Delegates adopt new documents to guide pastors’ salaries and benefits, set COLA commensurate with rate of inflation

The Annual Conference on Tuesday, July 12, adopted a new “Integrated Annual Ministry Agreement and Revised Guidelines for Pastors’ Salaries and Benefits” (new business item 5) and a “Revised Minimum Cash Salary Table for Pastors” (new business item 6) as presented by the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee (PCBAC). The committee has been at work on these documents since 2018, consulting with a wide variety of groups within the Church of the Brethren as well as obtaining expertise in human resources, taxes for pastors, and legalities around employee compensation and benefits.

The delegates also approved the committee’s recommendation for an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the Minimum Cash Salary Table for Pastors of 8.2 percent for 2023 (new business item 7). There was much discussion and concern that some congregations may have a difficult time paying this, especially where church members perhaps are not receiving any cost-of-living adjustments in this time of high inflation, and where there are many church members on fixed incomes. Several amendments were made in attempts to reduce the recommended COLA, but they failed. The delegates voted overwhelmingly to approve the recommended amount.

A review of compensation practices

Members of the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee–(from left) chair Deb Oskin, director of the Office of Ministry Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, and Dan Rudy–bring items of business to the Conference. Photo by Glenn Riegel

The PCBAC recently conducted a review of compensation practices and realized that a fairer and easier framework was needed for calculating pastors’ pay and benefits. They reported that 77 percent of Church of the Brethren pastors are serving in less than full time or less than fully compensated positions, so–in addition to revising the Annual Conference documents that guide pastors’ salaries and benefits–working with Eder Financial (formerly Brethren Benefit Trust) they have developed a compensation calculator as an online tool for both congregational leaders and pastors.

A new section of the Integrated Annual Ministry Agreement is the Annual Shared Ministry Priorities Agreement, which is intended to help pastor and congregation decide, literally, the ministry priorities of the congregation, and who will be responsible for each–pastor or specific members or groups within the congregation. It will be helpful to pastors to know where the pastor should concentrate their work time, particularly if it is limited to fewer hours.

The new framework also includes specific information for filling out the W-2 tax form for pastors.

More guidance also is given for calculating parsonage adjustments and fair rental values, and the documents encourage use of other benefits such as short- and long-term disability insurances and special circumstances days.

The PCBAC also reviewed and revised the Minimum Cash Salary Table for Pastors, which has been used for years. The table suggests the appropriate full time salary with increases for each year of ministry service. It has separate columns depending on the educational level the pastor has attained, with pastors holding master of divinity degrees in the column receiving the highest salary.

The revision takes into account the finding that the biggest difference in ministry skills through holding a higher degree comes early on in a pastor’s career. By the time a pastor has been in the ministry for 20 or 30 years, their experience and accumulated wisdom may balance that out. The new salary scale reflects that, making the salaries of experienced pastors with less formal training to be closer to those with higher degrees.

Time was given on the Conference floor and in a hearing to ask questions and to receive further explanations from the PCBAC. Some who brought questions were concerned about whether the process would apply to small churches. The committee explained that the calculator will make the process easier for small churches. All budgets are accommodated as the calculator starts with the budget of the individual congregation, and adjusts the number of average weekly pastoral hours they will receive from their pastor to match the pay they are able to provide.

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