Negotiating the Minister’s Contract–with Spirit

Published on: August 3, 2015

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A minister’s contract may be seen as a well-discerned agreement between the two bodies serving the ministry—the board of trustees (or equivalent) and the leader. Agreeing on an employment contract is both a business transaction and a practice of spiritual principles. It is based on the belief that a spiritual match has been found, and documents the mutual efforts of the board and the leader to discern and define a document that represents how both will ideally care for the other.

The Beginning–Illumination of the Facts

There are four steps in the process of discerning the contract.

1)  It is the board’s responsibility to know their financial capability. They may have a vision of future prosperity but the budget must represent current conditions. They know their current situation and have the strength to say yes and no as appropriate.

2)  It is the minister’s responsibility to know the cost of living in the locality of the ministry. This can be found by researching with the Chamber of Commerce.

3)  The minister must also create a realistic personal budget indicating his or her basic needs (not wants). This may include:

a.  Minister’s typical monthly or annual expenses of food, clothing, auto, medical, pets, utilities, rent, family, retirement, savings, etc.

b.  Minister’s debts (if applicable), including the projected payment of school and car loans, credit cards, and other regular monthly or annual payments.

4)  The minister’s review of the Annual Report with the board during the interview process should give him or her the picture of the ministry’s current receiving, giving and tithing practices. The contract will reflect the balance of the financial picture.

Underlying spiritual principle or consciousness: Luke 6:38 (NRSV) shares, “…give, and it will be given to you.”  Malachi 3:10 illustrates the Law of Tithing which is our training for sharing compassion, love and support for each other as spiritual, and human, beings.

Spiritual Intentions–Releasing the Past

The board and the minister have spiritual work to do, both separately and together, before and during the time of contract negotiations. The board is choosing a minister through whom they hope to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation. They must realize and desire to give the minister the physical means by which to do this. The minister is eagerly anticipating a ministry where she can teach, serve and demonstrate the message of Unity in a way that will uplift and empower the members of the community. Both the ministry and the minister have loving and spiritual intentions, subject to the facts of finances.

Negotiating the contract is one of the first demonstrations of these loving intentions. It is a way of honoring each other and can set the tone for the roles, processes and programs of the entire ministry. Both the board and the minister can (and should) take time apart and together to become centered and spiritually ready to go into this process with open hearts and divine wisdom. As the process unfolds, this early trust of spiritual intention can negotiate expectations with clarity and intention—free from past negative experiences of either the board or the minister.

Underlying spiritual principle or consciousness: Beginning anew; we are one in God. “…first, take the log out of your own eye.”—Matthew 7:5 (NRSV) “…what is that to you? Follow me!”—John 21:22 (NRSV)

Wisdom in the Process

At the Unity Worldwide Ministries’ website is the booklet entitled, Minister’s Employment Manual. (Found also under “Services & Support,” then “Employment Services.”) In Section VII, pages 51-60, you will find “Minister’s Contract Considerations,” including two worksheets to help the minister consider the various aspects of compensation. There are some options to consider for determining how to think about the minister’s salary agreements. This is where discernment and wisdom are necessary. This is the part of the process in which the new minister becomes a partner with the ministry–or not. Ask these questions for each item:

  • What is beneficial, fair and feasible for both the ministry and the minister?
  • If necessary, what can I forgo at this time until we build trust and additional resources?
  • If there are limited resources now, when can we review the contract for possible changes?

In the first year of the minister serving a ministry, the trust between the minister and the board is often fragile. Certain choices in the contract will help build trust. Examples of these might be:

  • During the first year, be with the spiritual community as often as possible. Take only a two-week vacation. This can be increased in time.
  • Attend regional meetings and the annual convention. Stay current. If the ministry is constrained financially, chose one for the first year, or ask for a review of the finances as the registration dates approach.
  • During the first year, the “Professional Ministerial Expenses” should be kept to a minimum. Some of them can be reimbursed subject to a cap or consider taking tax deductions instead of reimbursements.
  • When you read the “Contract Consideration” document, keep in mind that this is not the contract but rather a collection of items previous ministers have worked out with their ministries, depending on resources and need. Some of the items are inappropriate to ask for the first year. Others may never show up in your consciousness or your contract.

Underlying spiritual principle or consciousness: Understanding faith and compassion. “Always do for other people everything you want them to do for you. That is the meaning of Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets.”—Matthew 7:12 (GOD’S WORD translation)

My Personal Ideas

Sometimes I have asked for more time off in exchange for a raise, which enabled the ministry to give a larger raise to the hourly employees. In recognizing my status as a professional, the board expected me to “devote the time necessary to discharge the duties as minister…” (p 54). We realized that the board has better things to do than to micromanage my schedule. Putting this clause in the contract helped me to define the use of time as an irregular function, not a strict schedule. Such things as visiting those in the hospital or attending functions to build a greater presence in the community cannot be timed. I also planned a regular time when I would be in the office for four hours (1 p.m. to 5 p.m.). This would guarantee that anyone who needed to find me could count on my presence. There were many days when I was present for 8 or 10 hours. I also made appointments. Now with cell phones, finding someone is not usually a problem.

Trust is built with time, with challenges overcome, and with being true to your word.

Trust and divine love will happen and you will find your divine appointment with the ministry becoming a rewarding spiritual partnership.

Spiritual Communion

Whatever is determined from page to page of the contract, the most important part to remember is the spirit of kindness, respect, and faith that you give to each other as spiritual beings. Celebrate a Spiritual Communion of some sort, a ritual of breaking bread, or vegetables and dip, or cookies and milk. Come together in a sharing of purpose. Share anecdotes. Have fun. Pray. Sing. Meditate. Celebrate this coming together of people on a spiritual journey. With your heart open and your path straight, this journey will be transformational for everyone. God bless.

Underlying spiritual principle or consciousness: “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”—Luke 10:27 (GOD’S WORD translation)

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Claudell County
Ministry Studies & Skills, Unity Institute & Seminary at Unity Worldwide Ministries

Rev Claudell County – a Unity minister who served in field ministry for fourteen years. She is in her sixteenth year teaching spiritually-centered practical classes in church administration, leadership, and communications at Unity Institute.

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