Negotiating pastor salary

By Rev. Dr. Perry Hopper

For pastors, discussing compensation is a necessary — but often stressful — conversation. This sensitive topic isn’t just about the means and resources a pastor needs to secure the well-being of his or her family while performing their spiritual duties; it also reflects how much the church values its pastor.

3 steps to “yes”
1) Do your homework. Fair compensation takes many factors into account — the individual’s education, experience and performance; the cost of living in the area; salaries offered by comparable church-related employers; and salaries for those with similar responsibilities, education and experience in the community-at-large.

When considering the cash compensation for a senior pastor, for instance, take a look at the package provided to a local high school or middle school principal. This person often has education, responsibilities and experience comparable to that of a senior pastor. Also look at the budget which that principal administers. The closer the budgets, the more comparable the pastor’s compensation package.

Speak with church leaders at other churches of similar size. The more information you have on “comparables,” the more likely you’ll be to negotiate effectively — and without emotion.
Finally, a word about evaluating performance: Don’t get personal; set goals instead. Assessing specific, measurable goals for a pastor is much easier than assessing effectiveness. Goals also ensure the pastor is focused on the areas of ministry the church thinks are most important.

2) Maintain a positive relationship. Open, honest and effective communication is crucial. Pastors shouldn’t hesitate to discuss their needs. After all, compensation is a benefit to both pastoral leaders in a church, as well as to the congregation.

To create a pathway for constructive communication, churches should establish a Staff Relations Committee. Comprised of five to six members who have good relationships with the pastor, this committee exists to discuss staff needs and to advocate on the staff’s behalf for fair compensation. It provides a valuable platform to gain agreement on compensation and other personnel issues before bringing them to the broader church community.

Many church staff members — especially pastors — find it difficult to advocate for their own compensation. It seems to go against the nature of the job. They might wonder, How can you provide spiritual leadership if your focus is salary and benefits? The truth is, accepting a compensation package that’s less what you feel you deserve or need makes it more difficult to provide spiritual leadership. It creates additional stress and can create resentment that gets in the way of performing pastoral duties. Church staff must learn to be their own advocates for fair compensation.

3) Get to “yes.” Salary negotiation can be a positive experience, if the discussion is focused on objective factors:

  • What does the church want to achieve?
  • What skills and experience does the pastor bring to the job?
  • What do those in comparable positions in the community earn?
  • Has the pastor reached the church’s goals?

Pastors should offer their constructive input and remain present when compensation is discussed. Face-to-face negotiations foster a greater sense of trust and ensure that all parties are in agreement on any decisions made.

The Rev. Dr. Perry J. Hopper serves as associate executive director and director of denominational relations of MMBB Financial Services. He also serves as an associate national secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA.


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