They Don’t Pay You What You Are Worth

Finally, I received the call. work-in-progress.jpg

I was in my last semester of seminary and was hoping that we would soon have the opportunity to begin a ministry with a congregation. After some anxious moments, a congregation finally called and asked me to come work as its preacher.

The voice on the other end of the line said, “Jim, we would like to invite you to come work with our congregation. We really believe that you and Charlotte are just right for us. We do have one question.” His tone was serious. I wondered what this question might be.

“Jim, how little would it take to get you here? We don’t have much money.”

Now that was awkward!

“How little would it take to get you here?”

The truth is that some of the most significant work is done by people who will never be adequately compensated financially. Some of this work is done by social workers, public school teachers, and ministers of small churches. Yet far too often, we assume that people who are highly paid are more significant than others and worthy of special attention.

Some of the most valuable work is done by people who are making a real difference in people’s lives and yet paid very little. In the last week, I have talked with the following people who are making such a difference.

*A public school teacher – We have many school teachers in my family. Charlotte has taught school for over 25 years. My mother-in-law, grandmother, and an aunt taught school. School teachers are in a position to make a lasting difference in the lives of children. So many of us can look back and remember teachers whose role were critical in our lives.

*A social worker – These people often do difficult, intense work with families in dire situations. These people are often very significant in the lives of the poor and forgotten.

*A minister of a small congregation – These ministers often find themselves overwhelmed by the needs and opportunities of pastoral ministry. After all, there is no church staff to help with members needs. Very often (though not always), those who minister to these churches are young and inexperienced. This alone makes the situation even more challenging. These ministers are sometimes forced to find a part-time job to supplement their income.

Of course there are many other occupations in which people work hard and make a real difference but are paid very little.

If you work in such settings, you may find yourself feeling wistful when you hear that your college friend has been promoted and is now making over $120,000 per year. It’s not that you wish she were not succeeding at her job; rather, it may remind you about how much you feel devalued or taken for granted in your own job. Far too often, teachers, social workers, ministers and others do not feel valued in their work.

You may find the following suggestions to be helpful:

Work like it matters. Do this whether anyone else recognizes the worth of your work. Your work has intrinsic value. When you do something that in some way reflects God’s goodness or his character, you are a part of an incredibly valuable work.

Forget the ladder. Making a difference usually has more to do with what you’ve done on the ground than your position up the ladder. The value of your work is not determined by how high up the ladder you’ve climbed. When you are tempted to think about that ladder, know that your work matters in ways that may never be recognized or appreciated. (Ministers will sometimes play one-up-manship games based on church size, salary, perceived importance, etc.)

Be intentional about investing. Invest your time, energy, and mind in what matters. Does your work promote kingdom values? Does your work bless people? Does your work help someone move toward God? God can use our work to expand the kingdom.


How do you stay motivated in your work during seasons when you feel taken for granted or devalued?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “They Don’t Pay You What You Are Worth

  1. Jim,

    I was about to leave for Argentina years ago. I was leaving my job as a bank courier, and one of my co-workers asked me about what I was going to be doing. When I told him I would be a missionary, he asked, “Is there good money in that?” Boy, did that one give me a laugh.

    I thought I didn’t care. Then about 15 years later, I was visiting my supporting church, and they invited me to go on a staff retreat. They were meeting with Dr. Charles Siburt to discuss their current ministry search. He asked how much they were looking to pay their new preacher. They named a figure roughly three times what I was being paid. His response was, “You’re in for some sticker shock.”

    Frankly, I was at a bad point in my ministry, and that episode really shook me. I had chosen to go into an area of ministry that didn’t pay well, but it hurt to be reminded just how poorly I was being paid. And how freely they could discuss paying someone so much more even though they had no more training nor more experience than I. I let those words affect me more than they should have.

    Wish I had read this article back then. Good words.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Thank you so much, Tim. I could just picture you in that staff retreat as they talked about a new preacher and how they were going to compensate him. That must have been very difficult. It would be difficult to hear that conversation and not feel devalued and “less-than.”

    I realize that ministers have to deal with this issue (as the post suggests). However it would be nice if churches would raise this issue and at least discuss what we are saying to one another by the way we compensate ministers.

  3. Thank you Jim for the encouragement. I am one of those you speak of. I am preaching at a small congregation in Kingsville Texas. I am the only full-time staff (we recently hired a college freshman to help out around the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays.) I will finish my M.S. from Lubbock this semester, (If I don’t decide to finish the M. Div. instead.) I don’t make much. My little brother who dropped out of High school and got his GED will make almost three times my salary this year. There are days when I wonder, what if… I love this church and love my shepherds. One of them approached me Sunday night and told me, “you are doing a great job. you are worth well more than we are or can pay you. Starting now. We have given you a $100 a month raise.” Our church budget just broke even last year. So this raise means more than it could ever mean in numbers. And for at least the next couple weeks, I won’t be wondering, what if…?

    • Daniel, I am happy to hear about the raise this church has given you. I am especially delighted to hear that they gave you the precious words of affirmation. I appreciate your work in Kingsville, Daniel, and also you commitment to continue to grow through your studies at LCU.

      What you are doing matters.

  4. Thank you for your words of encouragement. One thing I have tried to remember is two different Christians who were retired school teachers whose story was told at their funeral. The first person returned to the Ozark Hills of Arkansas during the 1930’s. In addition to teaching elementary level, she started teaching high school level reading, English, and math for free because such education was not available in the region. Yet this woman knew how important it was to educate those willing to learn. So after school, she taught high-school subject for free. The second person I am thinking of moved from the south in the 1950’s to teach in New Jersey. Over the years, in addition to teaching school, she has taught English as a secondary language to many Hispanic, Greek, and Italian children who have migrated to the US without knowing how to read and write in English. She did this for free, all during after school hours and sometimes on Saturdays. Both of these Christian women worked far more than what they would ever be compensated for…yet they did it as service unto the Lord.

    • Rex, these are two wonderful stories! I appreciate you sharing them in your comment.

      I hope you are doing well and that you are enjoying your new ministry. Great to hear from you!