What the pastor owes the church staff

“My pastor called me in and informed me that the church is hurting financially, therefore my pay would be cut by (so much) and my health insurance is being terminated.”

In the last year, at least a half dozen staff ministers have written to me describing this very scenario.

The first they knew of the change is when the pastor “called them in and informed them.” If you think that sounds like a plantation manager informing a lowly day-laborer, you’d be about right.

What are you thinking, pastor?   Where is your heart?

You have just told us far more about yourself, pastor, than about the church or the staff member.

What does this tell us about such a pastor? To do this abruptly without any advance notice or preparation, without any concern for what the staffer is experiencing or how it will affect him/her, and to provide no alternative, tells us such a pastor is clueless about people, careless about his responsibilities as shepherd of the Lord’s flock, and calloused regarding the effect this is going to have.  The obvious question for such a pastor–that is, one who has called in a staffer to inform him/her their salary and benefits are being cut–is, “And what cuts are you personally taking, pastor?”

In many cases, the pastor is merely a lackey carrying out the instructions of a committee.  He’s not a man any minister would want to work for ever again.  He has just destroyed the last bit of respect in which he was held.

Is this too harsh?

For anyone just finding this blog, let me point out I am a veteran pastor. For 42 years, I led six churches in several states, followed by 5 years as the leader of the 100-plus SBC churches of metro New Orleans. I am as pro-pastor as any pastor I know. However, I have not been sinless in this regard.  Sometimes, I have gotten it wrong.

Sometimes, we in the ministry do truly amazing things.

We can be our own worst enemies.

We make the kind of mistakes in managing people no high school freshman would make.

Now, no quick article is going to address every facet of this situation or correct all the wrongs being perpetuated upon the Lord’s people. But we must do something. What follows is a short list of what the pastors owe to the other ministers–God-called men and women!–on the church staff.

1) You owe the ministers on your church staff the respect all ministers should be given.  You of all people, pastor, should set the example for the congregation. If you believe the Lord’s people should respect you as the God-appointed leader of this flock, then the people you have assembled to assist in ministry should receive the same level of honor and support.

2) You owe them your integrity. Do not lie to them or about them.  Be honest in all you do, and keep your promises.

3) You owe them your loyalty. Stand up for them.  When they are attacked, defend them. Nothing will earn their undying love and respect like the pastor taking a bullet for them in an open forum. .

4) You owe them support. Learn what each one is doing in ministry, and from time to time tell the congregation about the work of one of them. Do this without advance notice, but making dead-sure your information is correct.  Plan it, rehearse it, and do it well.

The pastor who will not speak highly of a colleague’s ministry from the pulpit because of his own insecurities should seek out a professional counselor before noon today. There is no excuse for such immaturity!

5) You owe them the liberty to do their ministry without your micromanaging or interference from church committees.  The youth minister does not work for the adult advisory committee.  The children’s director does not work for her committee.  These committees are there for support, counsel, and as resources. But as the pastor, you are their supervisor. They are answerable to you, and you are answerable to the congregation.

I’m remembering a staff retreat from two churches ago. The ministers on our staff had brought our wives and we were having two nights and three days at our state conference center.  In an open discussion time, Bryan, the youth minister, said, “Joe, when we came here, you told me we had two days a week off.  And now, you’re saying only one. What about this?”

I said, “Bryan, I don’t recall saying that.  I’m not sure that’s what I promised you.”

His wife spoke up. “You did, Joe. I was there and heard you.”

I said, “Then, that’s what I promised you and that’s what it will be. Thank you for setting me straight on this.”  

6)  You owe them a just and fair income with all the benefits your church can afford. If at all possible, this includes health insurance, a retirement package, and mileage reimbursement.

7) You owe them your love and prayers.

Two questions: 1) What is the best procedure for personnel policies concerning staff members? And, 2) When it becomes necessary to cut salary and trim benefits, what is the best way to handle this?

The worst way to do both these things–formulate policies and cut income–is for the pastor to do it from his throne without consultation from anyone. The next worst way is to have a committee make the cuts, then inform the staff.  In either case, the staff ministers will feel betrayed and abandoned.

Several times recently, I’ve received memos from ministers on various staffs–some from outside our denomination and representing several states–telling of the harsh treatment they are receiving from their pastors.  Often, they are informed that the underlying problem is the financial problems the church is experiencing and thus their salary is being cut, or their benefits trimmed, or they’re even being asked to become bi-vocational.

In addition to the pain this is inflicting on the ministers and their families, we should be concerned that these ministers have no part in this discussion at all, but are merely told how things will be. The pain is physical and temporary; the disrespect goes much deeper and lasts forever.

Recently, a woman chairing her church’s personnel committee emailed concerning the new staff policies they are formulating for the church.  She asked, “How do we give raises and bonuses since some ministers are  full-time and some are part-time? What kind of formula should we use?”  I said, “Get the staff together and toss this question out to them.  Ask them to hash it out and arrive at a recommendation.”

I said, “Make sure they know that they are not making the final decision, but only giving a recommendation. The committee will study what they propose and arrive at their own conclusions, which they will then present to the congregation. The church members will make the final decision.”

I added that she might wish to tell the staffers that anyone could email her privately, in case they had additional suggestions they did not want to discuss in the larger meeting.

Involve the staff. Respect the staff.  Support the staff. Ask the staff. Pray for the staff.

Whether you are a pastor of a church, member of a key committee, or merely a member of the congregation, anything you can do to encourage and support a ministerial staff member is a good thing to do.

Anything your church can do to bless the work of these God-called undershepherds honors the Lord who called them.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul. And while you’re at it, soul, bless His messengers too!”

9 thoughts on “What the pastor owes the church staff

  1. Very hurtful. Pastors are often told to do things, but we need to be gracious when we do things … even in blogging. I was told by our “Deacon Board” that they wanted the Youth Minister run out of the Church when I pastored in Wake Forest, NC. He hadn’t done anything worthy of that, but there was bad blood between the Youth Minister’s wife and one of the Deacons on the “Board”. I went to the Youth Minister and after much discussion he asked to meet with the “Board”, which we both did. In the end both the Youth Minister as well as myself left the Church. Sometimes the bullet you take, takes your life. I had another Pastor chastise me afterward, telling me I should have fought for my Pastorate for the sake of the flock. I don’t know, but I do know that as a Pastor I try and walk as graciously as possible, but have been “executed” at my last three Churches because I wouldn’t satisfy the “Board”, the “Committee”, or the “retired Pastor who still thinks he’s the Pastor”.

    • Not sure how the article was hurtful, Brother David. I appreciate your input so often, however, and would never do anything intentionally to add pain to someone who has paid a high price for faithfulness. Thank you. (After the comment from my friend that this was “very hurtful,” I reread it and did indeed find places where my language was intemperate and should have been gentled. So, corrected some things. My apologies, and my deep appreciation.)

  2. I applaud this article! There are too many cowards in our pulpits today. They cut staff and staff salary and benefits all for the sake of giving more to missions. Well what about the missionary who is serving beside them? I have served with pastors who have had this kind of attitude and I have served with those who have defended me to the hilt. Give me the man who stands his ground every time. A Pastor is to guard a flock but sometimes he needs to guard them from themselves!

  3. Interesting article. What are your thoughts when staff, programs and benevolences are already at a minimum and the only thing left to do is cut the minister’s salary? How should that be handled?

    • Quick answer, Kristy, is that the pastor should be well aware of all this from the beginning and in on the decisions as to what to cut. If he is truly a shepherd and not a hireling (see John 10), he will be willing to make the sacrifice for the good of the sheep. So, short answer to your question: The pastor should take the lead in suggesting the cut and not have it “done unto him.” If he is unwilling, then the lay committee charged with this responsibility should insist on a meeting with him to deal with it. The worst scenario is when he is resisting the cut and the committee is insisting, and it goes to the church for a decision. Nothing good is going to come of this.

  4. Thank you for your prompt response. I read John 10. Would your answer be any different if I told you that (due to loss of members) the shortfall amount is $30,000?

    • No, because that doesn’t tell me anything. Some churches receive that much every Sunday, and so a deficit of $30,000 could be made up in a few days. To others, that would be the income of several months. So, it just depends. — The actual numbers (as to “how far we are behind the budget”) are often unreal anyway, Kristy, because a better guide is how far are we in the red? For instance, if we are not meeting the budget we voted on, however we are current on all our bills, we’re still okay. So, the better guide is “How far behind on paying bills are we at the moment?”

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