3 Musketeers of Church Staff

three-musketeersThere’s a lot of smack talk about church staffing these days. Senior pastors rightfully elevate the role of various staff members and do their best to put all staff on the same “level” as themselves in people’s eyes. There are even a few places where church leaders will acknowledge that the childrens ministry professional, youth worker, and music minister are equally valuable. Within the non-denomination world this is emerging as a style of government where the paid staff are the elders.

All for one and one for all: Brilliant. Biblical. Awesome.

I agree with the premise. As a person sitting in the pews my family is ministered by all staff pretty much equally. Certainly, there is headship and we acknowledge that one of the staff is “in charge.” But that is really just a role, isn’t it? It’s not that being the leader is necessarily harder or more important. It’s a different role, equally important and dependent to the others. And in many cases each person on staff has an equal level of education while each chose a slightly different career path. So the education argument seems to prove that most staff is equal. Another argument is that the preacher should  get more money than the rest of the staff. Really? As if the stuff taught to the kids and teens isn’t as important as what’s preached? This merely shows the ignorance in the process of how churches work on a week-to-week basis. As someone who has done a lot of roles on church staff I can tell you that there is nothing more or less difficult about preparing a sermon. In fact, its a lot easier than preparing curriculum for 5-6 age levels. So, again, the argument that somehow the person preaching is more valuable to the church organization falls apart. The day-to-day reality is that all of the church staffing roles are equally important.

Don’t believe me? Watch your senior pastors face when you tell him the chidlrens worker or worship leader are AWOL on a Sunday morning.

The real question is… when will that be reflected on pay day?

If church staff are equally valuable to the organization why is there inequality when it comes to taking care of staff? Why does the senior pastor make 2-3 times what the childrens worker makes? Why does that person get perks not available to the rest? Why does that person get more time off? Sabbatical? Conference budget? Book budget? Car allowance? Special tax perks. It may shock you to know that most associate level staff makes less than half what the senior pastor makes… before the perks kick in.

This gets really strange when staff have kids the same age. The staff all have equally important roles but can’t afford to live in the same neighborhood. One family sends their kids to private school, goes on lavish vacations, and never have to worry about their kids getting new clothes. The rest of the staff live paycheck to paycheck. They watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and wonder when someone will turn in their house?

I’d like to ask you to consider a new way. What if every pastoral team member made the exact same amount of money? (Perks and all.) What if they weren’t just equal in importance, recognized 1-2 times per year, but were recognized in the one way that would keep those associate level people in the game for life?

Want to attract talent? Pay them. Want to keep staff? Pay them. Want to change a community by having talented people in place for a generation? Pay them.

All for one and one for all. Brilliant. Biblical. Awesome.


26 responses to “3 Musketeers of Church Staff”

  1. Ryan Smith Avatar

    Simply an Amazing Post Adam- I felt chills as I read it…. simply amazing!

  2. RJ Avatar

    I’m not sure I agree with this. The way I view it, people should be paid differently. After all, isn’t the Senior Pastor ultimately the one responsible for the youth, the children, the worship, etc? Sure he may see fit that he can hire someone to do those things and they me be equally qualified but b/c of his position, he’s been chosen by the congregation to lead the rest of the staff.

    And does the amount we pay someone really equate value? Because if that’s the case, the most important people (our volunteers) are the least valued. So i think it’s okay for churches to pay different positions differently, but they also must discern what is an appropriate pay.

  3. Steve Avatar

    The only thing stupid about that idea is that kind of thinking outside the box is unamerican, unbusinesslike, and unmotivating of people, and will get you nowhere.

    Never mind all that stuff about being set apart, giving up worldly things, and toiling for love of the savior… that doesn’t fit in with the traditional model.

    Great post.

  4. Cory Avatar

    Speaking as the lowest paid member of my church: You are kidding right? I wonder how you conclude that it is biblical? I also wonder where you got the idea that all staff members are essentially equal?

    This premise seems to be way off base and neglects many very important facts.

  5. Cory Avatar


  6. Cory Avatar

    Sorry – gotta leave another comment because i forgot to click the “notify me” box.

  7. adam mclane Avatar

    @cory- I put the premise out there. If you think that my premise is either unbiblical or “way off base” and “neglecting very important facts” I would challenge you to bring those to the front. So far, you’ve said nothing so I have nothing to respond to.

  8. adam mclane Avatar

    @rj- you bring up an interesting point. I don’t think the senior pastor is responsible for those areas directly in any church I know of. The lead pastor tends to have a general supervision role over various other areas while not having a particular area directly responsible for.

    It should be stated… this concept seems most heretical to folks in denominations with hierarchical structures.

  9. Cory Avatar

    For starters, I’m not sure where Holy Scripture produces the idea of everybody for equal pay. If anything, we see plenty examples of people having been blessed with varying financial resources for the benefit of the Kingdom. So there, I think you ought to explain to us how everybody on staff at a church is to get the same pay.

    The facts that I believe you neglect are in the realm of general church management structures. In many churches, the pastor is essentially a principal of the company or corporation. They have certain legal responsibility equal to that of the President or CEO of a company. They ensure that papers are correctly filed with the government, etc… I realize from experience that this isn’t always true, but in many cases it is – especially in some of the smaller churches that I have seen.

    Typically the senior pastor is the guy who also brings the most experience to the table. They are the ones charged with empowering their employees, casting vision, and essentially act in a role as a senior manager to delegate and appropriate the resources that the church has been blessed with.

    In many churches (virtually every one that I’m involve in) The senior pastor brings years of experience that younger pastors can rely on when things get tough. Senior pastors frequently mentor and aid younger ones when it comes to problem solving and other challenges that younger pastors face that they aren’t yet equipped to deal with.

    Simply put: the idea that that senior pastor is on par with everybody else neglects the experiential side of pastoring. While in a biblical sense he is no better or worse than any other human being, he does, in many cases, bring a lot of things to the table that the others simply don’t have.

  10. justayouthguy Avatar

    The senior pastor brings years of experience that younger pastors can rely on when things get tough. Senior pastors frequently mentor and aid younger ones when it comes to problem solving and other challenges that younger pastors face that they aren’t yet equipped to deal with.

    I wish I’d have had the privilege to work for a Senior Pastor like that…. in my experience, (my personal, actual, real-life experience as a junior staff guy at a church) the SP’s I worked for were micro-managers, afraid of change, unwilling to listen to my point of view… far from being a mentor or leader of associate/junior staff. In fact, when times got tough, my Senior Pastors were quick to judge, place blame, and accuse.

    This isn’t a “bash on Senior Pastor” post, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I just think we incorrectly elevate these men to positions of authority within the church. I thought Christ was the head of the church. I know Paul established some “Bishops” in the early church, but since then the process of establishing authority in the church has been man made…

    Cory, not attacking your point of view, just haven’t had the same experiences you have in the local church.

  11. adam mclane Avatar

    cory- thanks for the thoughtful response. I am really happy to have you engaged in the conversation. Here’s my point-by-point responses for discussion. I’m going to push back for the purpose of furthering the discussion, cool?

    pre-ramble 🙂 It’s worth noting that I’m not saying this is for every church. But this is for churches arguing that their staffs are all essentially the same, equally important.

    1. I think Acts 2:42-47 provides the beginnings of what became a discussion of equity. Later we see the 12 and even further on the elders, appoint deacons… for what purpose? To maintain equality in how people were being taken care of.

    2. The concept of a multi-pastor staff is pretty far fetched in the NT. So to argue that ANYONE should be paid FT is a bit of a stretch based solely on NT teachings. When we get past the lens of what we have experienced and look at the NT narrative… we have to acknowledge that in the NT church being a pastor wasn’t a career choice. There were times when Paul was self supported, times he was a tent maker, and times he was covered by a sending church. So the entire paradigm that there should be whole staffs of paid people drawing a salary simply isn’t covered in the NT at all.

    3. My assumption is that we’re talking about pastoral types. So, a music pastor, a youth pastor, a childrens pastor, a teaching pastor. So we aren’t talking about “program leaders” who don’t do sacramental work. Those people are valuable, I think they may be worth an “equal share” like the other pastors… but I’m not arguing that here.

    4. Your example of the pastor as a CEO/President is unbiblical, pure and simple. The word “pastor” is a farming term of a shepherd, not a business manager. (There’s a different word for that, Paul didn’t call himself a biz manager.) All that biz about signing papers… that simply doesn’t have to be the pastor. Who is the trustee of the organization has nothing to do with compensation. Actually, most churches don’t have the named trustee as a staff member. It’s typically a board member.

    5. The current model of pastor as CEO… is killing the church. Seriously, this model of ministry came into popularity over the past 30 years and church effectiveness in the normal church has DOVE to all time lows. Despite megachurch examples, most churches are STRUGGLING!

    6. The CEO model you are talking about reflects a “top down” style of business management. Frankly, it represents the very worst in business leadership. Donald Trump is a top-down leader… and an absolute FAILURE of a leader. He goes bankrupt about every 5 years. The church should not model itself after the very worst of the business world. I know pastors who love “the board room” and that silly Donald Trump TV show… do you want to work for the Donald? I think not. There are things to be learned from business, but stealing the worst and claiming it as good? Not in my opinion.

    7. The experience factor. As @jon mentions above, that just isn’t the case anywhere I’ve ever been. It may exist, but I don’t think the possibility of mentorship should be a reason you pay a person 2 to 3x’s what the rest of the staff gets. Moreover, ministry experience does not equate to success in ministry. The most successful people I know care more about reaching the lost and would be absolutely on board with this idea of attracting the best talent possible to reach MORE people.

  12. Ryan Smith Avatar

    To Piggy back on Adam’s comments-

    1.I think we in the church world confuse calling and compensation.

    2. I also think we have adopted a heirarchy that is the complete opposite of how Jesus led his disciples.

    3. I also believe Western Cultures communicate value through compensation and “what you do”. How important you are is based on what you do- and how much you get for doing it.

    4. As a grossly over-paid youth pastor in San Diego (now under-employed)- I believe we should pay people exactly what they need to THRIVE in their culture, I think we unfairly equate years in ministry to success in ministry- my impression of people who have spent 20+ years in ministry is they have learned the value of compromise- and forgotten the challenge of tomorrow for what we did that worked yesterday.

  13. Bradley Buhro Avatar

    “When I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” (1 Corinthians 9:16-18)

    While, obviously, ministers have the right to make their living from the gospel, and while quite possibly the church benefits when ministers can devote their whole attention to ministry, shouldn’t what I get paid compared to the woman in the next office be the least of my worries?

    “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:13-15)

    Doesn’t comparing our wages only steal from our contentment in God’s gracious provision? After all, God does provide. Does God provide any less for the children from the youth pastor in the public school than the children of the Senior Pastor in the private school?

    I appreciate the new look at issues like this, but doesn’t debating it like this just breed discontentment rather than encouragement?

  14. RJ Avatar

    i definitely don’t think this is heretical, i just don’t think it works. it’d be great if everyone could do it all for free, but we can’t. all the positions are equally important, yes…but are they all equally responsible for the direction of the whole congregation?

    the bible never really describes how pay a multi-staff church, so this is obviously a difficult issue. it is quite clear that people are specifically called to be the pastors of churches (acts 20:28, 1 peter 5:1-4) and we also know that while pastors shouldn’t be greedy, a worker is worth their wage and even priests were given a portion of the sacrifices of the people in the Old Testament days.

    perhaps it’s only the churches i’ve been in, but the senior pastor has always been the one that is the called overseer of the congregation. he does bear more responsibility b/c he is the one that god has called to make sure the word is being preached.

    if by direct responsibility you mean writing, preaching, and casting vision to our youth group our pastor isn’t directly involved. but despite being indirect…he was asked by the congregation to lead all the people in growing as followers of Jesus. in his direct responsibility to the church, he felt it was best to hire me to take grades 6-12. so now i directly am responsible for these kids, but it falls back on him. if i preach heresy, he has to do something about it. if i am not helping our students grow, he is responsible for doing something about it to make sure that changes.

    BTW, 2-3x more than the other positions is a bit much so I have no problem saying that there are places that are hurting staff and over-paying others. But I also have no problem saying that my senior pastor should get paid more than i do, while he may have the same amount of “work” he’s got a whole lot more on his plate that he’s responsible for.

  15. adam mclane Avatar

    Bradly- I so appreciate your perspective! “I appreciate the new look at issues like this, but doesn’t debating it like this just breed discontentment rather than encouragement?”

    My assumption (based on talking to TONS of people) is that there is a large amount of discontentment. I’ve never met a ministry person who said… “I’m in this for the money.” But I have met TONS who had to quit paid ministry because they simply couldn’t afford to stay in it.

    Again, this post is for people who generally agree… “this group of church staff have equal value in the organization.” I hear that said, even from senior pastors… but I don’t see that backed up on pay day. Want to encourage those other roles to stay in those roles for the long haul? You have to pay them. Pure & simple, most churches don’t pay associate level staff a liveable wage that allows them to stay in those roles for 20+ years.

    That’s what I’m talking about. It’s really not just about money. It’s about equity. If the childrens worker is just as important to the organization as the teaching pastor… $$$ should reflect that.

  16. Libby Avatar

    Here’s an interesting perspective to add to this. In a number of denominations, there is an expectation that future pastors (youth, worship, children’s, executive, senior) have a theological education and commensurate experience. Depending upon the church and its organizational structure (say for instance a ND v. PC(USA)), there can be a distinct difference in how each views education in relation to its pastoral capacity. At the end of a seminary degree, with scholarships from both the school and my “sending” church, I still sit with more debt that I’d like to tally (mid-range 5 digit debt, excluding college loans at a private college) – all because I’ve followed a call confirmed by my community and mentors. And yet, because I told my committee for ordination (good ol’ PC(USA)) that I planned on doing youth ministry, the assumption was not only would I eventually “move up” and therefore need a wider variety of experience in my internships (unpaid of course), I also was told that I would never make as much as the senior pastor at a church. Why? Because that’s not how the system works. The senior pastor has worked longer, and has a more demanding job. Despite the fact that in youth ministry I could in fact be managing more people and have the worst arrangement of work hours. And of course, I was also told that unless I’m married and have children, I’ll never make close to what a married w/ children pastor does because I don’t have a family to support – regardless of experience and education.

    Yet because I have gone to seminary, gotten the education my denomination requires, I now sit in my apartment acknowledging that without a rich sugar daddy, an extremely benevolent first call, going to the middle of know where to have someone pay off my loans for the risk of financial benefits alone or a side track into a profitable business, there is no way that I will afford to work in the profession I am called to work for years to come.

    The imbalance is troubling to me. More and more classmates in both missional and ecclesial calling leave seminary to find jobs in fields completely unrelated to pay off debt before they’ll be able to consider returning. Or worse, they are forced to work so hard while in school, that either experience burnout and later feel disenfranchised, or they are unable to study like they desire, in order to afford to pay for following their call.

    It’s more than a little ironic to me that in the midst of stewardship conversations that we have with our parishioners, we are unwilling to acknowledge that we are not always stewardly in how we approach not only education, but also equality in the work force.

    Your post has stirred many tangential thoughts, Adam. Lo siento.

  17. adam mclane Avatar

    @libby- your comment saddens me greatly. I was fortunate enough to “pay as I went” through undergrad and grad school so I carried no educational debt. And yet my family couldn’t make it on what a church pays a youth worker. I can’t imagine what that would be like with a mountain of debt.

    And these denoms wonder why they aren’t growing? They wonder why they lose their best candidates? Hmmm…

  18. Matthew McNutt Avatar

    I think it’s easy to say all the different areas fall under the senior pastor, but if that were the case, wouldn’t he be the one to be fired if something major happened in my department? The reality is, if when of my volunteers screws up royal, or one of my assistants, or me … my neck is on the line. I lead this area of the church. Yes, I report to him – but the pastoral staff at my church is very much like what you’ve described Adam, the nine of us are considered a team with equal voices in many ways.

    The problem is some of the stereotypes out there; that youth ministry is playing with kids and doesn’t take any training. I have two ministry related degrees, I’m ordained, I’ve served on elder/deacon boards for five years … I am very much qualified to be a senior pastor – it’s just NEVER going to happen because I’m called to student ministry.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say all nine of us should be paid equally – I’ve been here a year, the senior pastor has been here almost three decades, other pastors have been here around ten years … there should be some reflection of that in salaries.

  19. Mike Avatar

    From my experience (I’m at my second church in five years, with no inclination to move anytime soon) I’ve had two Senior Pastors, both of which have modeled incredible humility and love for their staff. The more I learn from other student minsters the more I realize how very fortunate I’ve been.

    I personally have no problem making less than my senior pastor. If someone in the church has a problem 9 times out of ten they talk to him and not me. If there’s a sin issue in the church, my opinion is valued, but I don’t make the final call, he does. If there’s discontent brewing, he’s the one they go after, not me.

    I have no problem with my pay compared to his. I know my ideas are valued and input taken seriously, that’s where I appreciate the most equality.

  20. Matthew McNutt Avatar

    Mike, I think I’m with you in that I don’t have a problem with the senior pastor making more than me … but it should be reasonable. At my first church, the senior pastor made double my salary – that’s the kind of inequity that Adam is writing about (I think). My youth ministry professors used to tell us that a reasonable expectation would be that the youth pastor makes around 80% of what the senior pastor makes – but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that done!

  21. adam mclane Avatar

    Regarding the “this person add more value” arguments for pastors vs. an “equal share for equal value” concept I’m floating.

    Are you making a biblical argument or are you syncretising what you know to be true in your culture with what you think the church should be about?

    Not sure about that word? Here’s a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncretism

  22. adam mclane Avatar

    @matt- when you add in cash value of perks (plus perks that come from the congregation) I think people will see that the SP often makes much, much more than the rest of the staff. Yes, I think that’s what I’m talking about. Don’t just say we’re equals from the pulpit… prove we’re equals in how the staff is paid.

  23. Len Avatar

    Here’s a church that does this. The pastoral staff makes the same. It takes work and I think most have side incomes or a spouse works but they are committed to it. http://www.kauaichristian.com

    It’s another reason Rick Bundschuh is one of my favorite people.

  24. Matt Cleaver Avatar

    Why not use a salary schedule like public schools? Give a set salary commensurate with experience and degree, but not based on “position.” Seems like it would be pretty straight forward.

  25. […] Adam says that if all church staff are equally valued, then they should be paid the same. […]

  26. Mackenzie Avatar

    The idea of people being paid for their education, experience and position is an idea that is not biblical – rather it is capitalist. Capitalism is basically the idea that those with more to offer the chain of production deserve more in return for the capital they put into the system. Status is as much capital as education and time on job.

    I believe the biblical example was that the entire community threw their resources (capital) together and made sure that no one wanted – regardless of their ability to add to the chain of production.

    In my experience with rostered ministry in my denomination, rostering is “supposed” to grant you a particular level of compensation, including church-run benefit packages. However, in one call, only the ordained minsters received this compensation. My husband was offically called, but because he was in a lay roster, he was denied rostered compensation. Do I care about the money? No. I cared about the fact that the ordained ministers didn’t have to pay for their insurance, got a great 401K contribution, and a housing allowance. Something that the council felt my husband didn’t deserve because he lacked sacramental responsibility.

    Now the church is in financial trouble and staff benefit contributions and on the chopping block. Not pastoral benefits — everyone else.

    How does that reflect biblical living like that in the Acts community?

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