MINISTERIAL PAY — What Besides Pay?

By Kent Fillinger

Two questions every minister wants to ask another minister are “What is the size of your church?” and “How much money do you make?”

The first question is easy to answer, but the second question is difficult because of the many compensation and benefit packages available to a minister and the variety of church sizes and ministry positions. There is a significant difference between what a minister takes home in his paycheck and the actual total financial investment a church makes in a minister. What a church spends to employ a staff member goes far beyond the agreed-upon salary package, and the majority of staff members overlook the depth and variety of benefits they enjoy.

This article presents a framework for assessing the range of benefits one might receive in ministry. Use this compensation checklist to evaluate and calculate the total investment your church is making in its ministry staff.

Church leadership teams should discuss and develop policies and procedures for the benefit compensation options listed so that staff members understand the process and appreciate the benefits provided to them. Differentiating between full-time and part-time staff members and for a person’s ministry position within the organization is also essential during the benefits compensation discussion.

Time Away

• Days off: It is standard practice to provide staff members with one to two set days off each week for personal and family time.

• Vacation days: Supply a set number of paid vacation days to staff members based on either total number of years in ministry or the number of years spent in ministry at the current church. Vacation days vary from a minimum of two weeks to a maximum of five weeks. Occasionally, churches impose a restriction on the total number of Sundays that may be included as vacation days.

• Holidays: The list of paid holidays observed varies, but can include as many as 12 additional days off.

• Personal and sick days: These days have been grouped together because churches in general offer either one or the other to staff. The limit is anywhere from two days to an unlimited number as needed.

• Ministry days: Time away for a staff member to use his personal gifts in outside venues during regular ministry hours for opportunities to earn additional income, such as leading seminars, speaking engagements, and concerts. Churches regularly provide up to 10 days each year for such opportunities.

• Mission trips: Staff members are also afforded the opportunity to receive paid time off to minister with and to others on a mission trip. The time available usually depends on a staff member’s tenure with the church and can include one to two weeks per year or every couple of years.

• Sabbaticals and study breaks: For senior ministers especially, it is normal to have an additional one to four weeks of time away every year to prepare spiritually, emotionally, and physically for the upcoming ministry season. It would be wise also to consider granting other staff members a sabbatical after seven years of service. Churches are also starting to encourage and even require staff members to spend one day per month out of the office in prayer and study for personal spiritual renewal.

• Miscellaneous days: Churches provide paid leave for bereavement and funeral days, jury duty, and military leave.

Insurance and Personal Investments

• Insurance plans (health, vision, and dental): The range of insurances offered to staff members varies from all three to none. The quality and coverage of each of the insurance plans differs, and the premium amounts paid by churches for its staff fluctuate from zero to 100 percent of the total cost.

• Disability insurance (short or long term): Similar to insurance plans, these plans can also vary widely.

• Life insurance policy: A “key man” policy for senior leaders in large churches should be considered in addition to providing a life insurance policy for all staff members as an additional benefit. Churches initiate life insurance premiums that provide a percentage split between the church and the staff member’s spouse or family in the event the policy is redeemed.

• Retirement plan: Some churches offer matching plans for a certain percentage of a staff member’s taxable income, while other churches make an annual predetermined contribution to a retirement fund for its staff.

• Staff counseling benefit: Churches regularly pay for a limited amount of counseling to assist a staff member and/or his immediate family as needed.

•  Church paying half of self-employment tax: To ease the tax burden, churches pay up to half of staff members’ self-employment tax annually.

Continuing Education

• Ministry conferences: Churches on average send staff members to one to three conferences per year that match their area of ministry. This benefit can include all registration fees, travel, lodging, and meal expenses and can total thousands of dollars.

• Ministry resources: Ministry resources include magazine and journal subscriptions, books, reference materials, and Web-based ministry services. Churches should develop an annual budget for ministry resources. The allotted amount can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per staff member.

• Postgraduate studies: Churches pay for a portion or the complete cost of the additional studies. Depending on whether classes are taken to enhance ministry skills or to complete a degree impacts the necessary time away and the costs involved.

• Leadership coaching: Ministry coaches meet with staff members individually or together as a complete staff to increase leadership skills, define ministry goals and strategies, enhance communication and conflict resolution, and improve personal performance. Pricing depends on the ministry coach and the frequency of the coaching relationship. The investment can stretch from several hundred dollars for a few sessions up to $5,000 or more for a yearlong coaching relationship.

Ministry Related Perks

• Car allowance and/or mileage reimbursement: Depending on the responsibilities of staff members, churches make available a car for personal and ministry use or encourage staff members to use their own vehicles while providing the standard mileage reimbursement for ministry-related trips.

• Technological tools: Cell phones (PDAs or Blackberrys), notebook computers, and high-speed Internet access improve staff members’ overall stewardship of time. The use of these technological tools includes the initial investment costs plus ongoing monthly fees, and the price tag can quickly mount depending on options and usage.

• Fitness club memberships: Membership fees average about $600 a year and are a great added value benefit.

• Children’s school tuition: Staff members serving at a church that operates a day care, preschool, primary and/or secondary school can receive reduced or free tuition for their children.

• Expense account: Discretionary monies can be afforded to staff members in either set budget amounts or as needed for ministry incurred expenses.

• Travel expenses of a spouse and/or children: When a spouse or child travels with a staff member to a ministry event, churches cover the related expenses.

• Special occasion gifts: Churches consistently present staff members with Christmas bonuses of varying amounts and/or anniversary gifts to recognize years of faithful service.

Final recommendations for staff members: Add together your current benefits. Appreciate the investment your church makes in you. Apply yourself fully to the kingdom work to which you have been called.


Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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