. . . but I will because I want your church’s ministry to thrive.
It’s 2022 church budget time, and while there are necessary but uninspiring items to consider (building utilities, insurance, copy machine upgrades, snow removal/lawn care) it’s very inspiring to consider how your congregation will make a difference in the lives of neighbors – both local and global. It’s also inspiring to consider how you will honor and appreciate your leaders.
These two things are true: 1) Most pastors do not take vows of poverty upon their ordination and 2) Most pastors do not enter professional ministry to become wealthy.
There is nothing holy about poverty. Jesus regularly spoke about money in ways that remind us that poverty is more about the greed of the wealthy than the choices of the poor. If a pastor is poor while serving as a full time church worker, there’s a problem. (This is true regarding all full time employees, but I’m focusing on pastors here, and specifically Protestant pastors who don’t live in rectories and support families.)
I’m defining “poor” as a situation in which you have to choose between paying your grocery bills and paying your rent/mortgage. You are not poor if you can’t afford every new Apple product or a European vacation every summer.
If pastors* are burdened with their daily bills (as opposed to their daily bread) they cannot focus on the things that help their congregations thrive. Resentments can build. Pastors might treasure their parishioners and they might feel deep spiritual satisfaction from doing professional ministry, and still they need haircuts and new shoes.
If you appreciate your pastor, please let them know. A happy pastor is more likely to have a happy congregation. Again – it’s not about getting rich; it’s about alleviating financial anxiety.
Here are a few things your pastor probably needs to tell you but won’t.
- A Cost of Living Adjustment is an appreciated gesture that says “we recognize that your expenses are going up because ours are” and “we can’t do much in terms of a raise, but we can do this.” The Social Security administration recommends a COLA of 5.9% for 2022 and that might sound like a lot but somebody out there believes that it’s financially necessary in this economy.
- Paying pastors the recommended minimum salary for the entirety of their tenure says, “You were never worth more than the least amount of money we had to pay you.“
- Serving a position for years/decades without ever receiving a raise or a bonus or extra weeks of vacation says, “We couldn’t replace you for this salary, so thank goodness you are still around.”
- Acknowleding your pastor’s birthday, ordiversary (the anniversary of their ordination), or other occasions (examples: earning a doctorate, death of a parent or sibling, serving during an especially difficult season like a pandemic) builds relationships and conveys that you’ve noticed your pastor is a human being.
Church people: please pay attention. I know one pastor who buys gift cards for their church staff and makes it look like those gift cards are from the congregation because they are mortified that the church doesn’t appreciate the staff well. When staff members write Thank You Notes to the elders, the elders never even notice that they have never budgeted for staff gift cards. They never ask “who is paying for these?“
This post might sound like a bit of a rant, but it’s actually about relationships. If you appreciate anyone in your life – your pastor, your office manager, your dry cleaner, your dental assistant, your sister – please let them know. In the case of church workers, they almost always work more hours than your realize. I know some clergy who work for about $12/hour when you do the math.
The Presbytery (geographic area of churches) I serve doesn’t require congregations to give their pastors raises or provide even a cost of living adjustment. But it’s the right thing to do – especially if your pastor has done their best during this pandemic. Appreciation is an act of hospitality. And hospitality is a spiritual practice.
Let’s practice in real life what we say we believe. I know that budgets are tight. But they (budgets) also show the world our priorities.
*Although I write about pastors, please insert the words Christian Educator, Youth Director, and other staff roles here. Be kind to your musicians. Lavish love on the ones who clean the building and set up chairs. Baby Jesus smiles at this behavior.