"Helping You Equip Others"
  Contact us

Donate to the Pneuma Foundation through JustGive–recommended for international contributors

   Becoming a Prayer Missionary

Staff and Salary, Part 2

by Dan Reiland

Continuing with the second part of this mini-series on staff and salary, we'll cover — the wrong reasons to increase salary, key issues in setting the first salary, and key issues to consider when increasing a salary. As you pray and do your homework, this will help you as you design your compensation plan for your church.


(Read Staff and Salary: Part 1 on the Pneuma Foundation Guest Articles index).


On a number of occasions during a hiring process a candidate will ask me this specific question related to their salary: "I just want to know, are you going to take care of my family?" My response is always the same. "No." Then I explain that it is my job to take care of the staff member and the staff member's job to take care of his family. I tell them: "It is my job to pay you well for a job well done and help provide a positive environment so you can excel at your work. My job is to train you, encourage you and empower you. My job is to care about you. It is your job to take care of your family."

The overwhelming majority of responses are something like: "Wow, I get it, good call." There are a few who counter with something like: "But my wife doesn't want to work and we want to live in a certain neighborhood." So I explain further that a chosen lifestyle is not the responsibility of the church, and refer again to what I previously said is my / the church's responsibility.

If you have hired more than a few people, you have walked through something like this. If you haven't you will. And let me caution you, you will want to say: "Of course we'll take care of you and your family." But that's not true. It's impossible for you to make and keep that promise. It's almost impossible to define what that actually means from family to family, let alone actually make it happen.

There are multiplied dozens of stories and examples like this one. The issue of salary is complicated and always will be. But we can do our best to learn all we can, do our homework, and think these things through in advance in order to minimize the complications and maximize a great experience for every employee.

The following practical ideas will help you reduce tension and problems and increase good will and morale.

The wrong reasons to increase salary

  • Compensation based on tenure

    Staff salaries will naturally creep upward the longer a person is on staff, until they hit the top of the category / range they are in. Then, the salary is capped until the entire structure is increased. This is different than paying a staff member more just because they've been in ministry a long time. There are staff members who are young or perhaps have been on your staff for a short time who should be paid more because they are highly productive. Productivity is the key, not tenure.

    There are some exceptions, but rarely in matters of salary. One exception is vacation. For example, if a pastor has 20 years of experience, I will let that count toward cumulative earned vacation time even though they just started on our staff.

  • Compensation based on compassion

    One of the most difficult things connected to salary is learning to separate competence and compassion. Because we care about people it's easy to blur the lines of competence and compassion. But it is important to separate the two. If the Holy Spirit is calling you to be compassionate toward someone's financial situation, then good. Obey the prompt, but not by putting them on or keeping them on payroll. The very few times I have done this have been a mistake. Again, I'm not suggesting a get out of jail free card here to excuse lack of compassion, I'm simply saying that payroll (or a job) isn't the way to handle that need.

  • Compensation based on size of family

    This may seem silly to you, but it happens more often than you might imagine. Some churches give higher or lower salaries in relationship to the size of the employee's family. I would urge you not to fall into this common temptation. Pay your staff based on their value to the team, not how many kids they have.

  • Compensation based on relationship

    This is the sticky one. We all know stories about hiring family. Unfortunately more stories have an unhappy ending than a happy one. There are "happily ever after" stories about family on staff, in fact, some that are powerfully productive and truly a God-ordained arrangement. My advice, however, in this arena is always the same: "go slow." Think it through, then think it through again before you do it.

    Now let's relate this to salary. If you have family or friends on staff it is imperative that you remain fair and unbiased with relation to their salary. Anyone who is in this situation knows that it is more difficult than it sounds. My advice is to have a personnel team or keep the board involved so that you can maintain objective accountability to help you make salary decisions outside the pressures of relational influences.

  • Compensation based on personality

    This is the most subtle on the list and often missed. No matter how good a leader you are, you are human. You like some people on your staff better than others. It is a huge temptation (though subtle) to favor the people who are likeable and the people who you like. Again, a personnel team along with an objective set of criteria will help you avoid this trap of paying for personality.

  • Compensation based on education

    I will admit that of my list, this is the one that would be disagreed with by some of my colleagues. So let me make it personal, I hold advanced degrees that I could personally benefit from but would never think of engaging the system for this reason. It is not my education that earns my paycheck, it is my value to the team and my overall contribution to the mission of the local church I serve. A degree will often get a resume read, and probably play a big roll in a person getting a job, but after that, it's all about what they can do, not what books they read.

Key issues in setting the first salary

  • The person's level of experience.

    Consider their level of success and achievement (not years of service). What is their track record? What have they accomplished? In what environment have they found success in ministry? Can they transfer their success to your church culture?

  • The comparable salaries at other churches

    Develop relationships with other churches of your size and similar culture and size of city. Comparing salary ranges is one of the best things you can do. The national salary surveys are helpful, but nothing is as helpful as five to seven churches just like yours to help you set appropriate salary levels.

  • The church's ability

    At the end of the day, we can be as generous as possible, do our homework, and set reasonable structures, and the church budget can only handle what the budget can handle. This is a reality of the church world. The general rule of thumb (not including church start-ups) that no more than 50% of your budget should be allocated to total compensation (salary and benefits) of all employees.

  • The church's existing financial structures

    It is tedious work and must be updated every year or so, but developing salary ranges according to levels and categories of employees from interns to senior staff is important. And once you have completed this work, I urge you to stick to the guidelines you developed. This doesn't mean you are a slave to the structure, they are to serve you, you are not in bondage to the guidelines. But in the overwhelming vast majority of circumstances, you will be wise to stay within the guidelines.

Key issues to consider when increasing a salary

The bottom line is about performance. That's easy, and few would disagree. The difficult part is measuring performance in a spiritually-oriented culture where changed-lives is the ultimate outcome. That gets tricky, but we must do our best to remember that changed-lives is why we do what we do.

There are dozens of criteria by which you can increase a staff person's salary. We look at things as subjective as living out the core values to very objective things, such as the ability to recruit and develop new leaders — with a number attached. You will want to develop the list of things that works in your culture. But I want to offer you a general list that is very helpful, one that I have used for many years.

  • The ability to influence people as a spiritual leader for the good of the church

    It is difficult to measure "spirituality" but we can't pretend that it doesn't matter. Leadership without Christian values is not what a local church needs. You could hire an amazing leader, but if they are a two week old baby Christian, the influence they would have (though they may get a lot done) is not long term, eternal, Kingdom impact. Personally, I don't think it's that hard to measure. I simply ask myself: "Does this staff person's walk with God fire up other people's walk with God?" That's not hard to see. Just ask yourself: "Do the people they influence love and follow Jesus with more passion because they do?" This may be too simple for you, but simple works for me!

  • The ability to organize multiple projects and ministries

    Many people can do one thing well, but most churches don't have the luxury of staff doing just one thing. Even within specific areas such as a student pastor or worship leader, these staff members must handle many different things at all times. Simply put, the more diversity a staff member can handle the more value they are to the organization. It is true that the larger the church gets the shorter the list gets for a staff member, but it also gets more complex. And therefore the need to handle multiple things at one time will always exist.

  • The ability to solve problems

    Hey, I can get people to point out problems for free, I will pay people who can consistently solve problems! This doesn't need much explanation, except for one note. A staff member's ability to solve problems without throwing lots of money at it is a significant skill that should be rewarded.

  • The ability to think creatively

    These people are a pleasure to have on staff and deserve the higher salaries. This one is closely linked to the previous one on solving problems. Some creativity is used to solve problems, and some creativity is invested in new territory waiting to be conquered. Both are worth rewarding! The key is not merely thinking creatively, but the ability to take action based on that creativity in a way that advances the purpose of the church.

  • The ability to see and seize opportunities

    This is where the true leaders rise and shine. They see things that no one else sees and they see it first. The things they "spot" are not about their agenda but for the good of the church, and like the other things I've mentioned, you don't reward only seeing an opportunity, but capitalizing on it in such a way that the church makes progress in its mission.

While this list is not comprehensive, it's a great place to build from. So, dig in and use whatever of this information helps you. You can fill in the gaps with what is needed to make it work at your church.

Let me close with some key questions you can ask.

Five important questions to ask

  • What is the staff person's overall value to the church?
  • What is the staff person's level of productivity?
  • What is the staff person's level of potential? (Capacity)
  • What is the level of difficulty to replace them?
  • What is the level of staff person's team play and quality of attitude?



Dan Reiland | Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter The Pastor's Coach available at www.INJOY.com. INJOY'S The Pastor's Coach: Volume 8, Issue 20 [October, 2007].

Prepared for the Pneuma Foundation website by KenJ