What amount can you ask for and still honor your church?
by Samuel Ogles

It’s time. Whether you’ve been interviewing for a new job or preparing for your performance review, it’s time you find the courage to broach the hard topic: Your Pay.

Pay is rarely an easy topic to bring up in any work setting, but in the church additional fears and bias can surface. You don’t want to seem stingy, but you still have bills to pay. You want to serve God with reckless abandon, but also put food on your table.

So what’s the balance between pay and ministry?

The first thing you should know is that God desires for you to be paid fairly. Scripture time and again confirms fair, just wages for good work (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:18, Deut. 24:15, Luke 10:7).

But what does fair pay look like for your position? And how do you even begin to have that conversation with your supervisor or hiring committee?

When it comes to determining fair pay for your role, the first step should always be good data.

Find salary data specific to your role in the church. Make sure your data is reliable and church-specific. If possible, find multiple sources of salary ranges for your role. And keep in mind that “secular” comparisons probably won’t be convincing to your senior pastor, executive pastor, or elder board.

What kind of data should you look for?

Find data that measures characteristics associated with your role. Especially look for information about qualities you excel in. Highlighting these items and their value in the church will help in future salary conversations.

Keep in mind that as a church’s size and budget increase, so does the base pay of its employees. So it’s important to look for salary information that gives you a breakdown on things like church size, budget, geographic setting, education level, years of experience, and full-time vs part-time work.

Don’t forget to factor in cost-of-living and median household income for your area. For example, similar roles and experiences in a large suburb of Chicago and a rural Mississippi farm-town will pay quite differently.

Important Side Note: After you’ve determined what fair pay looks like for your role, make sure it’s enough for your needs.

If your family has five kids, don’t make them eat rice and beans every night because you’re called to ministry. If you have a lot of student loan debt, don’t put off paying it each year so you can do the work you love.

There’s a difference between “fair pay” and “this is pay I can live with.” Pray about what you actually need, think about what sacrifices you are willing and not willing to make, and then come up with a minimum figure you (and your family) can live with. This will give you a threshold of pay that you need to get or you need to walk away – and it’s okay if you have to walk away from a position.

How should you start the conversation?

Have the courage to take what you’ve learned about salaries into a conversation with your supervisor or the hiring manager. Because you’ve done your homework, it’ll move the conversation from a subjective “I want to receive” to an objective “this is fair based on data.”

Keep in mind that fair pay includes salary, a housing allowance (if you qualify), and any other benefits, such as paid vacation or health insurance. Be sure to remember the value these benefits can add to your overall compensation package.

If the church has limited funds, see if you can get creative about your compensation together.

Are there other benefits like paid vacation or a housing allowance that might increase the overall compensation package? Can they offer free or reduced tuition for your children at the church’s school? Would the church agree to you working less hours to allow you to pursue a part-time job?

When you’re having these conversations always remember your church’s point of view. Is your church experiencing low attendance and giving? Are there other employees whose pay also needs to be raised? Give your church the same grace you want them to give you – don’t compromise your needs, but be willing to listen and work respectfully with the church you love.

As a worship leader, you are doing good and important work. Just like with other ministry positions, the church should reward your efforts with fair and adequate pay.

What churches will continue to find is that while it’s important to pay fairly, it is more important to create a culture of generosity in your church. And when this generosity is extended toward ministers, it releases them to be more effective in ministry. When church leaders can stop focusing on monthly bills and start focusing on how to make their ministry better, the church will live more fully into its mission to be salt and light to the world.

Samuel Ogles is the project leader for ChurchSalary, an online tool that helps churches and church workers determine fair pay.

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