Negotiating salary and benefits

Jun 11, 2019 7:00:00 AM / by Rebecca Ninke


There’s no need for a blog post on negotiating salary… you work for a church, so obviously you don’t care about money, right? 


It’s tricky business, salary negotiations for church workers

While most of us headed into careers in ministry knowing we would never get rich, we didn’t necessarily take vows of poverty.  Like the folks we serve in our congregations, we’ve got kids to send to college, mortgages and rent to pay, all the usual bills plus a tithe to church and charity. Additionally, many of us emerged from college and seminary with significant student loans while driving clunkers.

The thing is, money talks.  It answers some questions in a voice that’s loud and clear: 

  • Am I being fairly compensated for my level of experience, educational level, and responsibility, in keeping with denominational guidelines? 
  • Do you feel I am doing a good job?  Do you value me as a faith leader?  Do you want me to stay or is the lack of compensation a signal that I should be looking for a position elsewhere? 
  • Am I being paid less than someone of the opposite gender?  Am I being penalized for being a parent?  Are assumptions of what income my spouse generates affecting my salary package? 

Nothing can stir up feelings of resentment like working hard while being underpaid and undervalued.  Of course, many churches struggle financially.  If that is because the families in the church are stressed by economic hardships, unemployment, etc., that’s one conversation.  But if a congregation of means is trying to pay you the least amount possible, that’s another. 

It takes some guts to ask for a raise

But it is imperative to have those conversations with your executive committee or council, preferably before the proposed budget comes out.  If you go through an annual review, the results should be directly tied your compensation and benefits package.  Even in the church, compensation should be a natural extension of responsibilities and performance.  If you don’t have a mutual ministry committee, form one.  Keep them informed of workload and compensation; ask them to advocate for you when necessary. 

Let me be the first to say I have not always gotten this right.  

And I regretted it

I did not address discriminatory practices when it got back to me that council members had discussed that I didn’t need a raise because I probably wouldn’t come back after maternity leave anyway.  

I did not speak up when I had done the work of both pastoral offices after conflict struck and the other pastor left.  I needed someone to say thank you, to acknowledge how much time and effort I had put in.

When it didn’t happen, it was wounding.  In the long run, as most COLA raises are percentage-based, this has affected my income every year going forward as well as my pension. 

Think about alternatives

If the church you serve is going through financial difficulties, it is okay to look at alternatives to salary increases.  The gracious congregation that I serve in a half-time call knew that I was challenged by caring for an elderly parent two states away, so they voted to give me extra Sundays off.  

When I waived my medical coverage to get on my husband’s insurance, they offered to contribute more to my pension fund.  I appreciate these elements of my salary package and how it will help me into retirement.  When my father recently passed away, I thanked my congregation for allowing me both to be their pastor and a good daughter because of my flexibility. 

Deciding salary and benefits can be stressful when you’re negotiating with the same people you minister to!  But it is important part of being a professional person able to articulate what you believe to be fair. 


For more blog posts regarding the financial aspects of the church, check out these great posts "Fundraising for children and family ministries", "3 tips for using your youth ministry budget wisely", and the podcast episode "SOLD, Auction Fundraisers". 


Topics: General Ministry

Rebecca Ninke

Written by Rebecca Ninke

Rebecca is an author, freelance writer/editor, and pastor.  She currently serves two churches in the Madison, Wisconsin area.  She also has two kids, two dogs, two cats, but only one husband. Rebecca Ninke teamed up with her ten-year-old daughter Kate to write the picture book, There’s No Wrong Way to Pray—a kid-friendly reflection on talking to God in the everyday moments of life. There’s No Wrong Way to Pray is available for purchase at by searching PRAY.


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