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

I suggest that you keep the paper to yourself, even after the meeting. If they ask for a copy, kindly state that you’d rather not share it. They know the grand total and whether the grand total is legitimate. That information is sufficient for them to converse with other leaders, but the details of your budget need not be shared.

In that light, I caution against forwarding your spreadsheet in an email. Your family’s budget is for your family. At times, a few trusted leaders must weigh in, but generally it is a private document. Protect your wife and family. No one else in the church submits their personal budget for public comment; neither should you.

6. Don’t fear the B word.

We pastors need to adjust our expectations. We spend many years and lots of money receiving high-caliber training for pastoral ministry. Consequently, we anticipate that our graduate studies will pay off in the form of a full-time job. Whether we think in such crass terms or not is beside the point; we’ve earned our MDiv or DMin or PhD, so we expect a full-time position.

Such full-time pastoral ministry has been a gift of God to many pastors in our country for many generations. But we must not expect that to continue indefinitely.

The onset of the Great Recession has already adjusted the expectations of many. A friend of mine who serves as an Evangelical Free pastor in Illinois transitioned from full-time to bivocational ministry a few years ago—while remaining at the same church. Mind you, he has a DMin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. But he spends 15 hours a week fitting people for tuxedos at a local rental shop so that he can make ends meet and continue serving a church he loves. (And, might I add, he loves serving bivocationally, too. He told me that it has helped him build relationships with non-Christians and improved the applicability of his preaching.)

Such transitions may become more common in coming years. We need to be ready for God to lead us that way.

So let’s go back to your big pie. It’s quite possible that the church leaders will look at your prospective budget and basically agree to its legitimacy. But they may just as likely add, “We’d love to do more, but we just can’t.”

At this point, you should be ready to offer a bivocational option. If I pursue secondary income, would the church prefer that it be ministerially related, or may I pursue a secular job? Would the church be willing to make this a 30-hour-a-week position so that I can get a job at Starbucks for the health insurance? Would the church give me a day each week—in addition to a day of rest—to pursue additional income?

You might not want to go this route. I completely understand. And I certainly do not think you are under obligation to accept a bivocational option. But if you really want to serve as a pastor for XYZ Church, could it be that God’s way of providing for you is through a second job?

7. Express gratitude.

Most churches wish they could do more for their pastors. (In fact, they probably value us too much.) Their compensation package may be inadequate. The pastor, elders or search committee might be fully aware that it is insufficient.

And yet they are prayerfully moving forward to advance Christ’s kingdom in their corner of the world. That is worth celebrating. Take every opportunity to thank them for their generosity; for their sacrifice of time, energy and money; for their help in establishing a reasonable budget. And if you should become a pastor in their congregation, continue to celebrate the work of God’s grace in their midst and to thank them for what they do to make your service possible.

It may be that you must decline service in a church because you cannot work out the finances. You aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. If this is God’s path for you, don’t fail to give thanks early and often for their consideration of you for this role.

And express confidence that, if the Good Shepherd isn’t directing you to serve (or continue to serve) as a pastor in their midst, he must have someone else in mind.

In every facet of pastoral ministry, from Sunday worship to crisis counseling, from congregational meetings to compensation packages, let us stand in wonder that God would employ us to serve as shepherds for his people. And let us ask him for wisdom to know how best to manage all our responsibilities for the joy of his church and the glory of our Savior.

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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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