Play, School, Work, Retire, Die. This it seems is the circle of life for many. On a poll at Care2 the question was asked, “Do you find your work satisfying?” Out of 1481 respondents, 43% answered “no”. Our work consumes a vast amount of our time. If you were to start working full time (40 hours a week) at 21 and worked until you were 65, you would spend 44,000 hours at work. At some point in life most people ask the question, “Isn’t there something more meaningful I could be doing with my time?” For those who are Christians they often consider moving into lower paying service or ministry-oriented jobs. These jobs typically are working with churches or other non-profit organizations. Those who consider taking a service-oriented job often face pay cuts. So, should you consider taking a pay cut to take a ministry related position?
Seven things to consider when thinking about a pay cut for a ministry position:
- Accept that you will likely be getting paid less than those doing the same work in similar corporate positions. In our culture, we have been taught to associate value and salary. This is no more evident than in the world of professional athletics. Players with high salaries will leave a job because they are ‘not being appreciated’. These comments often come at the time of salary negotiations. We think if I am a valuable part of this organization I should get paid more. Openly recognize that many non-profits cannot communicate your worth by salary. The organization might be very thankful and indebted to you for your work. Still, they may be unable to financially remunerate you in kind. The chart below helps to highlight some of the salary disparity. This link will show you the median salary by job in the United States. By comparison, this link will show you the median salary in the pastor / ministry category.
Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil. (Proverbs 15:16 NIV)
- Clarify your calling. The term ‘calling’ can be a sticky word in Christian circles. Nevertheless, in any form of service oriented work you encounter difficulties. You may, for example, decide to work at a children’s home. Within months you realize it is not all that you expected. There are politics to deal with and uncontrollable children. In addition, you might look around and see what others are doing and feel that they have an easier life with more rewards. You need to be sure that you are doing what you are doing because it is God’s will for you. You will find it difficult to continue in your position if you are continually having feelings of doubt, animosity, or covetousness.
Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ (Acts 22:21 NIV)
- Trust, but don’t test. There is a fine line here. Certain ministry positions require that you trust God to provide your needs. At times some go beyond the boundaries of trust and venture into the realm of testing God. For example, a missionary family might move overseas with85% of their necessary support. They go trusting that God will provide the rest. Another family might only have 45 % of the support necessary and they go overseas. This, I believe, is closely approaching the point of testing God. If God will provide the necessary funds, could he not do it as easily when you are home as when you are overseas? Testing involves seeking to manipulate instead of seeking to submit.
Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ (Matthew 4:7 NIV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs3:5-6 NIV)
- Be sure you can provide for your family so you do not burden the church. When considering a salary decrease, Christians should know if they can or cannot provide for the needs of their family. Sure, your family might need to give up on some luxuries, but do not sacrifice necessities. If God wants you in a position he will provide for the needs of your family. Unfortunately, people put themselves into positions that require them to depend on the church in a manipulative way. Take the example of a person who leaves their full time job to volunteer at a non-profit organization. From the beginning they know they would be unable to pay bills. Now they force their position of need upon the church. If God wants you in a position he will provide your minimal needs. If your minimal needs are not provided for, you have probably forced your desires on God and even on the goodwill of the church.
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8 NIV)
And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. (2 Corinthians 11:9 NIV)
- Make the necessary changes today to see if you can function. Unfortunately, at times we have unreal expectations of how we are able to live and function. If a couple is living beyond their means and suddenly feels called to a ministry oriented position, they should first try and live on the salary they would receive in the potential position. Are you willing to make those sacrifices? Have you developed the ability to say ‘no’ to your desires? Can you master frugal living?
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? (Luke16:10-11 NIV)
- Strive to become debt free. Related to number five, what you will be able to afford to live on will greatly be determined by your debt to income ratio. If you have a lot of debt you likely will not be able to afford some of the smaller salaries non-profits tend to offer. It would be presumptuous upon God (testing) to say I got all this debt by buying whatever I wanted. Now I am going to take a lower paying job and trust God to clean up my mess. Typically, those who thrive in ministry related positions are debt free so the income they do receive can go further.
She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.” (2 Kings 4:5-7 NIV)
- A supplementary income is not a sign of a lack of faith. Not all ministry organizations can afford to pay what you might consider necessary for living. Some ministry positions will require you to work a part-time or even full-time job to supplement their income. Paul himself worked making tents (Acts18:3) because he did not want to burden the Christians ( 1Thessalonians 2:8-9).
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NIV)
Working for a purpose is a powerful thing. Being involved in a ministry you care about is extremely fulfilling and beneficial to God’s kingdom. However, in the pursuit of following God, do not intentionally or unintentionally manipulate God or the church by testing their ability to provide. Be a man or woman of both faith and wisdom.
Are you in a ministry related position? What do you think are some additional things to consider before taking a pay cut? What suggestions do you have for having financial peace in such a position?