You need to make more money as a youth worker

hurt_pigIt’s starting to irritate me how often I meet full-time youth workers who are paid what most of our country would consider a part-time salary. After meeting one such youth worker a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but post this on the Life In Student Ministry Facebook page:

“To any church elders out there, would you want your son-in-law to take a job that pays what you pay your youth pastor? Hopefully the answer is yes.”

There’s two problems to this issue:

1. Out of all people, church leaders who make hiring and budgeting decisions should know what the cost-of-living is in that area and compensate their youth workers accordingly. Why would a church even hire someone for an amount they know the youth worker can’t support their family on? Shouldn’t the question be, “How much can we bless someone who’s coming here to bless us and our families?” instead of, “Can we budget for a youth worker and not have it affect the rest of our budget too much?” (I know no church really asks that question out loud, but it feels that way sometimes to some youth workers.)

2. However, there’s an equal amount of responsibility that falls on the youth worker who accepts a full-time job for $30,000/year and then struggles month-to-month because of it. If you’re married and have kids, why would you accept a job that won’t support your family? Even if it’s the perfect church with the perfect job opportunity, what about saving for your kids’ education, your retirement, and regularly paying the babysitter for date nights out with your spouse? It’s not the perfect job if it’s not what’s best for your family.

Before you take a position, there’s always a lot of negotiating room. If the church has decided that they want you, you can usually negotiate your salary package. It’s not about being greedy — it’s about being responsible for your family and your future. Once you accept the position, a lot of that negotiating ability goes away, so take advantage of it while you can.

Even if you can’t negotiate salary because the church’s budget is very firm with legitimately no wiggle room, you can negotiate other things, like time off each week to pick up another job or to start your own business. Maybe negotiate six weeks of vacation instead of two so you can use the time for your family. Or something else. Be creative.

The point is this:

1. Churches, bless your youth workers financially.

2. Youth workers, put your family’s needs first.

Posted on January 7, 2013

  • Great stuff Tim!

  • YW & Tough Decision

    Sometimes, youth worker’s have to take a very low salary because they are trying TO put their family first. The 30K is not close to where it needs to be but it is closer than the 15k working ft at department store.

    • Right, and I would say that neither salaries allow you to put your family first. I don’t see one as better than the other unless, of course, you can fully and completely do everything you need to do for your family on $30,000/year.

  • Great post, Tim. Our first priority after God is caring for our family. It reminds me of Mark Driscoll’s description of AW Tozer’s lack of care for his family in Real Marriage; Tozer refused salaries and gave away honorariums to the point that his family was neglected. It’s one thing to ask God to provide and to sacrifice some conveniences to follow his call; it’s another thing for us to do something that will neglect our family, including taking a position that does not care for their basic needs.

  • Brandon Jacobs

    Great article,Tim! ;) Definitely something more elders and lead pastors need to hear.

    In my experience however, I think that youth workers have very little leverage in salary negotiations. Every position you apply for you’re competing with 100-150 other applicants, and most churches choose their top 2 or 3. So even though they might like you, if they can’t get you for their price then they’ll just go with their number 2 or 3.

    And I think the solution most youth workers choose since they can’t negotiate salary, is to bite the bullet for a few years and do what they feel called to do, then become a leader pastor.

    The only alternative is to get out of ministry. But then you’re starting over in a new field working from the ground up, and still making the same salary (or even a smaller one).

    This is the unfortunate reality out there for youth workers. We can’t do much to change it other than raise awareness to the elders and lead pastors. And even then, since a change here would directly benefit us, our position on the topic is easily undermined in their eyes. It’s a catch 22 I suppose.

    But I do know this. If I were to ever get out of ministry, then my main ministry would be to ministers. To be their advocate and encourager, and to say the things they can’t say (like this).

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brandon! I hear what you’re saying, but it sounds like a victim mentality to me. I disagree about there being little negotiating power. If that’s true for someone, then the church really doesn’t want them that much and they are unfortunately pretty dispensable if the next guy in line will do just as well for them for less money. I don’t think I’d take a job at a church where that would be the response to negotiation for the sake of my family.

      And I think we’d agree that no believer steps out of ministry. ;) I know what you’re saying, but just thought I’d clarify.

      As far as other skills are concerned, I’ve found that the leadership skills I learned inside the church translate to pretty much any other leadership/management position. There may be a thing here or there you need to learn about an industry, but it’s usually stuff a few books should be able to bring you up to speed on.

  • Thanks for the thoughts! I’ll be in a unique situation in regards to this topic as I’m going to “3 quarter” time in the Summer then Full-time this Fall. I’ll be curious to see how those conversations during the transition points will go. One thing that is very important to me is that my wife will work when she wants to and not because she feels obligated to in order to provide family needs. P.s. – I remember Dave Ramsey going to bat for pastors/church leaders in his Financial Peace course, saying they should not be slighted in this area, love that guy!

  • Guest

    This is a tough one for me, Tim.

    If someone has three kids and 40K in debt, but feels called to youth ministry, it is not the church’s

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