Let’s start with a dose of reality: Within each committee, there are already several dynamics at play regarding compensation.  For example, search committees are handed a dollar range to compensate their candidate of choice.  This is usually set long before the committee ever begins looking at candidates, thus it restricts which candidates they seriously consider.  There will likely be one committee member who wants to see how cheaply they can hire someone, and one committee member who considers the designated ceiling negotiable.

Most search committees have not adequately researched what is considered appropriate compensation for the job.  Candidates should not assume the committee sought outside counsel on this question, especially if they received a “firm bottom line” figure from the congregation as to how much money they can commit.

Unfortunately it often falls to the candidates to complete the committee’s knowledge.  Candidates can encourage the committee to take advantage of resources that already gather this data for their use: seminaries, MMBB, denominational offices, and specialized ministries like BWIM.  A responsible candidate researches the cost of living in a church’s immediate community and the average compensation for similar positions in that context.

Just in case the committee has not done this homework, the prepared candidate can provide them with the data.  It may feel brash to you, but it also shows preparedness and the use of objective, third-party research.  You will not appear self-serving as much as you will seem knowledgeable and prepared.  Think of this as prevention of future complications and a way to ease the negotiations.

If the church is ready to talk compensation with you, there is a strong chance you are their preferred candidate.  This means you are negotiating from a position of strength.  They want what you offer and want to know what it will take for them to secure your services.

Candidates should have in mind a range of what is acceptable compensation based on these factors.  As with most negotiations, you will start at your high end because you can usually negotiate downward easier than upward.  Their first offer will be close to their floor, not their ceiling.  Be ready to say, “No, that would not be responsible to my family.” Be ready to hear, “Sorry, we are not prepared to provide what you requested.”

Most search committees are willing to consider variations on how the compensation package is divided as long as it does not violate their bottom line.  Knowing what you consider negotiable can make all the difference.  If you show flexibility regarding the duties, they are more likely to be flexible on the compensation.

Finally, as a matter of course, provide a Minister-Church Agreement which delineates the general terms of the call, including compensation.  The American Baptist Ministers Council’s template is downloadable. This provides protection for the church and the minister by putting in writing the understandings upon hire.  You will also find other basic and free documents at this site.

If you need to boost your confidence as a negotiator, re-read Fisher & Ury’s 1981 classic Getting to Yes and its sequels.  You may discover how many of the skills you already use every day making simple decisions.  For your own sake and the well-being of those who will follow you in ministry, be firm and use every tool at your disposal.

Z. Allen Abbott is senior benefits consultant with the Ministers & Missionaries Benefit Board.