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Church operations on a shoestring budget

By Jeff Abshire

When we were starting Antioch Community Church, Waco, TX, in 1999, we were definitely operating on a shoestring budget. It was going to be a walk of faith. Before we even had our first public service, our church believed that God would provide $150,000 to buy a dilapidated grocery store that would become our home after some major renovations.

From the beginning we had a strong conviction, both personally and corporately, that God did not want us to be in debt. That meant the $150,000 had to come in cash, which it did just at the deadline.

What seemed natural for us at the time has turned out to be a unique approach to setting up our salary structure in the early days. I’m sure our approach was heavily influenced by the “financial freedom” of Senior Pastor Jimmy Seibert. He had proven over the previous 10 years of ministry that “God would provide if we were obedient.”

I had personally seen him empty his wallet to help someone in need and give up his paycheck so that someone else’s needs were met first. That’s not difficult if you make a lot of money, but his generosity was illustrated on a ridiculously low salary or, at times, no salary at all.

All earn same salary

So when it came time to set our salaries, Jimmy’s sacrificial heart paved the way for every full-time staff person to make the same salary. This model directly reinforces team ministry — if each one, called by God, uses his or her gifts to the fullest and works diligently, how is one gift more valuable than another? If the body is a unit and each part supplies, then the value for that part is the same as each of the others.

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The result was that each of our staff members, pastors, administrators and custodians all make the same base salary. What that gives you is “instant team.” It’s easy to rally the troops to move forward in advancing the Kingdom when each one feels valued and an equal part of the team. We needed that team mentality in the early days to get a church planted and that value for team is an integral part of a healthy church staff.

In 2002 when our Families pastor felt led to move to Dallas to start a church, that left an important position vacant on our staff. Our other staff pastors, quickly offered to switch positions according to “whatever would be best for the team.” Because the salaries were equal, no one was tied down by the thought of “if I switch positions, then my salary would decrease.”

I haven’t seen that level of freedom in switching positions in other churches with a traditional salary model. Can you imagine the youth pastor and executive pastor switching jobs? We have always said that we want people on our staff to truly feel “called.” The lower salary tests the heart and weeds out those that may not have the right motivations to join us.

Generally, the base salary for full-time workers is the level of a teacher’s salary in Waco with three years of teaching experience. An important thing about that salary level is that it makes you “relatable” with almost everyone in your congregation. When you call people to tithing, or to sacrificing for a building campaign, the congregation knows that you are going to “feel it” just as much as they are.

Same base salary

Increases to the base salary are given for dependents, including spouse, and up to four children. That’s it, no more. Over the last 10 years, this base salary has increased along the “standard of living” lines and continues to remain consistent with teachers’ salary.  In 2009 an employee, married with three kids, makes roughly $43,000. So with this model, our senior pastor and facilities manager, both with four children, make the same amount of money.

When we read Ephesians 4, we are moved by the passage that ministers are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” So, the more pastors we can have on our staff to equip others, then the ministry will be multiplied.

We do not espouse that this is the best compensation model for every church. But, it has worked well for us. Our board of advisors challenges us each year with some modifications to the model: “Shouldn’t you adjust an individual’s salary for ministry experience or education?”

We pray about these questions each year, but so far, we haven’t felt God lead us to change the model.

Jeff Abshire is administrative pastor of Antioch Community Church, Waco, TX [antiochcc.ccbchurch.com]

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