I have advised several local church search committees about many important considerations as they seek transitional or ongoing clergy to serve their congregations over the past year.
During these discussions, I feel it is important to ensure the church has taken two key steps long before the committee receives a single clergy profile to consider.
First, understanding what they are looking for in a minister. Second, knowing how to ensure the job description, especially for part-time clergy, matches the compensation being offered with the pastoral position.
Churches must have their “dollars and duties” matched up before they should interview a single candidate.
Further, they must be aware that whatever configuration of ministry they wish to call an ordained pastor to undertake (part-time, half-time, three-quarters time or full-time), they need to agree that they have arrived at a compensation package that is fair to everyone—the minister being called and the congregation alike.
I know from first-hand experience that pastors in free church settings are often less likely to be hired under any rubric resembling a conference, presbytery or diocesan set of standardized compensation levels.
Baptist denominations do not set any policy on clergy compensation that would be binding on the autonomy of local congregations.
This practice reflects our convictions regarding local church primacy and the “we’re here to suggest and recommend but not to tell you what to do” nature of denominational structures.
Unfortunately, local churches tend to work with clergy compensation issues in a vacuum, less aware of prevailing ministry compensation standards, unless they choose to be in communication with the regional or national judicatory or seek advice from a related denominational partner.
Here are a few suggestions for congregations regarding clergy compensation:
1. Denominations often have resources available to help churches reflect on these issues.
For example, the American Baptist Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, the American Baptist pension board, offers a guide for clergy compensation; manuals for tax and legal issues for church-related employers are provided as PDF files and updated annually.
It is important that your church treasurer and other lay leaders involved in your congregation’s finances are familiar with the available resources.
2. Reach out to your state’s denominational body for help and advice.
Most judicatories are able to meet with church leadership groups to discuss the ways churches can fairly compensate pastors, especially when financial challenges drive decisions for many churches.
They can share strategies, best practices and other insights from working with other congregations.
Remember that the sooner your church can decide on “dollars and duties,” the more likely well-suited candidates will be matched up with your desired ministry skill sets, experience and the church’s financial capacities to compensate fairly the candidate you hope God is calling to be your next minister.
3. Smaller congregations may need to explore creative options for pastoral ministry as well as strengthening their lay leadership to handle a better balance of church needs.
Strengthening the lay leadership can be very helpful, especially in the areas of visitation, worship planning, “congregational care” (pastoral care that is not limited to clergy) and administrative needs.
Churches may wish to explore a “pastor sharing” opportunity with another local congregation.
Many congregations could benefit from such relationships and, if handled well, two small churches can work together to share more than a clergy person.
Shared ministry, mission and even other areas of expense savings can be found with some intentional conversation and mutual collaboration.
4. Gain some perspective from reading about what other churches and denominations are dealing with in today’s time of declining resources, members and funds.
For example, an article on the “collapse of middle-class clergy” in the United States appeared in The Atlantic and circulated widely on social media.
The dean of American Baptist Seminary of the West responded to this piece by urging Christians to take action to address the situation, not just lament its existence.
Whether or not you may agree with the talking points in these articles, churches must realize the economic and missional challenges at hand.
Jerrod H. Hugenot is the associate executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State. He blogs at Preaching and Pondering, where a longer version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission.