that unless a person goes into certain areas or law or business it’s difficult. We actually have an advantage in that we have insurance.

    It is a time to negotiate, for sure, but I hope I don’t talk anyone into giving up!


    Thanks for your comment.

    You know, after reading it, now I’m wishing that I had written my post differently. Many people don’t want to be in a large church. They love small churches. As you remind me, it’s not always a matter of discrimination but a choice. And pastors should not be penalized for going to the places where we need them the most.

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  6. Every year you’re in small church ministry, they’ll relieve some of your debt…….IF you went to a PCUSA seminary. If not, no soup for you!

    I’ve never made minimum salary as a pastor. Chaplains are exempt. I’ve always had a second job to make up the difference. (right now the second job is the first job and the ministry is the second job). I’m not quite sure what I’d do if I only had one job to work!

  7. Well, I guess I should brag about my church of less than 100. It really helps if you have a couple of people who will go to bat for you when it comes to your compensation. After my first year last year, I received a very substantial increase and talk so far is that we’re looking at much the same this year. If so, that will put me around the middle of the suggested range for churches my size in our presbytery.

    About five years ago, this Presbyery discovered that the average compensation here was less than anywhere else in the country, so the COM has been aggressively working to rectify that, by suggesting to churches based on attendance and other factors what their pastor ought to be paid. Yet, I have colleagues who are just at the minimum and seldom is there talk in their churches of fixing that.

    My wife – an associate – still makes more than I do but at the same time she is in the same sort of situation as you; with a head of staff that makes twice as much as her and even at one point – but no longer – a DCE who made more than her as well.

    To be honest, I really don’t envy anyone in an associate role; I think the demands of those positions are often much more demanding than those of solo pastors and yet to me they also seem less rewarded than HOS or solo pastor roles.

  8. “IF you went to a PCUSA seminary” What?? I thought they changed that.

    They did change this charging for an ord exam nonsense. And Psych evaluation, you have to pay for that too? What’s that all about?

  9. late to this. My church has minimum guidelines for each synod. I know that when I went out to my first call in South Dakota, they insisted that first call pastors get “guidelines”. I remember that there was some question every year about whether they could afford to give me a raise, and always someone said, “If we don’t, when she leaves, we could end up giving an inexperienced new minister more than we were giving the experienced minister that we have.” Kind of funny reasoning, but it got the job done, and I got a raise every year.

    still, minimum guidelines are not a lot if you have student loans. I wish there were ANY “matching funds” available to help students in my denomination. As far as I know, there are none, no matter which seminary you went to. So, rural parishes suffer, because their salaries can’t bear the costs of a pastor with a large debt.

  10. I’ve served the same congregation for 18 years and have been grateful for what they’ve paid me. But . . . the man I love (also a pastor) who is an interim has consistently made dramatically more $ serving larger churches, even as the new/temporary guy. He and I agree that the HOS with lots of staff (from church administrators to Christian educators to assoc. pastors to youth workers) have a much easier job than the solo pastor who does all these jobs alone. And yet the smaller church pastor always earns less, ostensibly because larger churches have more people to add to the personnel kitty. I think the system should change too, but not exactly sure how.

    There are hard-working “senior pastors” and there are slackers in that role. There are extraordinary Associate Pastors (like the author of this blog) and there are some who have almost no experience/bedside manner, etc. Again – I don’t how to even things out here, but the disparity between heads of staff and associate pastors is a sin much of the time. (I know of a church which once had both the highest paid pastor in the presbytery – their head of staff — and the lowest paid pastor in the presbytery — their associate pastor.) Not right.

    So . . . when are you writing the book about this?

  11. Okay – sorry for being so long-winded . . . but Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch, makes less money each year the church grows because there are laypeople who can take some of the ministry he previously did himself. He supplements his salary by re-doing houses or something.

    Imagine that happening in our presbytery.

  12. Jan, The book’s knocking about in my mind. I’m not sure if it’ll be the next project though.

    I think Doug’s starting a holistic retreat/spa. Something like that…I can’t remember exactly.

    Nope, can’t imagine someone making less with a bigger church here.

    WaynO, I served a chicken-giving church too! It was actually shrimp… but the same idea. We loved it. They were very generous in their own way. It was kind of hard to pay off the loans with crustaceans though.

    Diane, No debt relief for Lutherans? What a shame. Is there anything in the works?

    Susan, you’re not sure what you’d do with only one job?? I’m beginning to think you’re a serious overachiever….

  13. as far as I know, nothing is in the works. just more scholarships for current students. which doesn’t help those who already went through.
    i’d like to see a book on this. I’d even help.
    A lot of things make me angry… the senior associate disparity not as much as the rural/urban (or really, suburban). Do you know that there are retired pastors who live close to the poverty line… because they mostly served rural churches?

    that is a sin, as far as I am concerned.

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