How to Keep Your Preacher from Asking for a Raise

Many preachers (and elders) are uncomfortable talking about money. I’ve written about my fright in discussing it. My First Raise and Why I Turned it Down

How can elders minimize the necessity of the preacher bringing up the subject of more money?

Have the agreement in the contract and job description.

My agreement in full-time ministry said:

A cost-of-living adjustment will be made each year. If the preacher’s salary isn’t adjusted each year to reflect the cost of living, most years he’s receiving less than the year before. I’ve observed that elders who are salesmen, farmers, and other businessmen may resist. I failed to be selected at one church because of this. The country was in a recession. One of the elders was struggling in his business. He said he wouldn’t guarantee to raise the preacher by the national cost-of-living adjustment each year when he was losing money that year. I understand his pain. But, people who own their business or who sell can increase their income by increasing and improving their output.

A merit raise will be considered each year and discussed why it’s being given or not given. This is different from the cost-of-living adjustment. The COLA simply provides the same compensation as was paid last year. The merit raise says, “You are improving and your work is more effective. Therefore, we’re going to pay you more for more or better work.” And then it’s explained. Or, “We don’t see improvement — may be some decline. We won’t give a merit raise this year. To consider that for next year, here’s what we’d like to see.”

Give some non-contract treats.

Some extras I’ve received: Christmas bonus, appreciation parties, anniversary parties, and a sabbatical. These are some verbal and non-verbal ways of saying, “You’re appreciated. We recognize your work. We value you. We love you. We want you to stay with us and be happy working with us. We believe a long ministry and relationship is helpful to this church and you. We hope you’ll stay and continue to grow in your relationship with God, your family, and with us.”

Different churches have different rules. We’d worked with a church who gave us a Christmas bonus each year. We used the money to take a short Operation Forward trip between Christmas and the new year to reflect on the past year and plan for the new one. We discussed with our children we were doing this with the Christmas bonus the church gave us.

We went to a new church. A few years went by. New elders were appointed. Neither the old elders or the new elders gave a Christmas bonus. One year when they gave my annual review and communicated my cost-of-living increase and merit raise, I asked if I could receive a decrease in salary each week. They agreed. I requested the amount of the decrease be paid in a separate check on the first of December as a Christmas bonus. I told them I still enjoyed a visit from Santa Claus. They did and I received a Christmas bonus each year after that. I hope that transferred to the next preacher.

When that doesn’t happen, how does a preacher ask for more money?

I did this twice in my ministry.

With one church, it seemed my salary wasn’t keeping up with the cost of living. This was before I had a written contract with appropriate clauses to deal with this.

Gail and I had been living on a budget for years. We knew what we spent in different categories. Every dollar had a name on it.

I asked for a meeting of the elders to discuss this. I brought our budget. I went over each item. I asked if we were spending too much money on the items. After we’d gone over the entire plan, I said, “We either need the money to pay for these items or find a place where we can buy them cheaper.”

We had the same experience with a church who wanted us to work with them and where we wanted to move. The salary was unacceptably below what comparable churches were paying their preachers. I had the same conversation with them. They agreed. We had the COLA and merit raise agreements and money was never an issue for more than a decade we worked with them.

I’ve read that this isn’t a good way to ask for a raise. I’ve done it twice in sixty years. It worked well both times. Use your judgment.

I encourage elders and preachers to discuss freely this aspect of our relationship. It’s not the most important aspect of our life.

It’s one of the important aspects of our life.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21, NKJV).

What have you found helpful in elder-preacher discussions on money?

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

4 Responses to “How to Keep Your Preacher from Asking for a Raise

  • Excellent article and great advice. Our approach has been unusual, but useful. As a certified teacher, I was accustomed to be paid based on the state teacher salary schedule. Because determining a fair salary for a preacher is somewhat subjective, and because discussing it can be awkward, we decided that my compensation as the preacher would be based on the state teacher salary schedule (adjusted to include full year employment). That has regular COLA adjustments, increases for additional education, and built-in step increases based on years of experience. We’ve followed this approach for over 20 years. I’ve found it fair and stress-free.

    • Keith,

      Thank you for sharing this.

      When you have an agreed standard, record the agreement, and go by the agreement, that leaves little to disagree about.

  • Solid suggestions. Thanks much.

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