Continuing with the second part of this mini-series on staff and salary, we’ll cover — the wrong reasons to increase salary, key issues in setting the first salary, and key issues to consider when increasing a salary. As you pray and do your homework, this will help you as you design your compensation plan for your church.
On a number of occasions during a hiring process a candidate will ask me this specific question related to their salary: “I just want to know, are you going to take care of my family?” My response is always the same. “No.” Then I explain that it is my job to take care of the staff member and the staff member’s job to take care of his family. I tell them: “It is my job to pay you well for a job well done and help provide a positive environment so you can excel at your work. My job is to train you, encourage you and empower you. My job is to care about you. It is your job to take care of your family.”
The overwhelming majority of responses are something like: “Wow, I get it, good call.” There are a few who counter with something like: “But my wife doesn’t want to work and we want to live in a certain neighborhood.” So I explain further that a chosen lifestyle is not the responsibility of the church, and refer again to what I previously said is my / the church’s responsibility.
If you have hired more than a few people, you have walked through something like this. If you haven’t you will. And let me caution you, you will want to say: “Of course we’ll take care of you and your family.” But that’s not true. It’s impossible for you to make and keep that promise. It’s almost impossible to define what that actually means from family to family, let alone actually make it happen.
There are multiplied dozens of stories and examples like this one. The issue of salary is complicated and always will be. But we can do our best to learn all we can, do our homework, and think these things through in advance in order to minimize the complications and maximize a great experience for every employee.
The following practical ideas will help you reduce tension and problems and increase good will and morale.
The wrong reasons to increase salary
- Compensation based on tenure
Staff salaries will naturally creep upward the longer a person is on staff, until they hit the top of the category / range they are in. Then, the salary is capped until the entire structure is increased. This is different than paying a staff member more just because they’ve been in ministry a long time. There are staff members who are young or perhaps have been on your staff for a short time who should be paid more because they are highly productive. Productivity is the key, not tenure.There are some exceptions, but rarely in matters of salary. One exception is vacation. For example, if a pastor has 20 years of experience, I will let that count toward cumulative earned vacation time even though they just started on our staff.
- Compensation based on compassion
One of the most difficult things connected to salary is learning to separate competence and compassion. Because we care about people it’s easy to blur the lines of competence and compassion. But it is important to separate the two. If the Holy Spirit is calling you to be compassionate toward someone’s financial situation, then good. Obey the prompt, but not by putting them on or keeping them on payroll. The very few times I have done this have been a mistake. Again, I’m not suggesting a get out of jail free card here to excuse lack of compassion, I’m simply saying that payroll (or a job) isn’t the way to handle that need.
- Compensation based on size of family
This may seem silly to you, but it happens more often than you might imagine. Some churches give higher or lower salaries in relationship to the size of the employee’s family. I would urge you not to fall into this common temptation. Pay your staff based on their value to the team, not how many kids they have.
- Compensation based on relationship
This is the sticky one. We all know stories about hiring family. Unfortunately more stories have an unhappy ending than a happy one. There are “happily ever after” stories about family on staff, in fact, some that are powerfully productive and truly a God-ordained arrangement. My advice, however, in this arena is always the same: “go slow.” Think it through, then think it through again before you do it.Now let’s relate this to salary. If you have family or friends on staff it is imperative that you remain fair and unbiased with relation to their salary. Anyone who is in this situation knows that it is more difficult than it sounds. My advice is to have a personnel team or keep the board involved so that you can maintain objective accountability to help you make salary decisions outside the pressures of relational influences.
- Compensation based on personality
This is the most subtle on the list and often missed. No matter how good a leader you are, you are human. You like some people on your staff better than others. It is a huge temptation (though subtle) to favor the people who are likeable and the people who you like. Again, a personnel team along with an objective set of criteria will help you avoid this trap of paying for personality.
- Compensation based on education
I will admit that of my list, this is the one that would be disagreed with by some of my colleagues. So let me make it personal, I hold advanced degrees that I could personally benefit from but would never think of engaging the system for this reason. It is not my education that earns my paycheck, it is my value to the team and my overall contribution to the mission of the local church I serve. A degree will often get a resume read, and probably play a big roll in a person getting a job, but after that, it’s all about what they can do, not what books they read.