I got my first paycheck from a church in 1980, and have been receiving them on a regular basis ever since. I served as a youth pastor for five years in Tequesta, Florida, as a pastor for 4 years in Drakes Branch, Virginia, and am approaching my 20th year of ministry in Iowa – over 14 in Cedar Rapids and the last 5+ years in Sioux City. Since I left the lawn care company I worked for Ft. Worth (the “Lawn Rangers” – “fighting for lawn order around the Metroplex”) we have derived our living from our ministry at these four churches.
In all that time, I have never negotiated my salary with the church or asked for a raise. For me, it would be wrong to do so. I have tried to make my decisions about accepting a call to serve as pastor with no regard to how much the church will pay.
I guess I need to make some clarifications and caveats:
- I have told churches I was talking to that if they did not pay me a living wage, they had to realize that I would get a job to pay for my family’s financial needs. If they wanted full-time work, they had to provide a living wage. I never defined that or gave those churches a minimum salary.
- I did negotiate one thing one time (actually, I sort of demanded it). In Cedar Rapids, where I served for over 14 years, we had a policy for vacation time that provided two weeks of vacation for the first 5 years, a third week after 5 years and a fourth week after 15 years. I came t0 Southern Hills a few months shy of that fourth week of vacation and found that Southern Hills had a similar policy. I would be giving up the fourth week that was to receive at Northbrook, but I was going to be reduced to two weeks of vacation for my first five years in Sioux City. I was pretty strong on that. I told them “I’ve worked for the same company for 30 years, at different local branch offices.” I was pretty firm in that demand. I was willing to take a pay cut, but I was not willing to lose vacation.
- I have been pretty forceful on some salary-related matters. My first two churches had bought into bad advice that pastors were not employees, but independent contractors. I finally put down my foot and demanded to be seen as an employee by my church in Cedar Rapids, as tax law demands. I have also been forceful in getting my churches to move away from “total package” budgeting to the system that the good folks at Guidestone recommend. So, on some matters, I have been forceful.
Other than those two demands, I have been careful never to ask for or demand a raise. I have never made salary an issue during my call to serve. I have actually decided whether to go to a church before I even knew what the salary package was. Here is why I do what I do. I’m not saying everyone has to agree with me or follow my convictions on this.
But in this day of megachurches with megapastors pulling down megasalaries, I think it might be well for us to talk about what message we are sending by our salary negotiation practices. What impression do we give to our people when we demand certain salaries to do the work?
1) Salary demands seem inappropriate for servants of God.
When I was an associate pastor/youth pastor at my first church, our music minister left and we started fielding resumes from candidates to replace him. At the top of most of the resumes was a minimum salary demand. “I will not consider coming for less than $35,000 per year plus benefits.” Wow! We were told that the seminaries were instructing their grads to demand minimum pay for their services. “You are worth it.”
The church I served paid a living wage and was fair with its employees. But they were turned off by those resumes and tossed them without consideration.
here’s the bottom line: either God has called me to Southern Hills or he hasn’t. If God called me, I should serve here if the pay is horrible. If God did not call me, I shouldn’t be here for a million dollars a year.
I apologize for the following illustration in advance. Someone told a young woman, “Is there any point at which you would sell yourself for money? If there is, you are a prostitute – the only question is the price.” If I were to attach any price to my ministry and service, I would feel like I was selling my service to God for money.
Paul received the Macedonian call. In the dream, he did not ask “Could you send me a breakdown of the financial support plan? What are the benefits?” I find not a single instance in scripture where someone called to serve then either negotiated salary or demanded pay to do what God told him to do.
I have taken a pay cut every time I have switched ministries. My first full-time ministry position was an increase from my lawn care duties, but since then, I have not been consistently downwardly-mobile in my job changes. My first pastorate was only a slight dip in pay from the Associate Pastor position at the larger Florida church. But when I moved to Iowa, I got exactly the same money (within $100 or so) I had gotten in Virginia, but there was no parsonage. That was pretty significant. When I moved from economically prosperous Cedar Rapids to struggling Sioux City (Gateway computers was founded here, but had fled to California and destroyed our economy), I took a significant hit.
One man here, at the question and answer session, asked me point blank, “Why would you consider moving churches for a pay cut this big?” I was able to tell him what I have said today. Ministry is not about money. It is about going where God calls you to go and doing what God calls you to do.
I would ask you this: where in Scripture do you find any servant of God demanding money or negotiating financially for his service. I just cannot do it in good conscience, so I do not do it.
2) Demanding money for ministry is consistently a sign of the false prophet.
The prophets of the Old Testament delivered the message of God regardless of what people thought. The false prophets only prophesied to those who paid them. Remember Balaam? In Numbers 22-24, he took Balak’s money to curse Israel and finally showed him a way to remove God’s protection from his people. He sold out for money.
In 1 Timothy 6:5, Paul is describing the false teachers who would come into the church. He describes them as, “imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” Their service to God came with a price tag. To Titus, Paul described another group of false prophets in this way. “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” In 2 Peter 2:3, Peter adds this warning. “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” A pastor who fashions his words to protect his paycheck is treading dangerous ground.
Paul was careful to distance himself from this kind of money-based ministry. In 2 Corinthians 12:17-18, he says “Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?” This builds on his defense of his ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:13-18 Paul points out that while it is his right as an apostle to draw his living from the gospel, he did not assert that right. “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” He wanted to make sure that his hearers did not think that he was in this for the money.
No, I am not saying that anyone who asks for a raise is a greedy, false prophet. I’m telling you why I do what I do. But I would ask this question: when we come to our people with salary demands, when we push for increases, do we not feed the idea that we are in it for the money? When your resume attaches a minimum salary figure, what does that say to the committee who reviews it? I have made the choice not to negotiate my salary or to demand increases, because I did not want to feed an impression that my ministry was for sale.
Weren’t we called to serve for “heavenly treasure?”
3) Ministry is my job; Provision is God’s job
Here’s my ministry philosophy: ministry is about obedience. It is about going where God called me to go and doing the work he has called me to do. It is not about money. God’s job is to pay the bills. When God called, Moses did not ask him what the salary package was. Elijah went to Mt. Carmel with no financial guarantees. Paul did not have any guaranteed income. Our Savior had no place to rest his head.
Jesus told his followers about money, “Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Serving God is my job. Providing for my needs is God’s job. When I am making salary demands, I feel like I am trying to do God’s job.
4) I must be content with what God provides
Paul said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” We love Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” We often forget that the context of this passage is about Paul’s willingness to endure poverty as well as plenty. Verses 11 and 12 precede verse 13 (duh?). “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
Paul continued to minister in contentment and joy regardless of whether he was well paid or in need. That is the attitude we should strive for.
Some of the readers here are well-paid. Give thanks to God and make sure you serve faithfully. Other readers are poorly paid by either stingy or needy churches. Give thanks to God and make sure you serve faithfully. Our duty is to be content and joyous regardless of our pay.
Would I do a better job is my church gave me a big raise? If I would, I don’t deserve a penny! Is there a price tag on my ministry? I have chosen to try to act in such a way that no person I serve can say, “he’s in it for the money.”
5) God has been good.
Not only has God been good, but God’s people have been good. Maybe my experience is unique, but the churches I have served have demonstrated a willingness and desire to take care of their pastors. Maybe its a reverse psychology, I don’t know. When I stop asking for money, they stop defending the bottom line. I hear pastors talking about the difficult people they have encountered whose only desire seems to be keeping the preacher poor. That has not been my experience.
I have taken pay cuts to move churches, but those churches have always been careful to give me more than generous raises year after year. I’m sure my experience is not universal, but I have a suggestion.
Perhaps God is a better salary negotiator than I am. When I do my job as pastor and preacher, and I let God do his job and provider, things have gone pretty well. God seems to be able to move the hearts of personnel and stewardship committees way better than I can.
Again, I’m sharing my convictions, not saying you have to follow them. But, I am saying this – in 30 years of non-negotiation, God has been pretty faithful at seeing that I am taken care of.
I present this as a testimony of God’s faithfulness and the convictions I have developed. I am not demanding that you believe as I believe or do as I do. I would say this. I think it is time that many preachers give thought to the way we are presenting ourselves in this world. I’m a pastor, not a corporate CEO. I serve God for heavenly treasures. I want to make sure to make it clear that earthly treasures are not what motivates my ministry.
I can say this: it has worked pretty well. I’ve never been rich but we’ve never starved either. As I have done my work, God has done his job. God is good.