Fair pay, African pastors, and General Conference

I meant to write about this some time ago.

Holly Boardman has a petition at General Conference that deserves wide discussion and debate. The petition would cap* pastoral compensation at twice the rate of the base salary for a full-time clergy. If a charge chooses to exceed the conference maximum salary, it would be required to contribute a matching amount to the conference equitable compensation fund. That fund would either supplement pastoral salaries to the base level within the conference or be used as gifts to be sent to annual conferences in greater need of clergy support.

As Holly indicates, many of those gifts could be used in Africa where many pastors receive little or no pay despite working in extremely difficult situations.

Holly has said she has been told the petition has little chance of passing.

Even so, it is interesting to read the comments on the proposal at Holly’s blog, including a couple by African clergy who say the proposal would be a great boon to their ministry.

Here is one such comment from Bishop John K Yambasu:

Hollis, you have hit the nail on the head. In Africa, we continue to lose the best and the most trained and qualified of our pastors simply because we do not pay them “acceptable living wages”. Those we struggle to send over seas for higher studies never come back at the end of their training because of our poor conditions of service. Rather than negetively impact ministry, this petition if passed at GC will completely and totally transform ministry in Africa and will send membership increase in geometric proportions.

If Holly’s proposal is not a good solution to this problem, then I hope the General Conference spends some time talking at length about the good bishop’s observations.

* See Holly’s comment below for a correction/clarification about the petition.


30 thoughts on “Fair pay, African pastors, and General Conference

  1. I read the petition. If you feel so moved to tackle this issue then by all means have at it. I personally think you are trying to do too many things within one petition; compensate African pastors, increase pay for some in this country, prevent some pastors from getting rich, add a surtax to churches with over compensated pastors, establish a standard pay scale. This is too big to chew on. Will the delegates have time to digest this if it even gets through the committee? Given the energy that will go into the proposed reorg I do not see how they would even touch this. That is my opinion of course. I could be wrong. BTW, I doubt very much that we have a lot of pastors who are getting rich. Curiously those who are paid the least or nothing at all are experiencing to highest growth rates (Africa). Maybe we have become too comfortable in this country.

  2. As I said earlier, I wrote this in obedience to a prompting of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I am just planting a seed for the future. One of the proposals of the Call to Action is to rewrite the Book of Discipline so that it reflects our global character. Perhaps this Biblical principal can be incorporated into that rewrite. I have discussed this petition and this idea with the head of the Nigerian delegation. He is enthusiastic about the concept, and may continue to work toward reforming the church so that we continue to restructure ourselves according to the guidelines of the Bible rather than the US Constitution. I honestly don’t think the CTA will bring spiritual vitality back into the church. But reform MAY come if our community chooses to live according to scripture in every aspect of our lives. I see hope for the church in Africa. We have much to learn as we realize that we are a global church.

  3. I am a career change itinerant pastor whose entry into ministry meant a surrender of stable community, family relationships and the opportunity for alternate careers. I was told by my first DS that churches needed gifted and called pastors who were trained and ready to lead our church. I was elected to local government office four times and have a graduate degree in another discipline. After 18 years in ministry I continue to serve at minimum compensation in one of our lowest average compensation conferences.

    I am appointed to an open-country church with no community to draw on. They are quietly faithful and committed to mission in their small ways. They made a conscious choice to stay small a number of years ago. Population in urban areas of the north-east has dropped over 50% since 1950. Shifts to rural residences has not meant those who do move here disconnect from their suburban social supports. Few of our replacement members come from somewhere else.

    We have far fewer congregations than most whose attendance is above what our denomination considers a small church (200 average attendance), large church by our standards. The churches in my Conference have an average attendance of barely above 70 on a Sunday morning. The Cabinet continues to appoint one church/one pastor rather than create a larger circuit with a supervising Elder and local pastors or CLMs.

    As a single income home I have never bought a new car, was unable to help my children through college and will probably serve to the mandatory retirement age as my pension is small, despite regular additions to my PIP account.

    With only small, rural congregation experience I am an unlikely choice for a suburban church appointment. Experience previous to ministry seems to carry no weight.

    I now have two graduate degrees and am working on my DMin, mostly out of pocket. Perhaps that will make a difference.

    I am 58 and have 9 years before I will draw social security. Financially, I would be far better off to have been a local pastor and put all my tuition funds in the bank. I might have a better income too.

  4. We all have different perspectives. A local pastor may feel differently about this than an elder who has been at a large church for a long time. Someone who has been retired for nine years and served an average of two years at each appointment during their pastoral ministry is going to feel differently than an elder who has been at a large church for a long time. A leader in Africa is going to see their benefits and may not focus on any of the shortcomings of this proposal.

    There are many times where regulation works best because of our tendency to be selfish and go for short-term gain. But this is not one of those. If you are going to tell a church that pays its pastor very well, pays its apportionments and billings and has its debt under control that it needs to pay a tax because it pays its pastor too much according to an arbitrary scale, then you are going to have a great deal of conflict without a useful solution. Speaking directly with those pastors and their SPRCs about whether to make a contribution to salary support for African pastors instead of another salary bump will probably generate many more dollars without the angst.

    1. Again, I say that bringing the United Methodist ethic regarding clergy compensation under the authority of scripture has value in itself. It will help us reclaim our identity as followers of the Way rather than Adam Smith or Wall Street.

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