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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Am I the Biggest Sucker in the World?

Tootsiepop I get many emails each week from people with questions about church staff and personnel issues.  Here is one that has to do with pay... an believe it or not, it is not an uncommon scenario.  Read this short note, and take a few minutes to give your feedback below:

Dear Todd,

I am at a church that we love. I am non-paid staff. We have been here for 5 yrs, with the elusive promise of pay. I am ready to graduate in 6 mths with a concentration in my ministry. I have worked for free, and accumulated $$$ in tuition debt. The church has not paid for any of my schooling. I have been receiving offers, but my church has asked me not to take them, that the time will come when they will "fairly" compensate me.

Am I the sucker of all time??? Am I being taken advantage of?

Well... what do you think?  I told this person that I'd post his/her email on the blog and see what kind of comments we get.  What do you think... are they a sucker or should they stick in there and see what happens?  Has a similar situation ever happened to you?  How did you handle it?  Take a few moments and add to the response!

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June 1, 2006 in Personnel Issues | Permalink

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I'd say, yes, he's a sucker. It'd be one thing if it had been five months. Five years is another story. If the church he's at really appreciated his ministry, they'd support him. It's time to move on to a church that does.

Posted by: Tim | Aug 9, 2005 11:10:11 AM

After 23 years of ministry in small churches and mission churches, I have found that if the church is not giving you anything, they most likely won't. Even $50 a week is not asking too much in most situations. Even our Father gave us an "earnest" of the coming inheritance. Why buy the cow when the milk is free? Also, I have found that when you willingly and freely give yourself away that the people lose respect for you. Don't be surprised that when and if you stay, that they happen to find someone else for the position. Then, if they find someone who won't minister for "a coke and a smile", they will respect him more. Salvation is freely given by Christ, but ministry costs. In reality, you are robbing the church of blessing by not asking for something in return.

Posted by: Thomas E. Jones | Aug 9, 2005 11:38:18 AM

It seems unfair, and borderline abusive for your church to ask you to not look at other offers, while dangling future compensation like a carrot in front of your nose. You want to serve at a church that is truly for you, and as hard as it is to think about, a church that won't provide for your needs does not have your best interest at heart. Find someplace that will allow you to serve similarly, but who will truly support your ministry and you as a person.

I know you don't want to be "in it for the money," and you shouldn't be. But you also have a responsibility to be a good steward and possibly a responsibility to provide for your family - at least by keeping the debts from accumulating. If your church doesn't recognize that or support that, it's time to begin considering churches that will.

Posted by: Chris | Aug 9, 2005 12:00:40 PM

"In reality, you are robbing the church of blessing by not asking for something in return."

I couldn't agree more with that. There is a time and a place for long-term volunteer ministry... even full-time volunteer ministry. None of our churches would be anywhere without volunteers. This individual is way past that. He needs to be compensated so that he can afford to live and pay his now-stubstantial school bills.

here's an idea. Don't quit your position. Instead, start earnestly looking for a paying job. When an offer comes in that you REALLY intend to accept (i.e. you can work with them, they can work with you, your ministry philosophies line up, it's a place you'd like to move to), present it to your church. Give them a chance to meet it... but in that case they need to do that immediately. Otherwise, take the offer. It's a no risk plan.

But remember, you've been faithful in a few things... You will be given charge over MANY things. And the workman deserves his wages.

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Aug 9, 2005 12:04:35 PM

Pick it on up and move it on down the road!

Posted by: Rev. Dirk | Aug 9, 2005 12:09:42 PM

I hate to compare the church to a business, but try to treat a doctor or other professional like that. God instructs that those that labor in the Word deserve our support and to refuse to obey is, well, ungodly. If you don't explore an opportunity that can meet your families needs and use your talents and turn it down for the supposed promises of man, then you deserve whatever you get. Set a date and give them the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, then if it is still just an empty promise, move on. I just have one last question, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop??

Posted by: RLH | Aug 9, 2005 12:11:45 PM

Sorry to say, but I agree with the others. Churches, unfortunately, seem to be very good at taking advantage of folks, especially staff. Having learned the very hard way, you would be well advised to seek out a church that will fairly compensate you for your giftings and calling. A "pie-in-the-sky" promise is no promise at all.

Posted by: David | Aug 9, 2005 12:12:03 PM

Not only should you consider the offers but know that what you receive in compensation when you begin may not change before you leave for another field of service. Fortunately, some churches do consider your needs on a yearly basis but smaller churches are often unable to keep promises of future salary increases...and some just will not. A servant's heart is not a "sucker", he just believes the best and seeks to fulfill his Kingdom Call...(and that's from experience.)

Posted by: JImmy Rogers | Aug 9, 2005 12:12:04 PM

Deuteronomy 25:4 says “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." If God's word holds such regard for an ox, how much more should the writer be paid a fair wage? The workers of Israel's temples (the levites) were given an allotment to take care of their needs as well. What really stinks in this matter is that the congregation he currently serves has so little regard for one of their own!

Personally, I believe that the writer needs to move on and accept the offers where adequate compensation is available.

Posted by: Casey Hooper | Aug 9, 2005 12:12:08 PM

Oh Boy - Yes, you are a sucker with a capital suck. Not only do you deserve to be compensated for your work, (including benefits) but the church is being downright dishonest. Getting something for nothing is stealing! Take the offers and RUN.

Posted by: david | Aug 9, 2005 12:12:49 PM

I believe it all depends upon where your calling is and what you are doing in the current to support yourself.

Posted by: Bobby | Aug 9, 2005 12:14:24 PM

I think you are very frustrated and disappointed. Move on.

Posted by: Stephen Ventura | Aug 9, 2005 12:15:20 PM

I am reminded of a verse that says my god shall supply all your needs acoording to HIS riches in glory. Although it appears this person is a sucker, I would like to think that if he is following God's leading in his life, he is right where he needs to be. I will also say that after he graduates it seems he will be a pretty loyal employee that is seeking the will of God and not concerned about the almighty dollar. If this church has promised to fairly compensate you, then you can only take them at their word. If they do not compensate you, then I would say there is another church out there that will realize your TRUE worth and compensate you accordingly. I would encourage you to be obedient to God's calling on your life and to finish the "job" your at with integrity. Remember, God is your provider, not the church. Jeremiah 29:11

Posted by: Tim Fus | Aug 9, 2005 12:16:13 PM

After four churches and some hard learned lessons it has been my experience that after five years, if the church has not made any attempts at trying to give you something for your labors they are not serious about doing so in the near future. You have a responsibity before God to be good steward. Your debt must be paid off and that means finding a paying position

Posted by: Louis Showers | Aug 9, 2005 12:16:21 PM

God needs to be in charge of deciding where He wants you to bloom, not any church, especialy one that is not following God's Word and supporting their ministers!

Posted by: Cindy | Aug 9, 2005 12:19:54 PM

I would say that you are a sucker. You are just new to ministry and church staff (stuff, politics, abuse, etc). You are not actually on 'staff' until you are paid. Until then you are a volunteer layperson. Which by the way has more freedom of ministry than a staff member. Remeber, all staff members are in some way, great or small, in fear of the lay member(s) to whom they answer.
Also, think about this if you are working for free and they don't feel obligated to even 'tip' you each month, then what are they going to use for criteria for offering you a 'fair wage?'
Remember, scripture says that a workman is worthy of his hire. Has the church deemed you a worthy workman so far? What would it take to be thought as such?
Usaully a church loves free work. You've been giving it. Why buy the cow when the milk is free. I know, this usually refers to something else, but this does apply to this situation too.
They either need to make a counter offer or throw you a good-bye party. Believe me on this. Future churches will not look at your free ministry time as equal to paid staff time. In other words, your ministry experience will be less qualify as time goes by.
After 20 yrs of youth ministry I can promise you that if you love working for free then you'll love working for a salary too. Best to ya.

Posted by: Greg Johnson | Aug 9, 2005 12:21:50 PM

I would verify what the Senior Minister's expected timeline is for compensating you. If his/her timeline does not jell with your own financial timeline and needs, I would graciously and lovingly bail.

Posted by: Robert | Aug 9, 2005 12:23:22 PM

I couldn't agree more with the above comments.

I was in a similar situation with technical ministries in a church, constantly being told "we don't have room in the budget right now, but as soon as we do, we'll start compensating you for all the hard work you do" Problem was, as soon as there was money, there were "other priorities"

When I finally did leave, I don't think there was anyone more surprised that I was actually leaving that the person who had been feeding me that line. Sadly, while I don't know how I was viewed, relative to Thomas' comment, I know that *I* lost any respect I had for the individual who kept telling me those things.

My advice, if you truly care about your church (and it sounds like you do, or you wouldn't have put up with this for 5 years :) ) would be to approach the leadership and say something along the lines of "I know that you don't want me entertaining these other offers, but I am in the position where I need to be fairly compensated now (or at least have something in writing for compensation at a specific future date rather than "someday") or I will have to look at these other offers, for my own/my families financial and spiritual health"

Especially if these other offers are unsolicited, maybe God is trying to tell you something?


Posted by: Mike Porter | Aug 9, 2005 12:23:54 PM

I have had this conversation with a lot of my friends who have traveling ministries, many of them struggle with asking for a nominal amount, yet get disappointed when they travel hundreds of miles and receive 50 dollars. The point comes down to you must do what God has called you to do, and most importantly as much as possible. Not to be tough on churches, but I have been promised so much, full time, a raise from part time, it comes to a point working part time or volunteer when you have to realize the church is a voluntary organization and they have to take a leap of faith to hire you, but the principal of "Why pay for the cow, when you can get the milk for free . . ." does exist. You may get an offer from another church and they might try to counter. I would tell them you are looking and want to know if you should consider them as an option? Will pray for you as I know it is a tough one!

Posted by: Chad Miller | Aug 9, 2005 12:25:15 PM

I served with a church for 4 years unpaid (while studying at Bible seminary) - but I took this on knowning I would be unpaid. But, when I left this church after my studies were completed they gave me a small gift. I was a bit disappointed after all I have given, but then I realized how much I'd gained in exerience also - and it was all worthwhile. But, your situation is a little different and I think your time has come to move on and thank God for this experience and all you've learned. They have not honoured their promise and so you should feel no guilt about moving on.

Posted by: George | Aug 9, 2005 12:25:21 PM

You don't mention if you have a family. If you do, you have a responsibility to provide for them, even if it means being bi-vocational (as I am!). And they have the responsibility of paying you as much as they can afford (within reason, of course).

Are you a sucker? I don't think so - you are ministering out of love for God and for them. However, they are abusing that love.

I think it's time to say, "Pay up or shut up." And then if they don't pay you WELL, then I would think it's time to move on.

Five years is way to long to hang on to such a promise.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 9, 2005 12:26:12 PM

Dear person,
You are not the biggest sucker in the world. However, your church is dealing with you in an abusive way. (I know it sounds extreme to use the word 'abusive' but what else does one call work that goes unpaid, in a situation where the worker is encouraged to invest with the promise of pay, but payment never comes...?) It happened to me -- the same way, while I was in school, in a church I loved. Promises never led to support and sustenance.

I am now a missionary and have to raise my own salary -- but at least that's part of the up-front agreement, and I do receive an adequate, if not ample, paycheck. Missionary life must be a choice, not an imposition.

It seems to me that the scripture addresses this when Paul writes to the Corinthians. Paul happened to have other means of support from churches that were more generous, but he still rebuked the Corinthians:
"Don't we have the right to food and drink?...Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?...'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain' [because it should be allowed to eat while working]...Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple...?...In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel." (1 Cor. 9)

I believe you need to reevaluate your ministry situation and ask for a change. The church needs to take responsibility for its decisions: Of course, it might be painful -- but on the other hand, it's not helping the church to get away with taking advantage of you, either.

It's in the church's best interest to be disciplined about this and to pay you. How will it help your ministry with them to have you remain in debt and unable to live? Malachi and Nehemiah, among others, encountered problems when the priests went out moonlighting and buying land and quit paying attention to proper sacrifices and good pastoral leadership.

Your church needs to get with it and provide appropriately. I sure hope they move wisely. If not, I hope you move...wisely.

Posted by: Alison | Aug 9, 2005 12:26:52 PM

Sounds like you have been taken advantage of, but you stuck it out and labored with love. They did not care to assit you. You haven't been a "sucker" yet, but you may become one if you stay. May God open doors for you and bless you beyond measure!

Posted by: Doug Wedan | Aug 9, 2005 12:27:31 PM

You didn't make any mention of your calling. Do you feel that you are being called by God to leave the church? This really isn't a matter of the church wanting you to stay. The real matter here is what the Holy Spirit is saying to your heart. If you are truly being called to another church by God, ask yourself, will you continue to stay and listen to the promises of man or will you walk in obedience to God's call on your life. Regardless, Ministry is a calling, not a job.

Posted by: Wayne | Aug 9, 2005 12:27:50 PM

Yes, you are a sucker. Sorry to say so ... you seem like a good guy. And whether or not it has been intentional, your church has taken advantage of you.

I think you need to get out of there because I just can't imagine that an irrepairable pattern of disrespect and distrust has been established. Even if the church were to start paying you a fair wage (and in this case fair = what you're worth now plus a big "thank you" premium) tomorrow, you'd be crazy if you didn't always have in the back of your mind that your church thinks nothing of acting less than honorably when it comes to your livelihood.

I know that it's easy to feel like you are focusing on the money and talk yourself into backing off. Ministry is tough and it requires support and healthy relationships. Once again, I can't imagine that this is the case for you anymore.

Posted by: Brian | Aug 9, 2005 12:27:53 PM

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