Friday, March 28, 2008

Should a Pastor's Salary be on Public Display?

The United Methodist Church had a great location on a main road near a mix of residential and light retail businesses. The facilities were well kept and fairly modern. They had a preschool and from all the bulletin boards and information sheets in the gathering area, the church has a active ministry.

On a table in a prominent place, surrounded by small stacks of flyers announcing events and ministries, was the "2008 General Budget." Begging to be read, the sheet began by listing the details of the pastor's salary and of the assistant pastor's salary.

That angered me. What right do the church leaders have to publicly display that information? None, believe me, none of the the members of the Staff Parish Relations Committee or the Church Council would want their salary information posted in public. In fact, in most businesses, revealing another's salary information is cause for dismissal. Shouldn't they afford the same respect to their pastors, and other staff for that matter?

Since a pastor's salary is a covenant matter between the pastor, the church and the Conference, it is voted on in a public meeting, the Charge Conference. And by the time it gets from the SPRC through the Finance Committee and the Church Council, the leaders of the church know what the salary is. That is enough.

Shouldn't churches combine the staff figures in public budget reports?

9 comments:

Kathy said...

Maybe if a church is going to publish the pastor's salary, it should also publish the giving record of the members, or at least the church council members.

roadtripray said...

Wow, this is a "third rail" issue if there ever was! I can honestly see both sides of this issue.

There is precedent in corporate america in that the salaries of the officers are disclosed in the annual reports. Those are available for review for public companies, and privately held corporations have to publish it in 10(k) reports (or at least way back when I was involved with such matters a decade ago).

Many (if not most) municipalities and other govenmental agencies publicize the salaries of all governments employees of a certain pay grade or salary level.

That being said, I don't think that necessarily infers that it's a good idea. I could certainly understand publicizing the salary of the senior pastor before the church secretary. I suppose just as in the case of the public employees, the assumption is that if there is improper remuneration, it's more likely to happen at levels where there is less oversight. Simply put, the higher you go, the fewer people there are to look over you.

On balance, I think that publishing the salaries expense line item of the budget would suffice, rather than publishing all the individual salaries. I wouldn't even mind seeing clergy salaries on a separate line item from lay staff if it's a large church. I don't think it's appropriate to outright publish the salaries as part of the report.

Peace,
Ray

Wesley Sanders said...

Well, all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations in the U.S. have to list the compensation of their five highest paid employees on their IRS filings, which become public. Churches are exempt from filing, but I think there should be some way or another that members can have access to that information. However, publishing it in a widely distributed budget packet is a very poor way of doing it.

Walker said...

This has me curious about how other denominations deal with disclosure of salary. Ours is the only itinerate system with minimum salaries and I wonder if that would make a difference.

Earl said...

Apart from a natural preference for personal privacy, this should not be a problem. As UMC clergy we are under appointment. Publishing salaries allows everyone to know exactly what everyone is making. This removes from the rumor mill one bit of information that can be abused or misused.

Wesley Sanders said...

Interesting: I noticed today that there is a PDF posted on the North Georgia Conference web site that lists the salary of every appointed pastor.

klh said...

I have to admit - Why would a pastor want the salary to be secret? My dad and my husband are pastors - I've been in UMC clergy families my whole life - and I don't think they have ever had a problem with it. Frankly, I think our culture's secretive attitude regarding how much we have in assets is silly and arguably sinful.

Eric Helms said...

(I am KLH's Husband/Pastor) and I confirm what she said. By all means, may everyone know my salary and how much we give to the church. Likewise, I think members should make such info available and we can all be honest about where we are. After all, isn't salary what we are really asking when we inquire about someone's job?

If I am making 1/3 of what our average church member makes and am in the top giving tier I hope people will see there is a problem.

The only problem I have with the church publishing the pastor's salary is the reason that it is done. It seems it is offered so church members can audit the budget and see whether or not they approve with the way in which the budget is being divvied. Even this would be fine if it didn't mean everyone was looking for what to cut without first considering the possibility that the 2% of their salary that they are committing is less than faithful.

Kristen said...

I have printed the budgets for my two churches, and the first thing on them has been my salary and the salaries of all others on staff, detailed. I don't mind people knowing, but I've never thought of combining it all. I understand that others would not want their salaries proclaimed, but aren't we as pastors supposed to be modeling a different way, a way of transparency? I don't know...

But as for Willimon and his cabinet publishing "initial appointments," I say "Hoorah!!" Again, it's the transparency thing...