So, you want a raise. Who doesn't. Getting a raise as a vocational youth worker is one of the most difficult, and therefore rarest item to ever make a church budget. Just like the quest for El Dorado, this journey often leads to a disappointing conclusion. Before you sacrifice your family finances and your soft heart for the church by being a good soldier, working for Jesus and not money, consider the perilous world of church finances.
By better understanding what you were hired into, it will in turn help you make the appropriate and healthy choices at your current church, and when negotiating compensation packages at future churches. So, if you think it is about time you deserve a raise and are not sure where to go next, consider looking at your position from the outside perspective. This perspective should inform the some of the decisions that you will need to make as your student ministry career progresses. And finally this reality should allow us to guard our heart toward our current church and its leadership. With that being said, lets jump right into it:
YOUR POSITION THROUGH THE EYES OF YOUR BOARD:
You were hired to fill a position, not as an investment in your life long personal development. This sounds harsh to you as the employee, but unfortunately, you must understand that is exactly what you are. You were hired on a certain salary scale for a particular position. This has no value judgements, just a helpful understanding. The salary you were offered was the point on the salary scale which is the lowest point you would be willing to go (often way too low, because of some spiritual head trip). In most churches, salary negotiations are simply getting the most bang for their buck. Churches want to hire someone for the lowest cost possible. This isn't jerky or slimy, it is simply how salary negotiations work, which means when we negotiate, we have to negotiate, and not let the "call" trump all other data as we use our discernment.
The church has no extra money. Most churches spend exactly what they take in. Most churches don't have an intentional financial plan. And the churches that do, rarely have giving the youth pastor a raise as anywhere in the top 10 list of financial priorities. The lead pastor needs a raise, the other associate pastor does too, the floors need to be cleaned, there has to be paint, carpet, a new copier, and then consider the ministry programs' budget. All of these need money before you do.
If you do propose a raise and actually get one, it will take at least 18 months from start to finish. Church budgets are tricky and take a long time. The current budget was decided 6 months before the budget gets implemented. A new item needs to be considered a year before that. Usually the youth pastor wont even consider suggesting / fighting for a raise until they are in immediate financial need. Combine the immediate need with the 18 month lead time and you can see how this quest rarely turns out well.
HOW THIS INFORMS YOUR FUTURE DECISIONS REGARDING YOUR CARRER:
I get that you are called by Jesus to love kids and help them come to love Jesus. I get that this isn't a career, but a high calling. And while this is true, it doesn't have to be mutually exclusive to taking the negotiating process and your family's financial situation seriously.
Your calling is most likely not to a specific church for the rest of your life. Your calling is as a student ministry pastor. So the team you play for isn't what determines your call. And if the church you are working at isn't paying you well, there is nothing wrong with shopping around and looking for a context that will.
THIS IS NOT A SPIRITUAL ISSUE, IT IS JUST HOW IT IS
From the church's perspective you are a commodity. There was a youth pastor there before you and there will be one after you. You are faithfully running your leg of the baton relay. It is not all about you, in fact because it isn't about you at all, then you are now free to make choices for your family and career as you move forward that will allow you to live into the full calling that Jesus has put on your life.
For as glorious and mysterious as the church is, when it comes to budgets, it is a simple non profit organization forever in budgetary crisis. The financial situation that you agreed to when you were hired will most likely be the financial situation you will have until you move on. The church is not evil or jacking you. They are doing the best with what they have and hoping you will stick around for a while. The freedom comes when you understand that you are simply a section runner in the big relay race of student ministry in this church. Don't make it more or less then what it is.
IF YOU STILL WANT TO FIGHT FOR A RAISE, THEN:
1) Run your area of ministry with excellence. 2) Be a value add: do or offer to do more than your job description in exchange for higher salary. 3) Plan ahead: from time of consideration to implementation is 18 months. 4) Do right by your family: Don't let your family finances ruin your spouse's or your heart for the church. If you are financially going down, then ask for the raise you think you deserve, and look for a job that will pay you what you think you are worth.
Good luck fellow travelers on the road to El Dorado!