How much money are you worth?

3632978071_ee08ebbbc0_o$250,000.  This is how much money I think that I am worth.  The problem I am having is finding someone who agrees.  Although this may be my worth, my value as a youth worker is significantly lower.  And here is where the rub occurs.  You see, we all have a strong sense of worth, but it is determining our value that is the true challenge.

The difference between worth and value can be clarified by a simple craig’s list transaction.  A couple of years ago I wanted to get an iphone.  I mean I couldn’t see straight, I wanted an iphone so bad.  The deal was I had to pay cash for the phone and for whatever cost it would be to switch services.  Easy enough.  I grabbed my digital camera and started posting on craig’s list.

I quickly realized that items that were worth a certain amount to me, had a significantly lower street value.  And at every sale, I had to decide what the items true value was.  Sometimes I did ok, and sometimes I got taken pretty hard, but after a couple of weeks, my garage was clean and I was making calls on my new iphone.

What does this have to do with you or with me?  It has to do with wrestling with our value as youth workers.  How much money are we worth as youth workers?  We feel called to student ministry and we feel called to work at a particular church.   Then we are offered a salary package and with out even realizing it, we are confronted with the difference between our worth and our value.

No one tells us youth workers who simply want to serve God and love students that there is an actual science to salary negotiations.  So after some painful negotiations of my own and a couple awful ones for some of my friends, here are a couple of pointers that may be helpful for you next time you are sitting around the salary negotiations table:

  • It is business: You so want this to be a spiritual decision, and it is.  But when it comes time to negotiate your salary, you have to put your game face on.  The church is an amazing institution on many levels, but salary negotiations is not one of them. No one is out to get you or to hose you, but if you are not careful, that is exactly what will happen.  You can not afford to be naive.  If you don’t do your homework or fight for what you think you are worth, or over spiritualize your situation, you will be setting yourself up for future bitterness and frustration.

  • Get in the right ball park: What is the right amount to get paid?  Every church has different expectations and pressures on their budget.  But if you want to be a full time, vocational youth worker, then you need to make sure that you are starting in the right financial ball park.  The place to go to figure that out is your local school.  The salary schedule for teachers is a great place to start for us youth workers.  It is a fair salary, it takes into consideration experience and education, and there are good benefits.  This is only the ball park.  There are many other variables that can increase or decrease your value, but this is a great place to start.
  • Understand their perspective: A church board as a million variables to consider when drafting a budget.  Most churches are stretching pretty hard just to hire you.  Often they are stepping out on faith just to hire you.  They might not say it out loud, but they are hoping and praying that your hire will pay off by many new families coming to the church and each family will give millions of dollars in tithes because of your amazing ministry.  But until that happens, they are simply trying to get the most bang for their buck.  This means that their nature is to bid low.  Which means, that you should bid high, and hopefully you will meet somewhere in the middle.
  • Your lifestyle choices are your lifestyle choices: Many youth workers I know come in too high in negotiations because they don’t want their spouse to work or because they are trying to homeschool their 6 kids.  It is not the church’s responsibility to pay for your family’s lifestyle choices.  If you want a large house to accommodate your exceptionally large family, then you will have to wrestle with what values to keep, and what values to tweak.   Your values are your values.  The church’s responsibility is to pay a fair wage for your services, not for your life choices.
  • Ways to sweeten your deal: Like I mentioned before.  Churches are trying to get the most bang for the buck, and most of them are already stretching their budgets just to hire you.  Sometime if the salary is too low, there are other things you can do to negotiate a sweeter deal:
    • Make sure you have a decent youth budget: Some of your hidden salary gets to be realized in meals with students.  You want to take students out for meals and have them over for dinner because you love them.  And the church reimbursing that is a way they can love you. Win!
    • Substitute teach: You might have to negotiate this into your schedule, but substitute teaching or coaching is a great win for everyone.  You get some extra cash by being on campus and loving students.  Win, win!  (Make sure your supervisor is on board first)
    • Money for school: Many times it is easier for churches to help pay for continuing education then it is to bump a salary.  Part of your negotiations should always be time and money for continuing education.  It is a win for everyone for you to continue to learn and grow as a youth worker and as a ministry professional.  Did I mention this is a win?
  • Make a plan to renegotiate: Hiring a new youth worker is a gamble for everyone.  If you are confident that your value will go up after you have been around a while, then in your negotiations make it clear that you want to renegotiate your salary after a year, or at most two years.  Because . . .
  • The salary you start with will be your salary FOREVER!! The awful truth is that it is extremely rare for youth workers’ salaries to go up after you are hired.  If you are lucky you will get the occasional cost of living increase, but that is about it.  Churches are almost always in some sort of budget crunch.  The desire of everyone is that you would get regular pay increases and bonuses and raises.  But the facts on the ground are often different.  So don’t live in a fantasy land when you negotiate.  You need to make sure you can live on what they are paying for the long haul.  If you think that this just the beginning of yearly increases, you will only get pain and heartbreak.

It is so exciting to be pursued by a church.  It is so meaningful to have a church affirm your gifts and your calling.  And it is the ultimate blessing to be invited in by a church to love on their kids.  This process of call is a spiritual exercise of extreme importance.  The salary negotiation is also a spiritual exercise and requires wisdom, discernment, and a cool head.  A misstep here often causes bitterness and hardship and almost always a premature departure from the church.

You are worth way more than $250,000.  But the trick is balancing worth and value.  As you sort out your value, may you have good counsel around you so that your value is neither deflated or inflated.  And through your community, may you discern your true value.  When you do, both the church and your family will be blessed for the long haul of student ministry!