This past Monday I was part of a conversation about women ministers and compensation. Several women spoke of their experiences in negotiating their compensation packages with churches. I was struck by the words of one woman who talked about the culture of secrecy around the issue of money that she had experienced in an earlier church position. I think lots of us Baptists are plagued by that same problem. We don’t talk about money in church.

Okay, we Baptists actually do talk about money in church. We talk about tithing our money. We are asked to give our money to special offerings. We are encouraged to be good stewards of our money.

But we as Baptists DON’T talk much about money when it comes to how much we pay our ministers. Once a year when we see the church budget we might give brief thought to the salaries paid to our church staff members. But even then, with the facts in black and white on a piece of paper right in front of us, we don’t ask too many questions about what those figures really mean. Oh yes, some of us do make comments about how high the salaries seem to be, or we ask whether our church can afford to continue to pay for benefits, but I know of very few churches that have had open conversations about how our pastor’s salary compares to the salaries of church members who have similar educational and work experience backgrounds. I know of few churches who openly discuss whether the children’s minister is receiving adequate benefits. We leave those hard conversations about money to our personnel committees.

I have been pondering why it is that Baptist congregations are hesitant to talk about the money they give the pastoral leaders they have called. Is it shame? Are we ashamed of the embarrassingly low salary we pay our ministers? Or is it fear? Are we frightened that if we talk about money our ministers might ask for better packages? Or is it pride? Are we desperately holding on to the belief that our church is generous and gracious to our ministers? Or is it stinginess? Are we reluctant to give more to our church or make the financial sacrifices it would take to pay competitive salaries? I sure there are many other reasons as well, but the bottom line is that we too often avoid honest talk about money with our ministers.

During Monday’s discussion, I was struck by the words of Allen Abbot, senior benefits consultant with the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board. Allen said that women (and men too) could use the compensation discussion during the call process as an opportunity to provide leadership in the hard conversations about money. During the months of working with a search committee, the candidate can initiate some healthy discussions about compensation and benefits. Of course, to be the leader of such a discussion, the candidate needs to be well informed. She needs to read up on the topic, to gather the facts, and to talk to those who are informed about ministerial tax laws.

I like that idea—being a leader! I like the idea of a candidate helping to shape the call process into a true educational experience for all involved. But being that kind of leader takes courage, and it takes good advice and solid information!

Here are Allen’s suggestions to being that kind of leader—“Seven Things to Think About Before You Say ‘Yes.’”

1. Know your needs! Know your financial needs. Know your personal and family needs. A higher cash salary may be less important if you are a 50+-something minister looking toward retirement than if you are a 20-something minister with small children and educational debt. So know what you need. Make priorities.  Think both long-term and short term.

2. Know what is meant by “compensation.” Compensation is cash salary plus housing allowance plus Social Security offset. Be sure you know what other items contribute toward the salary for which you will be taxed: honoraria, a church-provided car, excessive housing allowance, etc.

3.   Know what is meant by “benefits.” Benefits include a retirement plan, life/disability, medical/dental, maternity/paternity leave, sabbatical, sick leave, holidays/paid vacation, etc.

4.   Know what is meant by “professional expenses.” Those expenses include reimbursement for auto/mileage, continuing education allowance, meetings and dues, books and journals, vestments, and entertainment of church guests. Ministers need to know that the church must set up a reimbursement plan for expenses at the church. If church just allocates a sum toward expenses and hands that amount of cash to the minister, that money is then considered taxable income.

5.   Secure a copy of the church’s personnel policy manual. Does the manual include a policy for annual evaluations? accountability resolution process? pastor-parish relations committee? If the church doesn’t have a manual, ask how the church personnel policy decisions are made.

6.   Know the details of the church’s vacation, sabbatical, flex spending account, and disability policies.

7.   Get your financial package in writing! Asking for a written offer from a church may offend some on the search committee. They might feel they are not being trusted. But having a package in writing protects both the church and the minister.

Allen’s final words of wisdom were: “Get help!” Find resources. Talk to people. Read up on the issues. And a great place to start is on the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Boards website. They offer some very helpful FREE resources! Go to and click on “tools.” MMBB has resources with titles such as “Q&A for Church Treasurers,” “The Laborer Deserves to be Paid,” “The Tax Guide for Ministers.”

Consider this a conversation starter! So what are your questions about compensation and benefits? What experiences have you had in talking about “money” in the church?

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.