Let’s Talk COLAs, Bonuses, and Raises

If your professional clergyperson is doing a good job leading your congregation, we need to have a serious spiritual conversation. (Note: if your professional clergyperson is not doing a good job leading your congregation, your personnel committee needs to have a serious spiritual conversation directly with that leader.)

I remember serving a congregation (a couple of them in fact) who struggled with finances. Or at least they believed that they couldn’t “do any better” than what they were giving financially to their church. The disheartening thing for the whole staff was that no matter how well we served, no matter how effective we led, no matter what we did, there were rarely any raises or cost of living adjustments. We knew this and yet we continued to serve to the best of our ability.

In a frank conversation with a couple dozen pastors earlier this year, one pastor disclosed that he had never received an increase in salary in the ten years he had served his current congregation. Not a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Not an extra week of vacation. Not a Christmas bonus.

His was not a “poor” congregation. His parishioners included lawyers and orthodontists and business owners. Maybe they didn’t believe he was an effective leader? Nevertheless, as difficult at money conversations might be, this pastor needed to talk with his leaders about this.

Today, I’m talking with you – church members – about this.

Again, if you appreciate your pastor and church staff, please – at least – consider budgeting for a Cost of Living Adjustment for 2023. The Social Security Administration is adding an 8.7% COLA to all SS checks in 2023 because that’s what the current economic situation in the United States warrants. The cost of living will be about 8.7% higher in 2023 than in 2022 which means that if we do not increase our church staff’s salaries, they will be paid less in 2023 than in 2022 in terms of the purchase power of their salaries.

NOTE: All salaried workers deserve this. I get it when people tell me that they don’t get COLAs and so their pastors shouldn’t get them either. I hear that parishioners resent pastors who get sabbatical time after 7 years of service. Believe me when I say that all of us need both fair pay and spiritual refreshment. And also please believe me when I say that effective pastors and other church staff members work long hours – including almost every weekend – and make regular sacrifices for you and your families. We pastors didn’t go into professional ministry for the money, but we still have bills to pay, loans to repay, and hopes of having a little extra for things like college for our children. Just like you.

There’s nothing holy about poverty. And your spiritual leaders will not be as effective if they are constantly worried that they can’t pay their rent or mortgage.

A couple tips if you want to support your pastor:

  • Consider putting extra money in their reimbursable continuing education funds. It’s not taxable and they can go someplace interesting and come back rejuvenated.
  • Consider cash or gift cards for the holidays. I have found that most congregations do not include such gifts in the budget assuming that individuals will offer simple gifts to their pastor. Gifts from the congregation express appreciation from the whole congregation rather than one or two thoughtful parishioners. Also, about gifts: I was once on a staff when each of us received crystal cross paperweights. Lovely, but one member of the staff was Jewish. Think seriously about the gifts you give. Again, all people can use cash or gift cards.
  • If you cannot give your leaders a raise, consider giving them an extra week of vacation – and then please don’t complain that they are taking “too much” vacation.
  • Consider that your staff is an investment in ministry. They often make the difference between your congregation having a lively, organized, inspiring ministry and having a tired, disorganized, dreary ministry.

I know that some of you reading this are thinking, “Nobody goes to bat for me when I want a raise or deserve a bonus or need a cost of living adjustment.” Well, you should have these things too if you are working hard and serving dilligently.

To all of us: it’s both okay and admirable to have honest conversations about money with our employers. We live in a world where the divide between the wealthy and the struggling grows larger with each year. In appreciation for those who serve us and our families – not to mention God – this is the time to remember that it’s shortsighted to ignore the financial health of our professional church staffers.

Thanks for listening.

2 responses to “Let’s Talk COLAs, Bonuses, and Raises

  1. May I reprint this in our Chatline and (if the COM authorizes) in the handbook for our next presbytery meeting? May the Lord Bless and Keep Us All, Catherine D. Byrd Stated Clerk, Charleston Atlantic Presbytery 4701 Park Place West/ North Charleston SC 29405 cbyrd@capresbytery.org 843-209-5917 (cell) 843-766-4219 (CAP office local) 800-230-9293 (CAP office toll free)


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