Back after WWII, when there was a freeze on salaries, companies had to get creative in how they were going to attract and retain top level employees. This was the beginning of creating and employment package that included health care, pensions, etc. In some ways denominations have followed suit in creating pension programs, health care insurance, etc. In addition, many, like Presbyterians, have included terms of call that insist on four weeks vacation, and two weeks study leave. Some now include the possibility of sabbaticals and pregnancy leave as well as setting a minimum standard for salaries in each presbytery.
I think individual churches also need to get creative in designing their own financial packages. In recent years churches have begun to see the advantage of working with the pastor in offering some “pretax” benefits. For example, my church offered me the opportunity to purchase some life insurance, designated a book allowance, and provided an expense account from which I could draw for reimbursement out of pretax dollars. It didn’t cost the church any more but simply broke up the financial package in a way that benefited me with respect to my taxes.
EDUCATING A CONGREGATION
It is not uncommon for there to be some grumbling and sniping at pastoral salaries by individual members of the congregation. It might be helpful for the church leadership to educate the congregation by providing some comparative figures with respect to other comparable professions. What is the average pay level for professions that require a master’s degree and two foreign languages? What is a chief executive paid that manages a multiple volunteer staff, has skills in counseling, provides a professional presentation each week, and is the chief financial officer at the same time?
An educational experience could be offered at a church night supper where each table is asked to develop a livable budget for their community taking into account the cost of groceries, mortgage, transportation, education, etc. Those leading the group might have done some research for accurate ranges in some of the more difficult areas. After each table has filled in figures for a blank budget provided them, the totals are shared and an average moderate living scale is developed. This might help people be aware of the financial stress that is being dealt with by their church staff. Sometimes higher salaries are not available but at least there could be some significant appreciation for the challenge that is facing the pastor and family. It might help some congregations understand why the spouse has to have an additional job to help make ends meet.