Pastors and Pay: A How-To Guide for Negotiating Your Salary

You should plan to contribute to the church’s 403(b) to the full extent of their match. If they have no retirement program, you should budget a maximum yearly contribution to your own IRAs (yours and your wife’s). That may seem like a lot of money, especially if you’re in your 20s or 30s. But it is more of a starting point for your retirement savings, not an ultimate goal.

One more example, this time more directly related to pastoral life and ministry. If the church provides $1,000 a year in books, you may not need any more in your personal budget. But if they do not provide a book allowance, you’ll need to factor that in.

The end result will be what you think it will take to live and serve as a pastor for XYZ Church. More importantly, you will have a useful tool to compare the proposed package (salary and benefits) with what life will likely cost.

4. Consult your helper.

If you’re not a numbers guy, it might be wise for you to ask your wife to bake your pie, especially if she’s more gifted financially. Let her walk you through each section of the budget so that you can understand where your money goes. Take time to talk about each category and get her input.

If you are a numbers guy, it’s probably more important for you to talk with your wife while you’re baking your pie. You might think you’ve got a perfect budget, but it may be entirely unrealistic. (Haven’t you seen this when you’ve talked with prospective husbands in premarital counseling?) Just because you think it’s reasonable to budget, say, $400 a month for your family’s groceries does not make it a workable number.

In addition, there are bound to be expenses that you haven’t included: after-school programs for the kids, clothing, personal care. Ask her opinion, listen to her, talk through each issue and work toward a mutually agreeable budget.

Either way, make sure the two of you like the pie you’ve baked before inviting others to see it. God built her to complement you perfectly. Don’t disdain his good gift by treating her financial opinions as worthless.

5. In person, on paper.

If your pie is significantly larger than their pie (say, more than 10 percent), you need to have a follow-up conversation.

Don’t have it over the phone, and definitely don’t communicate these matters via email. You need to talk face-to-face with a couple of key church leaders.

If someone on the search committee shares a similar station of life, s/he would be a great person to include. If you’re a candidate for an assistant pastorate, you will want the pastor to be in the conversation.

For the conversation, print out a single-page summary of your prospective budget and show it to them. Tell them you’ve done your best to ascertain what it would cost your family to live and serve in this community, and this is the result of your work.

Ask them for their input: Do you see anything that is out of whack? Anything receiving too much? Anything receiving too little? In their opinion, is the budget reasonable? And then listen—honestly, humbly listen. Let them weigh in on your work. They live there and they know what it costs, so they are in the best position to adjust your expectations.

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Matthew Hoskinson
Matthew Hoskinson was born and reared in the Detroit area and was first drawn to trust Christ as an eight-year-old. In his teenage years the Lord began kindling a desire for pastoral ministry in his heart, a desire that ultimately led to seminary studies in South Carolina and a Ph.D. in Theology. There he met his wife, Kimberly, a native of Ottawa, Illinois. The two were married in 2000 and have since been blessed with four daughters and a son.

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