How To Ask for and Get a Pay Increase From Your Church
By Harold R. Newsome, Jr.
When I entered full-time ministry, I left a good salary, good insurance, and a modest retirement. The small, rural church — brave enough to hire a wet-behind-the-ears, greener-than-a-gourd pastor like myself — could barely afford the modest salary they gave me; insurance, traveling expenses, and a generous retirement were out of the question.
Certain that my financial situation would improve once the church grew, I worked long and hard to make that happen, and God blessed my efforts. In 2 years our congregation doubled in size, and we were able to begin a much-needed building campaign. My eagerly anticipated pay increases, however, never materialized. I quickly learned that no one in the church was concerned about my financial needs except my family and me. I was disappointed that some God-inspired deacon never called a secret meeting to approve a salary increase for the over-worked, under-paid pastor. In my secular employment, pay increases had come regularly based on my performance.
With no one to champion my cause, I realized it was up to me to make sure I was well-compensated for my time. During the process, I discovered the following keys to reaching your financial potential as a pastor.
Demonstrate That You Are Not Greedy
I learned this lesson as a part-time associate pastor. The church I was serving usually gave the pastor and the associate pastor a Christmas bonus equal to one week’s salary. One year, however, the financial committee decided that I had taken on more work than required, and they doubled my bonus. That probably would have been fine except they cut the pastor’s bonus by almost half. Have you ever seen the top of a preacher’s head glow cherry red? I have, and believe me, it is not a pretty picture.
After finding out how much my Christmas bonus was, he called the men on the finance committee and reminded them of his title and position. Embarrassed and angry, they finally agreed to give him the full week’s pay. I have no doubt that these men made a huge error in judgment and that the pastor was entitled to the full bonus. But, in the long run, the pastor did himself more harm than good. He came across as greedy and childish. The men serving on that committee soon saw him as money hungry and from then on scrutinized every financial decision he made.
I knew that if my congregation ever believed I was more interested in my fair compensation than in their spiritual condition, I was in serious trouble. From the beginning, I took steps to ensure that they saw me as a giver, not a taker. The first year I was there, they celebrated my birthday by receiving a special offering for me. As much as I needed the money, I used this opportunity to prove my devotion to the church. Before the offering was received, I stepped to the pulpit and expressed my appreciation for their generosity. I then explained that I would not be accepting it. Instead, the offering received that morning would go toward installing a much-needed restroom downstairs for the Sunday School classes. I encouraged everyone to dig deep into their wallets and give more than they had intended to give me. They did, and we raised enough money during that service to pay for the entire project. Immediately, I became known as a saint. Several people remarked that they had never seen a preacher do anything like that. Since then, they have received numerous offerings for my family and me, and the contributions are always generous.
Work To Increase Revenue and Lower Expenditures
I also discovered that no matter how much they loved me or desired to bless me, the church could not give me what they did not have. It would be naive on my part to expect them to increase my salary when I was spending every dime that came into the church coffers each month. It is impossible to convince a congregation they can afford to raise your salary when you have as much month as you do money.
I evaluated our expenditures and looked at ways to cut the fat. Measures were taken to lower the utilities and bigger items, such as the new copier we desperately needed, were either budgeted for or not purchased. After talking with our teachers, I stopped ordering excess Sunday School literature for the youth department. I am in favor of giving our volunteers everything they need to make their classes more effective, but I am against buying expensive materials that end up in the trash as soon as service is over.
Our overhead has dropped considerably, and I intend to keep it as low as possible. It is much easier for the board to approve my annual raise when there is money in the bank.
At first, I hesitated to implement an annual stewardship campaign in our church. After all, I did not want to seem greedy. But, I have since learned that it is neither biblical nor loving to neglect a congregation’s financial responsibilities. The annual emphasis has been the source of some criticism, but none of my people have left because of it and our donations have risen with each month-long study. For me, a stewardship program has been a learn-as-you-go experience, and I have made plenty of mistakes. For instance, I will never do another letter campaign. They may work well in some areas, but mine is not one of them. Some of our members deeply resented receiving solicitations by mail, and they let me know about it.
In addition to an annual emphasis, I periodically teach on the biblical principle of financially supporting ministers. I never realized the need for such sermons until a man in my church told me he did not believe in tithing because I received part of it. I teach my members that they do not pay me to preach — they support me in ministry, and there is a huge difference. I believe that the reason these sermons are not seen as self-serving is because I have proven that I am interested in more than a fat check.
You Have Not Because You Ask Not
As I mentioned earlier, no one in my church seemed interested in my financial situation but me. They loved me, but it never entered their minds to consider my salary. When I brought up the subject, I found that the men on our finance committee were open and receptive to the topic. With little discussion, they agreed to increase my salary the first time I asked. I made a mistake, however, by not asking them to make the increase automatic each year. I was so excited about getting a raise that I never thought about ever needing another one, and I had to go through the entire process again the following year. The second time, though, I asked the men to approve an automatic cost-of-living increase the first of each year. I believe it is important that the finance committee does not feel they are rubber-stamping my requests, so they determine the percentage of each year’s increase. I did, however, offer a suggestion (4 percent or 5 percent). After some discussion, they chose 4 percent.
During my time at that church my salary more than doubled, allowing me to serve the church full time. I also had an expense account and a modest retirement plan. I do not believe God intends for a minister to spend more time making ends meet than preparing Sunday’s sermon. Following the steps mentioned above has given me freedom to pursue the spiritual needs of my community rather than my own financial situation, and that is a freedom money cannot buy.