A Puzzling Paradox

I am puzzled. Let’s consider a scenario that seems to be an surprisingly common one in many churches, irrespective of denomination or size. It concerns staff remuneration.

It is easiest to demonstrate with an example, so we will consider and average congregation one or two 2 pastors plus a building, sufficient size to have a church office that keeps regular business hours. Usually there would be a full time church secretary or administrator, maybe both. This describe a huge number of average sized evangelical churches, but our example could just as easily be larger or a bit smaller without changing the paradigm.

So, the scene is set. The Senior Pastor, according to your average denominational association publications, is likely paid $60-80K, possibly even more. An associate pastor might be $10-15K less. Both of these positions have comprehensive benefits packages, complements of their denominational associations. Thus they have pensions, medical and dental coverage, likely some continuing education support, and so on. Further, many have some sort of tax free expense account or housing allowance, and we can’t forget the non-trivial income tax breaks from Revenue Canada. All things considered a good package for an often difficult position. Actually, this looks amazingly like a secular career package, but that is not the subject of this series…

Experience would indicate that there is usually little congregational resistance to well paid pastoral staff, with most feeling that the money is well spent and well deserved. This often includes summary annual raises.

One would presume from all this that the local church, in spending the Lord’s money, is a model employer and supporter of it’s servants. But, let us now drop down a level or two in the pecking order and see what we find.

In most churches, like most corporate offices, is it the CEO, CFO or COO that actually runs the place and makes it all come together? Not likely! Most people know that the secretary or administrator is the real facilitator who makes it all come together. There are endless office jokes about this, and they simply reflect reality.

In the secular world there was a time when such jobs were largely unrewarded, with those in them labouring without recognition for their contribute, often receiving inappropriately low wages and benefits. However, these times are mostly past and even where they are not most agree that they should be by any ethical standard. Most such employees are consider to be deserving of employment benefits and a living wage which reflects their responsibilities. In corporate culture today, this is largely taken for granted.

So what about the church? And remember the pastoral compensation packages mentioned above and the undeniable responsibility to the church to treat others, particularly those within the family of believers, responsibly.

The full time church secretary or administrator is often the go-to person for the whole operation, even more so than in the corporate situation, sustaining the operation day in and day out. Further, more often than not they deal with and organize various ‘administratively challenged’ pastoral staff, who are employed for their pastoral skills rather than management or organizational acumen. This makes the secretary at least comparable to secular positions under a similarly remunerated senior staff.

That said, and considering the organization they are supporting, are they not deserving of similar employment benefits, especially in terms of sick leave, etc. to anyone doing this job? Who could disagree that they are? Moreover, as this is the church, one would imagine a model of superior treatment.

Sadly, this is not the case. These staff are frequently not thought of with the respect and appreciation one might think. They are more often than not paid minimal wages and deprived of virtually all benefits beyond those accorded by dated labour laws.

So, we have highly paid, well protected clergy, and their church, sustaining their operation at the expense of critical support staff, effectively having success at the expense of their least employees. Further, with no benefits, should these people become unable to continue, they are simply replaced.

Does this sound unseemly? Does it sound like silent usury? Does it sound like something from an updated Dickens novel? Does it sound somewhat appalling? Well it should sound like all of these, and sadly it is the truth all too often.

As I write this I can imagine cries of protest about spending the Lord’s money prudently, and this is certainly a church responsibility. But prudent spending does not include usurious labour practices and is definitely not the mark of good Christian example.

Further, before some brands me a labour activist, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My personal politics are slightly to the right of Attila the Hun (to quote a TV business commentator that I enjoy). However, a wrong is a wrong, and this is wrong.
But why is this happening? Is there a Doctrine of Taking Advantage or a Doctrine of Advancing the Church at the Expense of Others that I have somehow missed in my reading of theology and the Bible? Does this doctrine supersede all the other precepts on how we deal with others, particularly those within the faith?

I don’t have an answer and I actually find it very puzzling…