Christian ministry is this weird mix of business, social-economics, and somewhere added to the stew pot is a little dose of someone’s hermeneutical interpretation of ‘service’. It has been long since established that within the church of North America a pastor is to be paid top dollar. Well, even that is open to interpretation and comes with a lot of caveats. If the pastor has a doctorate, has previous pastoral experience, is white and most definitely a male – you know that sort of thing then absolutely we need to pay top dollar. But even that exclusivity only carries that white male so far because when we step outside of the large urbanised churches what we run into is a predominant theme of Christian poverty.
Some churches tackle this uncomfortable question (churches only like to talk about receiving money not paying it on things like salaries – like it some sort of weird sin or something) by setting up fair models of compensation for their pastoral team. In Canada a popular one seems to be to match the same wage grid analysis used to compensate teachers – as an example. Another popular method might be to surmise the median income of the church congregants and then pay the senior pastor that same amount – all things being fair and equal in this socialistic interpretation of this Acts-like church.
Of course, both examples don’t work for a variety of reasons, which really means that the compensation of those who work in the church or affiliated with Christian ministry in some way are at the mercy of those who sign the paychecks. Thus, creating an atmosphere of high-level guilt trips, manipulation, and general mis-use of positional authority. In the end a pastor may benefit if he (and I emphasis he here) is able to sway the ‘popular’ vote in the church, win over the ones carrying the ‘power’ on the board and convince them that their personal expense account is all for the ‘glory of God’. But, if their social skills are not up to par then what ends up being the case is what that pastor does will be done ‘unto the Lord’ and their compensation will be ‘waiting for them in Heaven’.
This scenario gets even more complicated when we step outside of the church and into general Christian ministry – whether that is in the form of camps, or any form of para-church organisation or like where I find myself – simply a faith-based non-profit organisation. In these situations it seems the first approach to setting up the ‘business’ side of things is to ‘remain free from all appearance of evil’ by making sure that all staff are paid substantially less than their secular counterparts.
We can find examples of where this is not the case and even those extreme examples of where this is abused and the leaders are incredibly wealthy – living off of the pensions of many a grandmother but apart from the cult-like qualities of those extreme examples the others who are profiting from this arrangement fall under various examples of nepotism – another sore spot for me and a topic to explore for another post.
For the thousands of individuals working in general Christian ministry across North America I am afraid that their salary top-ups comes from ‘knowing you are doing the Lord’s work’. This isn’t cutting it any longer. If these organisations want to truly make a difference and do well in their mandate then it needs to start with providing fair and equal compensation in order to retain talent who are equally skilled in their jobs and are competent to work well in a Christian ministry environment.