Friday, August 1, 2014

Fair Clergy Compensation Matters!

Vintage resource for churches
(MMBB, ca. 1950s)
Over the past year, I have advised search committees about many important considerations as they seek transitional or ongoing clergy to serve their congregation.   During these discussions, I feel it is important to ensure early on in their process, even long before the committee receives a single clergy profile to consider, that the church has taken steps to understand what they are looking for in a minister and how to ensure the job description, especially for part-time clergy, matches the compensation being offered with the pastoral position.
I tell churches that they must have their "dollars and duties" matched up before they really should interview a single candidate.  Further, they must be aware that whatever configuration of ministry they wish to call an ordained pastor to undertake (part-time, half-time, 3/4 time, full-time, etc.), they need to agree that they have arrived at dollars and cents that are indeed "fair" to everyone:  the minister being called and the congregation alike.
As an American Baptist, I know from first-hand experience that pastors in Free Church settings are often less likely to be hired under any rubric resembling a Conference, Presbytery or diocesan set of standardized compensation levels.  My denomination does not set any policy base that would be binding on the autonomy of local congregations.  This practice reflects our Baptist convictions regarding local church primacy and the "we're here to suggest and recommend but not to tell you what to do" nature of denominational structures, regional or national alike.
Unfortunately, local churches tend to work with clergy compensation issues in a vacuum, less aware of prevailing ministry compensation standards, unless they choose to be in communication with a ABC/NYS Region office or seek advice from a related denominational partner such as the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board. 
Part of my work is to ensure churches and pastors are aware of the resources available to them, often free of charge, thanks to the congregation's support of United Mission and the ABCNYS Region Offering.   (To learn more about the ABCNYS Region Offering, visit   Here are some opportunities for improving the conversation about ministry and money:

1)     The Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board (MMBB) is the American Baptist pension board.  MMBB serves clergy and their families through providing retirement plans and other services.  To learn more about providing benefits for your pastor, visit or call 1-800-986-6222.   Guides for clergy compensation and manuals for tax and legal issues for church related employers are provided as PDF files and updated annually.  Please ensure your church treasurer and other financial lay leadership are familiar with these provided resources.

2)      Invite your ABCNYS Region staff to be part of a conversation about clergy compensation.  While we do not have "conference minimums" as American Baptists, the Region staff can talk with your Pastoral Relations Committee, Trustees, or other leadership groups about the ways churches fairly compensate pastors, especially when financial challenges drive decisions for many churches.   The Region can share strategies, best practices and other insights from working with the rest of our 293 churches.   We are here to be of help to churches and pastors!
Please note:  When ABCNYS meets with churches via our Region Executive staff (aka Dr. Kelsey or myself) or a member of the Regional Enhancement Team (RET) is involved, we do our best to advocate for fair clergy compensation.  I do not begin profile searches for churches without having a listing of "dollars and duties" in hand from the church search committee.  Remember that the sooner your church can decide on these issues, the more likely well-suited candidates will be matched up with your desired ministry skill sets, experience and the church's financial capacities to compensate fairly the candidate you hope God is calling to be your next minister. 
3)     One of the great opportunities during the 2014 Biennial will be the Pre-Biennial "Church Finance Workshop".   We encourage your church to bring Trustees, Treasurers, Financial Secretaries, Mission Board members, Pastors, and any other lay or ordained person within your congregation who deals with the big challenges all of our churches face today with issues around: Finances, Budgets, Property Management and practicing fair Clergy Compensation standards.  The workshop is provided by our Region so that you can learn about the "best practices" of matters every size church deals with.  Further, you'll learn from other churches that your church is not alone in a time of change, transition and learning to do church in the "more with less" economy.

To register:   Advance registration STRONGLY recommended to ensure you have the seat(s) needed for your church.

4)     Smaller congregations (aka the majority of ABCNYS member churches) may need to explore creative options for pastoral ministry as well as strengthening their lay leadership to handle a better balance of church needs.   Strengthening the lay leadership can be very helpful, especially in the areas of visitation, worship planning, "congregational care" (aka "pastoral care", yet not with the terminology that makes it sound like this work is just for pastors), and administrative needs.  The Region maintains a Lay Study program to help enhance the skill sets and knowledge of all who wish to serve, whether in view of a certified lay minister certificate from ABCNYS or in specific areas of interest that enrich a congregant or lay leader's ability to serve others.  To learn more,

Churches may wish to explore a "pastor sharing" opportunity with another local congregation.  Many of our churches benefit from such relationships, and if handled well, two small churches can work together to share more than a clergy person.  Shared ministry, mission and even other areas of expense savings can be found with some intentional conversation and mutual collaboration.  Our Region staff is glad to connect you with pastors and churches from around the Region where you can learn from sister churches about such fruitful relationships.

5)         Gain some perspective from reading about what other churches and denominations are dealing with in today's time of declining resources, members and funds.  Here are three articles on clergy compensation issues:

The website featured an article on the "collapse of middle class clergy" in the United States.  Needless to say, this article has made the rounds on social media, highlighted by many clergy (including myself) that it points to something we already know: clergy are affected by the downturn of the US economy as well as the changes of religious interests in this country (i.e. declining congregations).  LINK:

Shortly after this Atlantic article started making the rounds, a response was offered by the Dean of the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, CA:

and a young adult clergywoman who is also a writer, blogger and frequent clergy conference presenter:

Whether or not you may agree with the talking points made by these articles, we must realize the economic and missional challenges at hand.  Let's be in dialogue about these issues in our churches and among our clergy collegiality groups! 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for including the links on the "collapse of middle class clergy". I appreciate your work.