Q: I like fall because it brings revitalization of the programs and activities of my congregation. But I dislike fall because it brings budget planning. And that means making decisions about salaries, including mine.
This fall, we had a tough time with our budget. Basically, we ended up holding the line, with minimal increases.
In a way, I felt caught. I can’t be aggressive about salaries, since that would make it seem like I am trying to get more for myself. But I hate to sit back in a “whatever you decide” attitude, since there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who vouches for the workers in the congregation and looks out for their material needs.
I am always relieved when budget planning is done, but am unhappy with the results.
What are your thoughts on this?
A: John H.C. Fritz was dean at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1920-40), and a parish pastor for 20 years before that time. He wrote the following in his 1922 book, Church Finances:
“It is false economy when congregations needlessly keep the salaries of their pastors and teachers down to a minimum. … We have not in mind that pastors and teachers should be able to accumulate great riches — for we are convinced that this would be detrimental to the church — but we know that the Lord does not want them and their families to suffer, to make debts, or to ‘entangle themselves with the affairs of this life’ (1 Tim. 2:4).”
Earlier in this book, Fritz wrote, “Paul has a very simple way of telling what church members owe their spiritual teachers, and also what the spiritual teachers may expect from their church members. He says that church members should communicate, that is, share with their spiritual teachers all good things. If the church members live in huts, the pastor should not expect to live in a palace; but if the church members live in palaces, they should not permit their pastor to live in a miserable hut.”
These and other references in Fritz’s small book suggest that the concerns you identify are not new, and that congregations (and their pastors and teachers, I suspect) have struggled with the issue of compensation for a very long time.
Given this perpetual problem, I do have the following thoughts, which I am numbering, although in no order of importance.
1. You are not struggling with a new issue, and you are not the only one struggling with it. In short, we — all the members of the church — need to be involved in honest and forthright conversations about church worker compensation. To that end, you might reference “Let’s Talk It Over,” available from the LCMS Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support. This conversation is one of 10 important ones for workers and church leaders covered in that resource.
2. Investment in the financial well-being and excellent compensation for church workers is in the best interest of the entire congregation. Wholistic care for people, including the financial care of workers, is an investment in ministry. It is not simply a question of “what do we pay?”
3. Congregations should form worker-care committees to be advocates for their workers. When workers advocate for themselves on such matters, they are unnecessarily vulnerable to attack. Respected members should speak on their behalf.
4. Circuit counselors should raise questions of worker compensation and advocate for workers when they visit each congregation in their circuits.
5. Your discomfort and sense of being “caught” are natural, and your awareness of it speaks well of your candid honesty and competence. You are in a situation that is quite ambiguous and fraught with the possibility of misunderstanding. That is why I make these five suggestions.
Perhaps our readers have additional ideas on this subject. If so, please let me hear from you.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of ministerial formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Posted Dec. 5, 2006