Tish Warren: Let’s talk about money. This is often a dicey subject for those in ministry because we often think in grand terms of our noble vocation and calling, but also we want a job. This can be especially hard when some of our mainline friends make a lot of money in say the ECUSA or the PCUSA, so when you are a new minister or a church planter how do you decide an appropriate salary for a clergy person?
How do you walk the line of being appropriately simple and not greedy but also not wanting your family to fear financial ruin if they get extra whip cream on their lattes (or whatever). As a church planter, how did you determine your salary? Generally, how do clergy think well about their personal financial lives?
Thomas McKenzie: Church leaders do not determine their salaries. However, they do determine what jobs they will take, and salary will usually be part of that determination. There are guidebooks which are published every year. In these books are studies of ministry salaries. Both you and your lay leaders should get a copy of those guidebooks. In the ACNA some dioceses have guidelines for clergy salary. All of these offer rough guides. Remember, as in any profession, experience and education matter. So should cost of living for the area, what tradition your church is in, what your job description is, whether you can make money on the side, etc. Never forget that uniqueness is always valuable. You may bring something unique to the table which should factor in.
When you start a church, the largest budget expense should be, by far, the pastor’s salary. Then the salaries of other staff members. Then things like facility and equipment. Salaries should ALWAYS be the largest expense in any church. Otherwise, what are you spending God’s money on? The building? Cool furniture? Advertising?
Sometimes people will say generically that we should spend money on “the mission of the church” instead of salaries. Don’t tell me that. The mission of the church is led by leaders, and often paid leaders. The church and her mission, like anything else, rises and falls on leadership. Leaders should be paid appropriately, because they are the church’s most important monetary investment. Your pastors are the ones who provide much of what the church needs: worship, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and leadership in evangelism and in meeting the needs of the poor.
All that said, some smaller churches simply can’t pay much at first. If you take a position like this, it should come with a plan for growth. It should be in writing, from the beginning. If it isn’t, then you’ll run into trouble. It could be something like … The pastor’s official salary is $50. She knows that this church can only pay her $30 right now. But, her salary is still $50. Until the church is paying her $50, then the church agrees not to take on any other full-time employees or big-ticket items. The church also agrees to refrain from saving money until the pastor is paid. Some kind of agreement like that would help a great deal.
And, yes, if your goal is to make real money, work for a mainline liberal church. Or preach a health and wealth gospel. Or do the mega church thing. Any of those seem to work.