It’s fall, time to set the pastor’s salary. When I reflect back on my career, my most painful moments revolve around this ritual. In my first two situations, the compensation package was literally at the poverty level. I had to plead to get a few dollars above “minimum.” This was in spite of the fact that the churches were doing better than they had under my predecessor. If it wasn’t for the real needs of my family, I would have kept silent at the committee meetings where my salary was under discussion. It was hard to serve with love people who treated my livelihood like it was a negotiation at the used car lot.
In the mid-ranged churches of the middle portion of my career, I had some breathing room. I began to approach the fall salary negotiations as an educational opportunity. I now had a few small business owners and professionals on the key committees. I was able to demonstrate to them how consistent raises were essential to pastoral tenure. In the long run, its cheaper and safer to over-compensate the pastor that you know than to low-ball the salary and get someone new every three years.
This got me in trouble in 2001. An economic slump had hit community and the financial gurus at the church were adamant about imposing a wage freeze on all church employees. Coming off of a sabbatical, I wasn’t in much of a position to argue. But I did, because I had a youth director who was a new hire and the best person for the job. The board assumed that I was just fighting for my own salary, again. Within weeks, both the youth director and I were looking for other employment. The church did okay on the situation. The next pastor served them well, though repeated my experience of having dismal luck filling the youth director’s position.
What advice can I give from all this? While I have learned a lot about human nature from three decades of salary negotiation, I haven’t learned how to succeed at it. You do what you need to do, but you don’t let it effect the way you minister to the people. It is the Gospel in practice, turn the other cheek and be thankful that it comes only once a year.