Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cash salary (from the candidate-pastor's perspective) part one

Talking with a fellow alum and former classmate this morning, we discussed our recent changes in financial status. This particular friend accepted a position with Covenant Seminary, and has remained in seminary housing as a part of his job.

He recently had another conversation-- this one with a current seminarian, a neighbor in seminary housing-- in which the other person assumed that my friend was now making "the big bucks" since he had graduated and found placement. Of course, this is fallacious-- at best, my friend is making the "medium bucks." But those medium bucks go only so far, and in some ways not as far as the "small bucks" of seminary went.

Take-home pay, or cash salary, is obviously of foundational importance in negotiating terms of call. How should a new seminary graduate (or one nearing graduation) approach it? How might a pastor seeking a change of call approach it?

For new graduates, there are two difficulties to overcome: first, your budget in seminary does not approximate what you will need after seminary. Do not be fooled.: what you are spending now is, in so many ways, nothing like what you will spend once you are placed.

Consider the following "perks" or money-savers that carried Marcie and me through our seminary years:
  • The seminary's "free store"-- where any seminary student (or their family) could go to get free clothes, toys, even books and household items.
  • "Free bread"-- our seminary had a deal with the local Panera Bread Company store to make day-old bread available to seminarians.
  • The "Gulf Drive Exchange"-- basically a road-side trash pile, but there was an understanding that folks in our apartment complex would put things out on the street that they didn't want (whether it was broken or not) and others could feel free to take it.
  • Low rent-- seminary housing is not free, but it certainly undercuts the rest of the market in St. Louis by a long shot.
  • Cheap groceries-- we lived in a area of town where several "low end" grocery stores were nearby, affording us very low prices.
While we didn't always make full use of these, they probably saved us thousands of dollars during our nearly five years in seminary. This is alongside the support of friends, family, and our church: we received regular and one-time cash gifts to the tune of additional thousands during seminary.

Now, (nearly) all of these are gone-- and rightly so. And while housing will be covered in another post, the rest of these make for a substantial increase in costs.

Add to that a handful of familial, social, psychological, and professional mindset changes:

  • You're not in seminary anymore-- you really need to buy some grown-up furniture. That futon and papasan chair will hardly do for hosting Elders and other folks from your church. (This is only partly true: while it is reasonable to want better furniture for "entertaining", you don't have to do it all at once-- and it doesn't have to be straight out of House Beautiful.)
  • You're not in seminary anymore-- so it's no longer okay to wear threadbare clothes all the time. (This one is mostly true-- though, if you've followed my earlier advice, you will already have some decent clothes in the closet.)
  • You're not in seminary anymore-- that two-bedroom, 800 square-foot apartment that the two of you moved into four years ago was fine for then, but it doesn't bode well for the long-term health of your growing family of four or five. (Inevitably, you will need more space after seminary if you've gotten married, had children, or had more children. Maybe you've worked this out already, but it will still effect the size of your housing.)
  • You're not in seminary anymore-- you can't count on the regular pooling of food with neighbors, the food co-op, or the frequent invites from wealthy fellow church members. (Again, only partly true: you might be able to count on all of these, especially if you are pro-active in organizing them-- but probably not right away.)

In short, your time in seminary has affected the way you view your finances more than you realize. It is easy (or at least easier) to be poor when all of your friends and neighbors are poor as well.

[An aside: when I say that seminarians are "poor" I do not mean to belittle the issue of poverty in our world; "poor" is a relative term, and for many seminarians it means, as it did for us, that income is substantially less than it was previously. Nevertheless, our family found ourselves as the beneficiaries of Medicaid and the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) food programs-- and I knew other seminary families that were in much worse financial shape than us. "Poor" often applies more readily to seminary families than some would like to admit.]

But once you are a "ministry professional" then it becomes a lot harder to be "poor". There are expectations, requests, and demands involved in a pastor or ministry professional's life-- some unreasonable, others quite reasonable-- that require additional expense. And there are life choices that you made during seminary that were simply bad choices-- how many, after all, carry life insurance throughout seminary? (As if somehow, because we were seminary students, we were suddenly under Divine protection.)

Cash salary is about providing for the needs of your family-- and as difficult as it is to admit or accept, that provision falls more squarely on your shoulders after seminary than it does during it. There are not as many people around you who understand or care. It is more individualized and less communal.

Those approaching (or in the midst of) the negotiation of terms of call should be attentive to the needs of their family as they negotiate the cash salary portion. This is the prime goal.

Part two of this thread will discuss factors in changes from one ministry job to another, with applicable information for new graduates as well. Part three will discuss the actual negotiation. Stay tuned!

Technorati Tags: , ,

No comments: