Every year when our church does its annual budget the part that makes me the most uncomfortable isn't mission giving or being part of decisions to fund or defund certain programs. It's salary. I don't know why. I really hate talking about money, especially (in our budget) line items 201-205. And to a lesser extent the other personnel items in our budget. But this year in our discussions I started using a new term. Instead of salary, I started saying "investment" and I'll be honest, it's changing how I look at how our church, and hopefully yours, looks at personnel expenses.
1. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is entrusted by the church - A church that makes a financial commitment to a ministry leader, even if it's part time, is speaking a measure of trust to that leader. That money is being directed to that leader instead of overhead, programming, or debt retirement. It should be received gratefully by the leader, because it's a powerful expression. I think about the parable of the talents that Jesus taught, each person was given in trust to handle their talents well.
2. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is to be well stewarded - This is less on the church and more on the leader. It means that we are to take care of the resources God has provided to us. I do not think it is a sin or a shame for a ministry leader to enjoy things like an iPhone or a car or a vacation. The problem comes when it is poorly managed. Debt is a reality for many ministry leaders. Medical bills have to be put on a card because their insurance is lousy. Home improvement projects require a loan because few have cash on hand. It happens. Debt that spirals out of control is a problem. Ministry leaders must be responsible stewards. Hint: Budget. Use EveryDollar if you need help finding one.
3. A pastor or ministry leader's salary doesn't return on results but faithfulness - A church that gives an investment of a salary to a ministry leader shouldn't be looking for dividends or a percentage of growth. That's fine if you're investing in a company or the stock market, but it's poor ministry practice. Faithfulness is the measure in the church. Are they working hard? Are they giving effort? Are they balancing ministry and family? Are they impacting people? Are they doing their job description? Some of the best pastors I've met were in churches that never grew.
4. A pastor or ministry leader's salary is a gift - Like any gift, we receive it with gratitude. God takes care of His servants. And even when the gift isn't the amount or size we'd love to see, we still receive it with gratitude. God knows our needs. And He's promised to meet them in Christ. Payday for most companies is a ritual of print-sign-disperse. But in the church payday shouldn't be met with obligatory dullness. Can I make a suggestion to anyone reading this who is on a church Finance or Personnel team? Write notes of appreciation for those who are employed by the church. We usually make a big deal in October to recognize pastors, but there's 11 other months. And that encouragement can go a long way.
*Unfortunately the IRS doesn't look at your check as a gift, which makes the next part important*
5. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be responsibly broken down - A church that doesn't responsibly break down a leader's financial package is setting that leader up for an undue burden. Part of investing in a pastor or ministry leader is ensuring that they are not given an undue and unnecessary tax burden. In your annual budget, separate what would be considered "Income" from "Benefits" and "Expenses." You can learn more about this from Guidestone on how to set up a package that's advantageous to the church and the leader.
6. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be graciously adequate for their family - This one is tough. And if you're a ministry leader reading this and you're working a side hustle or struggling to pay bills, you're not alone. It's tough. We're single income with kids. I teach part-time and my wife & I both write to help with our expenses. Our church is gracious in what they can provide. Yours likely is too. It just may be tough. As much as a church is able to, if you're going to make a full-time investment in a ministry leader, you need to make sure you're investing adequately in them. With this, you still need to balance the needs of ministry and overhead expenses. And that's where intangible benefits like an extra week of vacation can help.
7. A pastor or ministry leader's salary should be accountable - What God has entrusted to us through a local church shouldn't be something we receive without giving an account for. In the Parable of the Talents, there was a moment of accountability for those who had received talents. They had to answer for what they did with it. Our first level of accountability is to God, through our conscience and the Word. The second level is to our church's leadership. I know one church that has as a standard of serving that all invested staff are expected to tithe. Another is where the pastor makes his annual tax return available to people who have questions. How you handle all this is up to you and to your church's polity and policy.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.