Youth Ministry Salaries

Compensation
Salary.
Benefits?
What is “full-time?”
What are others paid for church work; lay or ordained?

These are key questions that bubble up perennially, and especially when budgets are being structured and mutual ministry reviews and performance evaluations are being set up, and positions are being newly created or vacancies need to be filled.  I offer the following ideas in the hopes they might be helpful to you.

I encourage you to interact with our own Episcopal Office for Transition Ministry (formerly Church Deployment Office/CDO). My colleague who serves as the Officer for this area, Tori Duncan, has assured me that lay professionals are under-represented. We all need to sign-in and create/update profiles. We also need to encourage our congregations and dioceses to use this office to post openings and search for potential ministry matches. A lot is happening in the way of updates and upgrades in this office. Please check out the site by clicking here and contact Tori (vduncan@episcopalchurch.org) if you have questions or need help. Soon I will be sharing a post from Tori with more information and details, so stay tuned!

Congregations should be in touch with their own bishop’s office to make sure they are in compliance with applicable federal and state employment law as well as working within the guidelines required by Church Pension Group and Safeguarding God’s People policies.

The Forma network (www.episcoforma.org )is also doing some great work in collecting information and advising and consulting organizations and individuals about employment within the church. I strongly encourage membership/partnership with Forma for all church professionals working in the field of Christian Formation and Education.

Finally I offer a few thoughts of my own from the perspective of 20 years in the youth ministry trenches as a part-timer in a small congregation, to working in more than one parish at a time, to serving as a diocesan staff member. These are my own observations and opinions and do not represent any official pronouncement of any kind. I offer them faithfully, thoughtfully, compassionately, and with hope.

Lay Ministry as a church professional is every bit as much a call to ministry as that of an ordained person. Often the two are in concert. Often they are not. Employers should seek information on comparable secular compensation in geographic regions and level of education. One could argue that a seminary education can be assumed for clergy employees, however more and more priests are being formed in contexts other than traditional seminary settings; some are non-stipendiary and unable to mobilize to another congregation, some have been called to other congregations and receive compensation. These are reasonable factors to consider when discerning salaries and compensation packages.

For youth ministry specifically we are often inadvertently and ignorantly under-compensated for a number of reasons.

Much of our ministry is unseen like communication w/ parents, youth and volunteers
The visible ministry looks more like fun than work from the outside – Happening, Mission Trips, Movie Nights, Fund-raising. (Whee!) People question the seriousness of our work and often treat it as proving grounds for ordained ministry rather than a call to lifelong lay ministry.

I’m sure you could name more. All of these dynamics set youth ministers up to be paid for far fewer hours than they actually work, and for not being honored with Sabbath Time for rest and renewal and reconnection with family and friends, or Continuing Education time for professional development and connecting with colleagues.

When negotiating my own contracts I have insisted on a few simple guidelines for myself and my employer:

I should be paid more than the average middle or high school teacher in my community – their salary is based on nine months of work, mine is based on 12. Please take into account education and years of experience. I am entitled to pension and health benefits.
Overnights do count as hours worked within a week – it is not only time that I am away from my family, it is also time when I am responsible for other people’s’ children, their health and well-being, TWENTY-FOUR hours a day from our event beginning to end. I usually take those extra hours as Sabbath time rather than overtime pay, especially if I’m not eligible for additional compensation due to exempt employee status.

I request two weeks of paid time off for continuing education; those opportunities should be paid by my employer to attend conferences, meetings, or participate in on-line or in-person institutional learning. A practice that I learned early on is to seek one continuing ed opportunity that appeals to my personal sense of ministry, and a second experience that my congregations agrees I need to work on to benefit the ministry in the faith community I serve.

Negotiate a sabbatical – look to the clergy guidelines in your diocese and request paid time away for sabbatical after a certain number of years served full-time on a staff. This can be a sticky wicket, but it is the standard for clergy and should be a standard for lay professionals engaged in positions that include responsibilities for education, formation, and pastoral care. I have never made this a deal-breaker for employment. I was never granted a sabbatical in 14 years of ministry in one congregation, however none of that position was ever full-time. In my diocesan position I was all prepped to go on sabbatical when I was called into this opportunity instead. So I am still praying and looking forward to a sabbatical some day and pray that you are granted one sooner!

I hope this is helpful information. Most of all, THANK YOU for engaging in this vital ministry. The church is blessed by your gifts and renewed with your passion for evangelizing our young people.

(Article updated from a 2009 post to an earlier version of this blog.)

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