Keep the Devil Out of the Details
Bible college and seminary are great for a lot of things. In my experience, important skills you need to survive in an office such as yearly budgets, business plans, and understanding a housing allowance, are not some of those things. I love the education I received, but I am embarrassingly lost every spring when I try to do my taxes. For rookie pastors, or for those who start a pastoral position at a new church, someone on staff will approach you within your first 30 days and start talking about things that affect your paycheck and how many days you get off for the year.
It will be tempting to not ask questions because you are intimidated or because of some silly pride that prevents leaders from asking questions. You can go that route and miss out on some deserved benefits. Or you can ask some honest questions and get clarity.
I can’t say that I understand it all, but I understand enough to know what I should leave to professionals and what I really need to pay attention to. However, the best time to ask questions about your taxes, for instance, is in those first 30 days—and not on April 12. This is true with questions regarding Social Security and payroll withholdings. It’s also true for a housing allowance the church board approved for you.
In general, churches are also really bad about clarifying time off. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable to have conversations about the difference between a sick day and a day off. Is a day away for a conference or a mission trip considered a vacation day? It may not seem like a big deal now, but when you are burnt out after a crazy stretch, and you need a day to sit in front of the TV and drool, you will be thankful you have some clarity.
Taking the time in those first 30 days to get clarity on all of these matters related to pay and benefits will make a measurable difference for you, not to mention make life easier for the staff who handle these details.
Editor’s Note: For more help on questions related to Social Security withholdings, housing allowances, and other benefits, check out the 2012 Church & Clergy Tax Guide.