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GuideStone asks churches to optimize minister compensation

DALLAS (BP)–GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins has sent a letter to the chairman of deacons in every Southern Baptist church encouraging adequate compensation for their ministerial staff.

“While most Southern Baptist organizations focus on the message of the Gospel, our focus is on the messenger of the Gospel,” Hawkins stated in a GuideStone news release, “and one of our priorities is encouraging the local church to adequately compensate their ministry staff.”

Bob Henry, head of GuideStone’s financial solutions and services-church department, noted in a separate statement that it is important for churches not only to consider how much to compensate their minister and other staff members, “but how to structure the salary package including the benefits.”

“We encourage church budget or personnel committees to consider restructuring salary packages in order to provide the pastor and church employees adequate pay while the church takes on the responsibility for funding the cost of protection and retirement benefits,” Henry continued. “To simply provide a ‘lump sum’ package of money and then require the minister to cover the cost of benefits out of that sum is a disservice to the minister and to the church, and often leaves a minister with inadequate coverage.”

Hawkins urged churches to use a three-part compensation model (personal income, employee protection benefits and ministry-related expenses) that provides a “salary and benefits” approach instead of the “lump sum” package to develop a sound financial support plan.

“We know the package approach is easy for the local church, but it is not the best solution,” Hawkins said. “The salary and benefits approach reduces confusion and in most cases will give the pastor more spendable income by reducing his tax liability.” For example, by wisely using the salary and benefits approach rather than the package approach, a church can use tax savings on a $40,000 total package to effectively increase their pastor’s cash salary by $2,100 annually, net of taxes, without even giving a monetary raise.

Don Spencer, GuideStone’s Kentucky representative for 21 years, cited in a statement several problems with the lump sum approach: “It gives the church a false impression of what the pay package really is; it places unfair expectations on the minister; the pastor will generally pay higher taxes; and it increases the risk to the minister, his family and the local church.”

“The lump sum package places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a minister. Some ministers have the training and inclination to deal with these kinds of financial issues and others do not,” Spencer said. “… [M]any church members are employed by a company that provides benefits including medical, life and retirement contributions, and the church should do no less than what is expected in the business world.”

Spencer noted that another advantage of the salary and benefits approach is that it helps the local church establish an accountable reimbursement plan to pay for ministry-related expenses such as use of a personal auto for church business, continuing education, hospitality expenses, books, periodicals, workshops and conferences.

“Seminars on planning financial support for the ministry staff remains one of my top priorities,” Spencer said. “Several years ago we surveyed Southern Baptist churches and asked how many were using the lump sum approach and it was over 50 percent, so it is an ongoing educational process with local church committees to explain the salary and benefits model and the advantages for the minister, his family and the local church.”

The third of the GuideStone model is the actual salary the minister receives. In mid-June, the new 2006 Southern Baptist Church Compensation Study, produced by Southern Baptist state conventions in cooperation with GuideStone, will be available through a link on the GuideStone website, www.GuideStone.org. (The 2004 compensation study is currently available on the website.)

The compensation study gives customized salary and benefit information for several positions within a church. “It’s an easy-to-use tool that allows the user to identify the average salary and benefits package for a specific position by church size and even within a geographic area and provides valuable insight as a church committee contemplates its options,” Henry said.

Another resource for local churches is the free Planning Financial Support workbook that leads a church committee through the three-part model and provides sample policies and forms that a church can use. The workbook can be ordered by calling 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) or viewing the workbook on GuideStone’s website. This resource also will be available on the GuideStone website as an online presentation with audio in mid-July.

“GuideStone’s staff stands ready to assist Southern Baptist churches as they seek to care for the needs of the pastor and staff,” Hawkins said, underscoring GuideStone’s “privilege to serve those who serve the Lord.”

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