Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An interesting Session meeting.

Well at Stodgy Presbyterian, as in many other Presbyterian churches, its budget time. Time to look at the amount of pledges made, and to figure out how much each ministry gets for the following year.

The PCUSA Book of Order has said that the Session is required to be good stewards. It has also been said that the church should provide for the minister so that he ro she can tend to the spiritual needs of the congregation, and not have to worry about the temporal needs of his or her family.

That said, in many churches, the last thing considered is the Call of the pastor. Usually, that's figured in after the cost of keeping the building open. This year, Stodgy Presbyterian was no exception.

As I'm the commissioner to presbytery meetings, prior to the budget discussions, I brought out the list of the terms of call for all the churches in Plodding Presbytery. A quick perusal of the list shows that in comparison with churches of the same size, our minister (of over 25 years) is not making as much as others with less tenure (and no D.Min).

Later once we kicked the minister out so we could do our deliberations, one of the elders on the Personnel committee said that "she personally felt that my bringing up the salaries of others is only rubbing [his] nose in the fact he's not making as much as others", I retorted that this information could be had by [the pastor] anytime he wanted by just a download as it was part of the last Presbyterian meeting materials. I had brought it to Session so that Session would have an idea of what others are getting. In the back of my mind, I had hoped that it would shame those elders into giving a better raise.

However, since pledges are down, and we need to make sure that we can pay the water bill, the pastor got a 3% raise, which is in line with the rest of the Presbytery. Still, based on what I've seen, the guy is about 7 to 10K below what he should be getting. And one of the reasons I was told was that he's not doing visitations to people, and that his next raise would be based on how the church increased membership.

I remarked that putting it all on the pastor is not an answer, the pastor cannot be friend, confidant, teacher, preacher and evangelist all at once. The rest of the officers need to step up and take some responsibility for the growing of the church.

They basically had no idea what I was talking about. Our deacons drop off flowers, a meal to those who are sick, provide donuts on Sunday (the pastor makes the coffee), and hold fundraisers. When I mentioned that the deacons should be contacting the congregation's members on a regular basis, someone said that in other churches they were in, the Deacons never did that !! Its not their job!!! I said that their job is Congregational Care ... in order to care for the congregation, you have to keep in touch with them.

The puzzled looks I was getting were frustrating.

Anyway, because we lost our custodian for a while this year, the pastor was doing a lot of the cleanup, so they decided to give him a $2K bonus for his efforts. It was joked that it was a retention bonus. They didn't want to put it in his salary, as that would raise it up, and it may not be possible to pay that next year.

I didn't mention that if the pastor did leave or retire, they wouldn't be able to hire someone with his experience and degree at the rate they're paying the current pastor. I'll let them figure that out when COM tells them that!!

And so it goes


  1. Sounds all too familiar.

    At my previous church the associate pastor organized the deacons to be the first line of "pastoral care". The congregation was divided equally among them and they were responsible for contacting each family or individual in their group on a quarterly basis. If they heard of a concern or need for more pastoral attention they contacted the AP. It worked pretty well, too.

  2. I hate this time of year...currently we are $40K short of our projected budgetary needs - which is where we were last year, and where we've always been even before I got here. We cut lots out of the budget last year, but now we're at the point where we can't cut much more. It is bare bones. And with me the largest "item" on the budget, I find that hard. At the last Session meeting, one of the elders began about church growth. Which is good - they see the need to reach out (I think). My difficulty in this discussion was what could be extrapolated from the comments that were made - that we need to get more people so that we can have more money. I said, "When we talk about church growth, we must remember that we don't want to grow the church so we can have more money, we want to grow the church because that is what Christ commands us, and one's personal stewardship comes out of responding to God's promises." While they understood what I was trying to get across, I think many of them were thinking, "that's all very well and good, but we need to figure out how to pay you and keep the heat on." I will say that we have a strong Session, and this is a terrific group with whom to be having these tough discussions.

    Also, before I came they went 2 years without an interim pastor, which means the coffers got nice and cushy with only paying for pulpit supply. I've heard a couple of people say, "we get financially healthy when we don't have a pastor." What I find sad about that is, that I think they truly believe that, and don't understand what they are saying spiritually and what they are saying about how they view the church and how they see the role of pastor.

    Your pastor is so blessed to have someone such as you who understands the offices of the church and their functions, and the theology behind compensation packages for pastors. For what it's worth, Dave wants to bring the list of terms of call for other pastors in our presbytery for church's of similar size and pastors with similar experience, so that his Session can see that he is the lowest paid in the presbytery. That's all to say that your pastor probably did not resent what you did, but likely appreciates your efforts.

  3. QG - a very wise AP .. that's the way it should work.

    With a church of say, 50 souls, yeah, the pastor can keep in touch on a regular basis. With over 200, you may get to know their name and face, but you can't keep track of each and every one of them.


    I spent some time with my pastor today, and yes, he does appreciate my efforts to get his salary raised.

    He said something today that really upset me. He said that he couldn't retire, because they still have to eat. Basically, he recounted, that he was at the bottom rung of the salary scale for so long, he's not expecting much in return from the BoP!!

    Sad ...

  4. Kim was out of town with her sick mom over Thanksgiving, so I spent the day with one of the local principals and his family. While we were watching football and generally gabbing after dinner, talking shop, he mentioned that starting pay for new hires in the two districts here is something like $5000 more than my total effective salary. Mind you, this is the pay for wet-behind-the-ears newly minted college graduates in their first year of teaching. I'm halfway through my fifth year here...

  5. Sounds familiar ... Plodding Presbytery has issued these minimum salary requirements for 2009:

    The minimum terms of call approved for 2009 include:
    Salary of $33,104 + use of the manse + cost of utilities.
    “Effective salary” of $45,669 to be divided among cash salary, housing allowance, and utilities, as the minister requests. The Committee on Ministry has defined utilities as fuel, electric, sewer and water, trash collection, and basic telephone.

    Now, I'm not sure what the difference is in the cost of living between there and here, but someone with a Master's in Information Systems can start at $55k or better in the area.

  6. RC: Oooooooo, buddy. You have struck a raw nerve.

    [START VENT] In a day when the preferred model is top-down, hire somebody to do the heavy lifting, let me bask in the glory of the “office” of ruling elder, we have a lot of work to do. And that is the real problem with the cancer that spread throughout the PC(USA) over the past 40 years, one that infects and infests even those of us who have answered God’s call to another part of His Vineyard.

    The bottom line, the unholy dollar, love of assets over ministry to the flock and the 101st sheep out there in the wilderness, the pastor as an employee, and the lay leadership as a corporate board of directors are all symptoms of the shift from a theologically sound, Bible-based model to a Wall Street on Main Street mind-set.

    A while ago, I observed a session meeting at “Old-Graying” Presbyterian Church. This is a church in which the average age of the members is fast-approaching 60, and one in which the default position on anything is “well, the way we used to do it (back in the 1930s and 40s) is. . . .”

    A ruling elder complained about “all that money we’re just dumping in the Pastor’s lap. . ..” In fact, the Pastor had not taken a raise in several years, allowing the “value” of the manse to be increased in order to absorb the raises mandated by the PC(USA).

    The RE continued, “Boy, back when Pastor [WWI Veteran] was here, [35+ years ago], we never paid anywhere near that.”

    He took umbrage when I asked if he thought we still ought to pay the pastor in chickens and beets.

    “No, but look at [high school drop out who works for Wal-Mart] and [high school drop out who works as a janitor for a local private school]. They have families to feed and educate, and they get nothing near what we are paying the Pastor."

    No mention of the pastor’s 20 plus years of ministry and his M.Div. No mention of the family he has to feed and educate. No mention that the ladies’ Wednesday morning Bible study has been miffed that Mrs. Pastor “chooses” to work outside the home rather than stay at home (sub silentio-- where she ought to be) and attend Bible study and host the ladies of the church for small gatherings in “our” manse.

    This was the same session that argued for 90 minutes over the pastor’s request to the Board of trustees that it transfer an incredibly small amount of unused dental benefits (a “line item” in his approved terms of call) to his out-of-pocket medical reimbursement line item (also an approved line item in his terms of call). They even asked me, “as an attorney,” if they could legally refuse the request, one which for the past 17 years they have approved annually. I offered an opinion, but if I had then billed them for my services at a standard corporate-law rate, it would have cost them almost as much as the amount they were arguing over!

    They claim to be Reformed, but they apparently still believe in the vow of poverty!

    I have started talking at church about the primary responsibility of the session and individual ruling elders : to watch over the spiritual welfare of the congregation, i.e., to study and learn the Word so as to be ready and able to teach the Word and to be adept at leading worship and prayer; to be an undershepherd who visits the sick, the bereaved the lonely, the aged , and the shut-in; to see to the development of the children of the congregation, to inquire after inactive members, and to encourage new members in spiritual development; and to be diligent to watch for moral failures and tpo seek to warn, to admonish, and otherwise reclaim those who stray.

    And of the primary duty of the Deacons: sympathy and service, the ministry of compassion—under the supervision of the session (the deaconate not being a court of the church.)

    The response is “Huh? No way. That’s what we hired the pastor to do.”

    Then the light comes on. “Oh, that’s that New Wineskins/EPC missional/ministry stuff, right? Well, we’ve never done it that way. I mean, if the session doesn’t go over every investment report, every expenditure, every work request every month, how can we stay in business? The session has to manage the affairs of the church.”

    Me: “I thought that is why we left the PC(USA), to get away from that church as a private club for members only that needs to make sure that the facilities are comfortable for the current members—especially those Victorian gates on the drive-way that appear to be there to keep those “strangers” out.”

    “Well, we have to make sure that the people who seek membership are compatible. We can’t have anyone adding a guitar twangy-bangy service that might attract young people and young families and lower our average age. Heaven forbid.”

    Until the lay leadership (yeah, I know they are ordained, but do they?) takes on the duties of the Great Commandment and Great Commission 24-7-365, we are no different than any other social service agency, except that the Red Cross and United Way are way better organized and suited to act as a third party administrator of social services than is the sole pastor who is expected to do it all for payment in pigs and poultry. [END VENT]

  7. Mac,

    that sounds very familiar. Why did they move out of the PCUSA anyway, doesn't seem like there's any change in the way they're doing things from before.

    Oh wait, now they don't have to hire a woman pastor when the time comes and the current pastor decides he's had enough.


  8. Hmmm ... that last comment of mine sounded snarky, and it is. Putting up with the 7 last words of a dying congregation (We've Never Done It That Way Before) all the time does make it hard to keep one's cool.


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