In a few months the congregation’s annual general meeting is scheduled and your church board is in the midst of budget discussions. You know one of the more contentious issues each year concerns the lead pastor’s salary. As you anticipate the discussion, your mind plays through last year’s interchange. George delivered his standard speech supporting a major raise in salary because he did not believe the board was providing enough compensation given the recent growth in the church. Harry gave rebuttal arguing that the board needed to remember the average wage in the church and that pastors should not be in this kind of work for the money. Everybody in the business world recently had to be satisfied with little or no raise and so should the pastor. Times were hard. The other board members would watch this volleying and contribute little. You as chair had to find some compromise that would enable both George and Harry to vote for the budget. Meanwhile the lead pastor sat through the discussion, feeling quite uncomfortable. You just wished there was a better way, a fair way to process this annual issue.
What advice and direction as chairperson can you provide to your board about a better process to assess and discern the lead pastor’s compensation?
1. Recognize that the care of your lead pastor is a primary board responsibility. How the board manages issues of compensation and benefits communicates many different things to the lead pastor. If the board treats this in a lackadaisical manner or in a slipshod fashion, the lead pastor begins to wonder how much the board really cares about him and his family. This matter needs to be dealt with carefully and with sensitivity.
2. Lead pastors know the financial state of the congregation and what is affordable. They also struggle themselves with the issue of compensation. They are not supposed to be lead pastors because of the money and for many even discussing such matters is distasteful because of the ethical conflicts it creates. However, they do care that their families are cared for and that as lead pastor they are treated respectfully and fairly. They appreciate a board that manages such matters professionally.
3. As chairperson this is one of the conversations that you can personally have with your lead pastor. In other words ask the lead pastor how he views the current salary package and if changes could be made, what suggestions he would have. Even asking the questions signals that you care and want to do what is best for him and his family. You and the board will not be able to respond to everything to the degree desired, but you will be able to do some things. Progress will be appreciated.
4. If your board has a personnel committee, then encourage the board to charge them with the responsibility of doing some comparison research. They should be able to discern what other pastors of similar size churches in your area are being paid, at least within the same denomination. Other organizations such as the Canadian Council of Christian Charities can also supply information. This data will help the board discern whether you fall in the median range or are high or low in your compensation. Adjust accordingly. Presumably you want the compensation package to be in median range.
5. Ask the personnel committee to recommend a salary compensation policy that will take some of the guess work out of this annual discussion. Some boards will adopt a salary grid that takes into account level of responsibility, level of training, years of experience, etc. As cost of living and responsibility increases, the compensation also increases, following established increments. The board should adopt such a policy, but review it annually to ensure that it continues to be fair and appropriate.
6. Pastoral compensation discussions should occur in executive session of the board, without pastors or other employees present.
7. Once the compensation is established, it should be kept confidential. Not everyone in the congregation needs to know the details. What you can share is the policy you use so that the members of the congregation can be sure that their lead pastor and family are being cared for well. If your bylaws require that the congregation approve the salary of the lead pastor specifically, try to get that changed. In the annual budget presentations seek to provide global figures.