Youth ministry is a tough job that requires a ton of time and energy …
… and many of us aren’t totally satisfied with the paycheck we receive in return.
That leads to stress and frustration, and sometimes it leads us to leave youth ministry.
I’ve fielded plenty of complaints from youth workers all over the world.
But the hard truth is this:
If you’ve never actually asked for a raise, then it’s your fault, not your boss’s.
Every time I listen to a youth worker who’s frustrated with his or her pay, I ask the exact same question:
Have you told your boss that you feel like you deserve a raise?
In three years, this question has been answered affirmatively exactly once.
Does that mean that a lot of us are getting upset because other people aren’t giving us solutions to problems we never told them we had?
See, complaining about your salary at a youth worker’s convention or to an Internet blogger really doesn’t do much to help fix the problem.
In fact, it is probably unhealthy and inappropriate to complain to others about your compensation if you haven’t first addressed the problem with your church.
Complaining to the wrong people is the least effective way to solve any problem—especially in ministry.
Now, before you go running into that board meeting, let’s take just a minute to address the most important question:
Do you deserve a raise?
If you are completing all of the assignments in your job description at an adequate rate, it’s going to be tough to convince anyone you should be paid more than you originally agreed to.
But there are two scenarios in which you are justified in asking for a raise (or other perks):
You do significant work that was not in your original job description.
I’m not sure that I know a single youth worker that hasn’t taken on extra jobs. If you are regularly doing significant work that was not in your original contract, you should definitely ask for a raise.
In this case, you’re not just asking for a raise. You’re also asking to rewrite your job description.
You are fulfilling your job description at an exceptional level.
A lot of people like to talk about numerical growth here: i.e., the youth program has doubled in 18 months. I don’t like to talk about numbers in these meetings, except in the following circumstance:
If the growth of your youth group has caused you to work more hours to keep up with it, ask for a raise.
Other than that, look for other examples of excellence in your ministry, and share these when you’re asking for a raise.
Seven years ago, I was able to successfully secure a raise by demonstrating that writing all of my own curriculum was both improving the ministry and saving us money.
What if I’m not doing those things?
If you need a raise to support your family, but can’t justify it with your efforts, be honest with your pastor and say something like this:
I’d like to be paid more, but I want to make it a win-win for the church. Are there any other responsibilities I could take on now and then we can talk about my compensation in six months?
Once you do that, or if you already have, you’re ready for the hardest part …
How do I ask for a raise?
Once you’ve determined that you deserve a pay increase, you’ve got to get over the awkwardness and ask for it.
Do not send an email. Find the right person and speak with them face-to-face.
Be prepared to speak as specifically as possible. Outline the specific reasons you feel that you deserve the pay increase, then ask for a specific amount.
Most importantly, talk about the plans that you have for the future. Give the deciders a reason to be excited to pay you next year.
This is the place where I’m supposed to give you negotiating advice, but I won’t. Instead, I want you to have this discussion prayerfully and honestly.
After all, ministry certainly isn’t about getting as much as you can.
What if they say no?
There are a lot of valid reasons you might get shot down. Maybe the money really isn’t there. Maybe there’s some disagreement about their assessment of your work.
But what happens next?
I’ll assume you’re there because you believe in the cause of Christ and his calling on your life.
In other words, if you got into youth ministry for the money, you might be confused.
I’m assuming you’re not going to quit your job without a raise.
Instead, ask the deciders what they’d like to see from you in the next six months. Schedule another meeting in six months and agree to have this conversation again.
And what if they say yes?
Tell me about it, especially if you used any of this advice to get you there.
Tell me how you got there and how you expect that a raise might help your life and your ministry.
Tell me, do you deserve a raise?