Crucial Details That Clergy Need to Focus on Getting Right Before Day 1
It's such an exciting opportunity to get to consider a new call. Whether it's our first call or yet a new direction in ministry, to begin with a glimpse of what God has in store with a new church is an exciting time indeed.
Sure...we've been through the interviews and met with the call committee. We've met with the church leadership and even the congregation. We see the Holy Spirit working well in our midst. All sides are ready to make this a go and all we need to do is hammer out some details. And things like salary and housing and benefits and expectations are really just some seemingly insignificant things compared to the vast and bold opportunities for ministry just ahead. Do we really need to give this part of the call process much of our effort? In short, the answer is a resounding "YES!"
The details of negotiating out a new call are also where we as clergy, and the church with us, set forth the foundation for a great walk together. If we do not, it can also be our quick undoing and can lead to uncertainty, resentment and the kind of frustrations that damage or destroy relationships between clergy and their congregations and the church's lay leaders. It's well worth it to devote the proper attention to these details and make sure we're all at a strong place that invites long term viability and success.
First Things First
First, let's own a couple of things ongoing in this time of call consideration:
* We as clergy are energized for ministry.
* We need income so we can live and care for our family and do important life things.
* Churches have budgets and are filled people who understand money and time very differently, even from one to another.
* Clergy and churches make and hold expectations about one another. Some are spoken, too many are assumed.
* Clergy tend to focus first on ministry. Church leadership does too. However, church leadership is also composed of people who live in the business world and look at pay packages, benefits, vacation and expectations very differently and with far more savvy and awareness, on whole, than we do as clergy.
Second, let's own the reality of expectations. Expectations are like a deck of cards. All of us hold the cards we are dealt, but we interact best when we are willing to put all our cards face up on the table. Hidden or assumed expectations can be energy and ministry killers. Guessing what expectations are held by others is a fool's endeavor. In like manner, so is assuming that we know all that is ever expected of us or our making assumptions that all expectations of us are reasonable or manageable. We would do well in life, as well as in church settings, to keep our expectation cards visible to one another whenever possible so we can all play well together.
Third, let's acknowledge what can hinder what could be otherwise great clergy-church relationships over time. These can include:
* Compensation issues - clergy may feel shorted over time or in time see themselves as as "below guidelines" or below standards. What started out in a good place may not be maintained to the clergy's expectations over time.
* Church leadership changes over time. The leaders on the first day of a new call will likely not be the same leaders in just a few short year's time. What worked with some leaders may seem foreign or may be understood differently by new leadership.
* Changing expectations. As things change in the life of the church, so can what people think about those changes. What they expect may change. The people themselves may change a lot over time. The congregation or the community may go through changes.
What to consider carefully when negotiating a call:
So let's get down the nitty gritty of putting together the foundation for a successful call.
First, there is the area of compensation. Know that, over time, more lingering clergy resentment comes from this area than any almost any other. The first rule of thumb is that synod/district/larger church body guidelines are your best friend as clergy and need to be held onto carefully. In truth, compensation guidelines are also a church's great resource, but not all church's care to see them this way. Guidelines form the basis for what is proper compensation between churches and their clergy. They are uniform and allow consideration for the unique local areas of a church call.
Clergy, hear this: It is fair and right to insist on being compensated within guidelines. Far, far too many pastors cave here. If we are willing to accept less than guidelines, what might we be saying (or what my be perceived by people)? Can it suggest that we are willing to value our work in ministry lower than what it should be? Aren't we well trained and won't we give it our best of effort? Why give in? Many clergy do accept less because they assume it's all the congregation can do or it's a way they can help a church, or even make a call work. Clergy are entitled to make this consideration, but know that accepting less than guidelines will set the tone for your ministry and will have constant future ramifications which can be stressful, depleting and nearly impossible to overcome within this call.
Time here for a quick editorial aside:
There are many churches with limited financial resources. There are too many churches that resist financial opportunities to be challenged. They harbor a defeated tone that they only have so much and must watch the coffers closely. In truth, many churches would do well to own their struggles and take on their challenges in stewardship. If we as clergy give in to a church's limited perception of financial reality, then we are allowing ourselves to be complicit to what could be a much better situation. Paying a clergy person, for example, at guidelines is a challenge that churches should stand on with boldness and determination - or conversely they should own to their unwillingness and not call a pastoral leader until they can. Either way, we as clergy are right to stand on fair compensation according to guidelines, for now and through the duration of our call.
(End of editorial moment and back to the blog)...
Insisting on compensation within guidelines is very important, but along with it is the need to insist that guidelines be maintained in every year going forward. Many start at guidelines and trail them in compensation every year thereafter because the guidelines simple evaporate from the conversation. It would be wise to get it IN WRITING at the time of the call that the compensation guidelines will be maintained every year during the call. This written agreement will govern how this is handled in the future and help eliminate the random compensation "raise or not and if so how much" conversations that can happen over the years ahead.
Second, while we're on the topic of putting expectations into writing with compensation, there are several other areas that need to be understood IN WRITING. The reason for this is that there is really only one ideal time for making sure everyone surrounding a clergy's call is on the same page - and it's when the call is structured and before it has begun. There will never be a better time than before a new call to assert what expectations will be held in common. Think about areas like visitations, schedules, ministry involvement areas and the like. Also, there will never be a better time to determine when things like a sabbatical will happen or other future arrangements (including financial or educational or otherwise) will occur and be paid for. It may seem crazy to plan your sabbatical, for example, at the beginning of a call, but if you are eligible for one in say 7 years, it will be much easier to make that happen when it was understood from the beginning and agreed to in writing when you started. You'll probably thank yourself over and over again for all the wise things you put into writing when you first put together the call.
"There will never be a better time than before a new call to assert what expectations will be held in common."
Also, be very specific with what expectations you put in writing. Specificity eliminates unnecessary interpretations down the road and keeps everyone on the same page, especially as leadership changes at the church over the years.
Third, make sure the benefits and "other items" are squared away properly.
* Look at retirement contributions and make sure they are at full guideline levels. Your retirement, built on compounded returns over time, depends on being appropriately firm here. A dollar contributed to retirement today is worth much more down the road. A dollar not contributed cannot grow toward a solid retirement foundation.
* Insure health care is covered properly with a written understanding as to how it will be handled in the future if conditions change (such as your getting married or the birth of a child for example).
*Get vacation, sick time and continuing education time all determined in writing and within guidelines. Determine exactly how much of each area you will receive annually and perhaps language also as to any limits, if any, as to how it can be used.
*Understand housing well. If there will be a parsonage, it wouldn't hurt to write out almost a lease sort of agreement with terms for things like maintenance and repair expectations, fair use (by you, your family and the church) and who at the church will be responsible for overseeing all of this. If you receive a housing allowance, know there are tax ramifications for getting this put together correctly. It may even pay to consider this along with a CPA.
* Note what a work week will look like. If you think you'll take Friday off, then make it known that Friday is your day off when you will only be available for emergencies. Even go ahead and define in writing what emergencies will be a reason you would step in on your day off.
Finally, be comfortable with the idea that you as a pastor are deserving of a fair compensation and reasonable expectations of your work in ministry. Think about the future and insure you have set forward the best laid framework for ministry success. Think about the things you are unwilling to compromise on and stick to your guns. Know that it is in your best interest to do so, but in truth, it is also best for the church that you do so too for the work of long term ministry together. And this is BIG: be willing to recognize that this may not be the right call for you if your negotiations don't end in your approval. Far too many pastors have thrown caution to the wind when taking a new call without properly buttoning up all these important areas. They've even assumed that it'll just all work out in time. In many cases of pastoral resentment or regret, it is likely that things could have been very different if they had negotiated things differently early on or felt that twinge more greatly to reconsider the call based on how these things came together.
The call process is certainly always to be navigated with proper prayer, care and discernment. This said, don't let the "little" things become too small when you negotiate a new call. Sometimes it's the smallest of mistakes that can harbor the worst hurt over time. A little extra consideration now can lay the best foundation to long term ministry success!
Next up: Why Don't People Give More? Here's Why
Hidden Truths in Pastoral Ministry
Pastors: Let's Eliminate the Offering
Financial Rules of Thumb for Clergy
Why Don't People Give More? Here's Why!
Clergy: Wisely Negotiate Your Call
Church Budgeting in a More Faith-full Way
Reconsider Your Clergy Pension Elections (Now!)
Consider Again Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for Clergy
Clergy: Talk to Your Churches About Wills
Clergy & Financial Compensation Guidelines
About the Author
Hi, I'm Pastor Andrew, an ELCA pastor with a love for sharing empowering personal stewardship for fellow church leaders. I enjoy researching the financial wisdom of the scriptures and of fellow church leaders and I hope to share my findings in a way to help clergy of all types!