It Costs More to Do The Right Thing


New Balance Shoes are more expensive than most other sneakers.  Why?  Because they are made in America.  New Balance pays their workers a living wage with benefits.

In fact New Balance is the only athletic shoe company still manufacturing shoes in the United States.  Other companies make their shoes in China, and increasingly in Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma, and other nations where workers make about $4 a day in some cases.

Of course we want good deals, but at what cost?  Would we spend a little more money on food, clothing, and other goods if it meant that people were paid fairly?  Would we buy cute clothes from our favorite store even if we found out they were made by children in sweat shops?

It costs more to do the right thing.

Institutional churches are generally struggling financially, but even before this was the case – or maybe it was always the case – some congregations have historically not done the right thing when it comes to paying their staffs fairly.  I can’t tell you how often I hear my Christian sisters and brothers say things like this:

  • If we hire a clergy couple for a single position, we’ll get two for the price of one.
  • Why does our pastor deserve a sabbatical?  I don’t get a sabbatical in my job.
  • She can buy her own computer.
  • Why would we help pay his cell phone bill?
  • Do we have to reimburse our pastor for highways tolls, or just mileage?
  • Why can’t our music minister find a cheaper conference to attend?
  • Do we have to pay for that conference and his room and board?
  • The manse doesn’t really need air conditioning.
  • We can’t afford to give our staff a Christmas bonus.

As I help search committees ponder the Terms of Call for their new pastors, the focus is often on “what we can get away with” rather than “what we can do to support and honor our pastors.”  And this is perhaps a bigger issue for church musicians, educators, sextons, office managers, and financial secretaries.

I found in parish ministry that church staff members serve sacrificially.  No matter how hard they work, they rarely receive raises and there might be years when there’s not even a cost of living increase.  It makes my heart sink when someone says – during contract negotiations –  “In the business world . . .

  • we don’t pay this kind of severance package.”
  • we don’t recognize staff for beyond-the-call-of duty work.”
  • we don’t give extra time off for family emergencies.”

Remember that Jesus said we are to make earth as it is in heaven.  We in the church are supposed to emulate the Kingdom of Heaven, not the business world.  I want my church to be Christ-shaped, not world-shaped.

So, as you – wonderful congregations – ponder your church staffs’ salary and benefits for 2013, please do not take advantage of those who serve your congregation professionally.  Be as generous as you can be for deserving staffers.  Do the right thing.

It will cost more, but it’s wrong to take advantage of people.

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6 responses to “It Costs More to Do The Right Thing

  1. wait…there are churches that give a Christmas bonus?

    We have been working for many years to bring our staff compensation up to something resembling reasonable. One more staff member to go…but it’s the one with the largest gap between what we pay and what we should. sigh.

  2. Linked to you on NEXT Church today!

    This isn’t the point of your post, but not all New Balance shoes are made in the U.S. It’s really hard to see what’s what on the Internet, but I saw a few reports that said that about one-quarter of their products are made here.

  3. I want to respectfully push back a bit on this post. I realize that you most likely are writing about extreme cases and I will bear that in mind. However, in some cases I think churches can and should learn from business.
    I once attended a church that said they didn’t pay overtime. All were expected to donate time to the church. That wouldn’t fly in business. No one at my company is expected to donate time.
    The same church paid a highly skilled administrative assistant below the poverty line. Their excuse was that they were a church. At my company we know we have to generously pay in order to attract and retain good talent.
    My company would never ask an employee to purchase their own equipment or pay for a conference.
    I work for an extremely generous and ethical company and I know that not every company operates in that manner. And, I understand the point of your post. But I would suggest that we need to do a better job of challenging the business people (and doctors, lawyers, clerical workers, ditch-diggers, etc) in our congregations to work toward creating God’s kingdom on earth in each of the places where we exert influence.

  4. Same thing regarding maternity leave. Just because your company doesn’t pay more than 6 weeks leave doesn’t mean it isn’t the best practice. The adjustment to parenthood is extraordinarily difficult — the church should do what it can to give people the time to recover and renegotiate their lives — or it will hurt the church in the long run.

  5. Another hit out of the ball park Jan.
    And for what it’s worth, New Balance is still cheaper than NIKE which makes A LOT of their shoes outside the U.S. :-)

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