Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever (Facebook)

“My pastor called me in and informed me that the church is hurting financially; therefore, my pay would be cut by [so much], and my health insurance is being terminated.”

In the last year, at least a half-dozen ministers on church staffs have written to me describing this very scenario.

The first they knew anything was going to change is when the pastor “called them in and informed them.” If you think that sounds like a plantation manager informing a lowly day-laborer, you’d be about right.

What are you thinking, pastor?  Where is your brain? Where is your heart?

You have just told us far more about yourself, pastor, than about the church or the staff member.

What does this tell us about such a pastor? That he’s clueless about people, careless about his responsibilities as shepherd of the Lord’s flock, and callous regarding the effect this is going to have. The question I want to ask such a pastor—that is, one who has called in a staffer to inform him/her their salary and benefits are being cut—is, “And what cuts are you personally taking, pastor?”

Such a pastor is not a leader but a lackey carrying out the program of a committee. He’s not a man any minister would want to work for ever again. He has just destroyed the last bit of respect in which he was held.

Is this too harsh?

For anyone just finding this blog, let me point out I am a pastor. For 42 years, I led six churches in several states. This was followed by five years as the leader of the 100-plus Southern Baptist Convention churches of metro New Orleans.

I am as pro-pastor as anyone I know. Furthermore, pastors with whom I have worked all these years will agree with that. Readers of this blog know it to be true.

But sometimes my colleagues in the ministry do truly amazing things. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.

We make the kind of mistakes in managing people a high school freshman would not make.

No quick article is going to address every facet of this situation or correct all the wrongs being perpetuated upon the Lord’s people. But we must do something. What follows is a short list of what you, the pastor, owe to the other ministers—God-called men and women—who work with you.

1. You owe the ministers on your church staff the respect all ministers should be given.  You of all people, pastor, should set the example for the congregation. If you believe the Lord’s people should respect you as the God-appointed leader of this flock, then the people you have assembled to assist in ministry should receive the same level of honor and support.

2. You owe them your integrity. Do not lie to them or about them. Be honest in all you do, and keep your promises.

3. You owe them your loyalty. Stand up for them. When they are attacked, defend them. Nothing will earn you their undying love and respect like you, the pastor, taking a bullet for them in an open forum.

4. You owe them support. Learn what each one is doing in ministry, and from time to time tell the congregation about the work of one of them. Do this without advance notice, but making dead sure your information is correct. Plan it, rehearse it, and do it well. The pastor who will not speak highly of a colleague’s ministry from the pulpit because of his own insecurities should seek out a professional counselor before noon today. There is no excuse for such immaturity!

5. You owe them the liberty to do their ministry without your micromanaging and interference from church committees. The youth minister does not work for the adult advisory committee. The children’s director does not work for her committee. These committees are there for support and counsel and as resources. But as the pastor, you are their supervisor. They are answerable to you, and you are answerable to the congregation.

I’m remembering a staff retreat from two churches ago. The ministers on our staff had brought their wives, and we were having two nights and three days at our state conference center. In an open discussion time, Bryan, the youth minister, said, “Joe, when we came here, you told me we had two days a week off. And now you’re saying only one. What about this?”

I said, “Bryan, I don’t recall saying that. I’m not sure that’s what I promised you.”

His wife spoke up. “You did, Joe. I was there and heard you.”

I said, “Then that’s what I promised you, and that’s what it will be. Thank you for setting me straight on this.”

6. You owe them a just and fair income with all the benefits your church can afford. If at all possible, this includes health insurance, a retirement package and mileage reimbursement.

7. You owe them your love and prayers.

Two questions:What is the best procedure for personnel policies concerning staff members? When it becomes necessary to cut salary and trim benefits, what is the best way to handle this?

The worst way to do both these things—formulate policies and cut income—is to do it in a committee and then inform the staff.

Pastors do this all the time. They ought to be ashamed.

Several times recently, I’ve received memos from ministers on various staffs—some from outside our denomination and representing several states—telling of the harsh treatment they are receiving from their pastors. Often, they are informed that the underlying problem is the financial problems the church is experiencing and thus their salary is being cut or their benefits trimmed. Some are even being asked to become bivocational.

In addition to the pain this is inflicting on the ministers and their families, we ought to be concerned that these ministers have no part in this discussion at all but are merely told how things will be. The pain is physical and temporary; the disrespect goes much deeper and lasts forever.

Recently, a woman chairing her church’s personnel committee emailed concerning the new staff policies they are formulating for the church. Her question went something like this: “How do we give raises and bonuses, since some ministers are full-time and some are part-time? What kind of formula should we use?”

I said, “Get the staff together and toss this question out to them. Ask them to hash it out and arrive at a recommendation.”

I said, “Make sure they know that they are not making the final decision, but only giving a recommendation. The committee will study what they propose and arrive at their own conclusions, which they will then present to the congregation. The church members will make the final decision.”

I added that she might wish to tell the staffers that anyone could email her privately, in case they had additional suggestions they did not want to discuss in the larger meeting.

Involve the staff. Respect the staff. Support the staff. Ask the staff. Pray for the staff.

Whether you are a pastor of a church, member of a key committee or merely a member of the congregation, anything you can do to encourage and support a ministerial staff member is a good thing to do.

Anything your church can do to bless the work of these God-called undershepherds honors the Lord who called them.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

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