Tips for navigating compensation topics as pastor, committee member

Tips for navigating compensation topics as pastor, committee member

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

A job interview is rarely stress-free — especially if the job is a pastorate. But introduce the topic of financial compensation and the hot seat becomes even hotter for the potential pastor, said Larry Byrd of Nowlin and Associates Wealth Management.

In most cases, there’s a small margin in which that conversation can go well, he said.

“Early on in their ministry, pastors say they would not feel comfortable having a compensation discussion in their job interview, so they don’t bring it up,” said Byrd, a member of First Baptist Church, Birmingham.

That’s not good, he said. “But on the other hand, if the first thing out of their mouth is about compensation it’s a big red flag. It has to be done carefully.”

It’s important for pastors to know how to have this discussion in the right way, Byrd said.

But even more important than that — a finance or search committee needs to know the realities that a pastor or potential pastor faces, he said. They also need to know exactly what they’re working with budget-wise as a church.
So what’s the best place for both to start?

Pastors and committees: Go through the worksheet together

In his report, “A Shift Toward Total Compensation,” Christian Messemer, a certified financial planner and a doctoral candidate at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, offers worksheets for seeing how the numbers crunch. Byrd recommends committees and pastors find that report and its included worksheets at and work through it together.

“Those tools that are available would help everybody understand exactly the impact of where the money goes,” Byrd said. “Work through them together until both the pastor and the committee members are comfortable with the way the worksheets look.”

Committee members: Educate the next group elected

Once you’ve done that, be sure to pass those worksheets and knowledge along to the next committee members who rotate on, Byrd said.

“The people with the knowledge are typically always rotating off,” he said. “Make sure the next committee that will set salaries is educated, whether that’s the search committee, personnel committee or finance committee.”

The person in charge who rotates off should be responsible for sitting down with the incoming chairman and saying, “Let’s do the math together; this is where we are,” Byrd said.

Potential pastors: Ask, “What is your philosophy of benefits?”

Asking about philosophy of benefits helps the pastor understand the church’s thought process but also doesn’t sound like he’s going straight for the bottom line, Byrd said.

It’s a comfortable question to ask, he said. “Bring up the future and discuss it in broad terms so that if in the future it does come up, you’ve already talked about it.”

This includes topics such as if the church would be willing to consider bivocational ministry, Byrd said.

“If I am a pastor and I am interviewing in a smaller congregation where I know money is going to be an issue, they may say, ‘We can handle your salary.’ But I recognize that everything goes up in the future, so with that in mind I would ask, ‘If I get to a point where I am considering going bivocational, how would we handle it? What would we do?’”

It also opens the door to talk about medical insurance, disability policies and other topics like that, Byrd said. “It gets those landmines out on the table up front and takes away some of the potential for crisis later.”


What is a white paper?

The pastor’s compensation articles mention a report prepared by Christian Messemer, a certified financial planner and a doctoral candidate at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This report is often referred to as a “white paper,” but what is a white paper exactly?

A white paper is a report written by an authority (or someone with some expertise) on a specific topic. It is typically a presentation of information in everyday language and sometimes is meant to persuade the reader toward a certain point. defines a white paper as “a concise report that informs readers about a complex issue, often used to convey an organization’s philosophy and persuade potential customers … a marketing tool in the form of information on the technology underlying a complex product of system and on how it will benefit the customer.” prefers this definition: “A white paper is a persuasive essay that uses facts and logic to promote a certain product, service or viewpoint.” (TAB)


Related stories:

Churches may need to approach pastor salary structure differently, financial planner says

Church leaders urged to be wise managers of Lord’s money, educated on tax laws