Don’t Be Shy About or Afraid to Talk About Money

Recently, I’ve been posting some tips to help pastors find the right job in a local church. This post is a continuation of the series. It’s about why you shouldn’t be shy or afraid to talk about money during the hiring process.

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The Bible is replete with stories of those ensnared by the power of money.

Consider the famous Levite in Judges 17-18. “Young man, do you want a better preaching gig?” he is asked. “Well, come on up. Don’t be a priest to a family; be one to a whole tribe.” When the Levite heard this, “[his] heart was glad” (Judges 18:20).

 Or consider Ananias and his wife Sapphira in Acts 5, Gehazi in 2 Kings 5, and Zacchaeus in Luke 19.

We don’t know the specifics of why they were so captivated with money. Was it status or security? Power or pleasure? We just don’t know.

What we do know, however, is that money ensnared them.

Greed can be a slippery and hidden thing. Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods about the way it sneaks up on people.

Notice that in Luke 12 Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” That is a remarkable statement. Think of another traditional sin that the Bible warns against—adultery. Jesus doesn’t say “Be careful you aren’t committing adultery! He doesn’t have to. When you are in bed with someone else’s spouse—you know it. Halfway through you don’t say, “Oh, wait a minute! I think this is adultery!” You know it is. Yet, even though it is clear that the world is filled with greed and materialism, almost no one thinks it is true of them. They are in denial. (pp. 57-58)

This is a good observation. Maybe the last line, however, should not read, “They are in denial,” but “We are in denial.” I know I often am.

The potential for money to become an idol makes it difficult for pastors to talk about compensation during the hiring process, especially when you add to the equation how taboo discussing one’s income is in our culture. (Consider this: Of your friends, how many know your annual salary? Or how many of your friends’ salaries do you know? Probably not many.)

But the private nature and the potential misuse of money, should not negate its proper use. God’s not uncomfortable with the material world. Again, he made it. Thus, our aim is proper use not misuse or avoidance, with the latter (avoidance) being only a specific type of misuse.

Therefore, in the final stages of a job search, don’t shy away from talking about money. If you are unable or unwilling to talk about money, it’s not because you are godly. Godly people can talk about money in godly ways.

Think about this for moment. The church you are interviewing with has been talking about money for many months. Likely, they locked in a salary range for this position well before you even heard about the opening, which means they had to get comfortable talking about money. And it means they shouldn’t be surprised when a candidate wants to talk with them about it, too.

Early in the hiring process, it will probably suffice to talk in generalities, but at some point, you’ll want to talk in more detail, even asking the church to put the entire compensation package into writing. When you ask for the church to do this (which they should be glad to do), here are some of the benefits (besides the salary) that you’ll want to ask about:

  • health, life, and disability insurance
  • a health savings account
  • continuing education and conference money
  • money for ministry “tools” such as books and computer software
  • cell phone
  • moving expenses
  • vacation
  • retirement
  • contribution to FICA
  • a parsonage, if one exists
  • sabbatical policy, if one exists
  • performance reviews and associated yearly pay increases
  • cost of living differences if moving from one region to another

Not all of these will be provided, of course. And some that aren’t, might be provided in the future. I’d encourage you to ask about all of them, however, because you are not simply negotiating for higher pay. What you are doing by asking—or what you should be doing—is seeking to arrive at clarity regarding compensation. Few things will cause more bitterness to you and your family (and the church!) than misunderstandings about compensation.

If you need resources to help you determine what is a reasonable compensation package, there are several places to turn. First off, if you know any senior or executive pastors, talk to them. Often, they can give you good advice on what they might pay someone with similar experience and education.

Also, you can Google “pastor pay” (or “youth pastor pay” or “worship pastor pay,” etc.) and you’ll get lots of leads. Of course, these will have to be vetted for reliability; nonetheless, it will give you some reference points.

Finally, if you want a resource based on more data (lots and lots of data!), you might try the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff by Richard R. Hammar. It’s the definitive book on the topic, and has been for years. The most current edition is the 2016-2017 one. It’s only sold on his website, although previous editions can be found elsewhere.

But whatever you do, don’t ignore discussing money simply because it’s awkward.

During pre-marital counseling with engaged couples, when we discuss delicate subjects, I repeatedly say, “It’s only awkward if we make it that way.” The same will be true for you as you talk about money with a church.