How to Survive Contract Negotiations

Post Author: Rev. Merianna Harrelson

For many clergy, the beginning of the fiscal year also marks the time for annual reviews or contract negotiations. Unlike many other professions, clergy pay and clergy contracts fall on a wide continuum, which leaves clergy asking the questions, “Am I being compensated fairly? Is there a standard number of vacation days? Do I qualify for comp time or overtime?” 

This conversation is even more difficult for women clergy. Across all church positions, men are paid 28% more than women holding the same positions even though women now comprise one fifth of clergy. This percentage is growing as more and more women are entering seminary and seeking ordination. 

If you are approaching contract negotiations for a new call or are eligible for a raise, here are some tips to prepare for those conversations: 

    1. Stay calm: Contract negotiations are good! It means that you have people in your church who want to take care of your financial needs and to take care of you. While it may seem better to avoid contract negotiations altogether, modeling and leading a conversation about fair compensation is important theological work. We can minister in the midst of these important conversations. 
    2. Do your research: While your contract might be call-based, meaning that it is a decision made by your church and not your conference or denominational entity, there are still resources you can use to determine whether you are being compensated fairly. Clergy Financial Services provides a great resource that includes categories for different types of ministry. You can also check to determine whether you are being compensated fairly by comparing your salary to other similar helping professions in your state like teachers and social workers. 
    3. Value your expertise: Ministry requires an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree. It is a profession. As clergy, it is easy to forget that what we do each week requires expertise and experience, or to downplay being on call 24/7. When you are in the midst of contract negotiations, it is important to not minimize or underestimate your expertise. 
    4. Decide how you feel about merit-based pay: For many clergy, contract negotiations now include merit-based pay discussions. Merit-based pay is a way for congregations to reward clergy for meeting certain metrics throughout the year. While for some clergy, merit-based pay overemphasizes numbers and analytics, for others merit-based pay becomes a nice gesture for additional pastoral responsibilities. You get to decide how you feel about merit-based pay and whether it is something you want as part of your contract! 
    5. Determine the contract length: While some denominational entities determine contract length for ministers and how long a minister stays in a call, others leave contract length completely up to the congregation. Having a year-by-year contract can be taxing on a minister because she is worried about whether her contract will be renewed. What if you crafted a contract that had a longer length, like five years, but included an annual review? Would that help the pastor and congregation develop a deeper understanding and commitment to each other? 
    6. Consider separating vacation days and vacation Sundays: Many contracts have vacation weeks specified for pastors. More and more clergy are discovering that taking an entire week off is difficult, especially if they are called on to minister in the case of an emergency during that vacation. For some clergy, listing vacation as days or weeks separate from vacation Sundays allows for the flexibility needed to fully enjoy vacation and enjoy sabbath. 

Contract negotiations can be overwhelming, especially for clergy. We often preach and teach about sacrifice and to be wary about the pursuit of money. If this is you, know that when you engage in contract negotiations that are well-researched and intentional, you are paving the road for ministers who come after you to be able to provide for their needs and their families’ needs. This is important and holy work!

A decorative image of stationary and a stamp from the author's desk.

The Rev. Merianna Harrelson is the Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ. She is the author of Morning Light: A 30-Day Devotion Journey and Toast the Day: A 30-Day Prayer Journey. She is also a spiritual director.

Image by: Rev. Merianna Harrelson
Used with permission
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