2023 Compensation and Guidelines

October 7, 2022

To the ELCA churches in South Dakota Synod,

Greetings in Christ!  I write today as the chair of the Support to Ministries committee.  We work on your behalf to discuss the role of ministers in their congregations; to support your work as the local church; and to maintain professional standards for clergy and rostered leaders.

As part of our work, the Support to Ministries committee provides an annual review of the Synod Compensation Guidelines, the document that describes the minimum fair compensation for rostered ministers and laypeople, including Synod Authorized Ministers.

In the last couple years, we have changed our review process to include a representative team of laypeople and professional ministers from across the synod.  This team reviews compensation with good math, honest conversation, and careful research.  They strive to realistically appraise what congregations can afford; and they balance this with fair compensation for professional ministry. 

This task is not easy.  Your worshiping community is different from any other.  Your ministry is unique and varied.  Nobody does what God has given you to do.

But synod-wide compensation guidelines remain important.  Many lay leaders find it challenging to evaluate a professional minister’s salary.  These guidelines remove the guesswork; they also ensure that ministers receive a comparable and fair wage.

You can find our full documents linked on this page Let me highlight some features you should consider as you evaluate compensation for the ministers who so eagerly serve your community.

At the 2022 South Dakota Synod Assembly, the Assembly approved an update to the Compensation Guidelines that includes a more significant increase to compensation than we have recommended in the past.  There are two reasons for this.  First, our professional ministers have gone several years this past decade without a recommended increase.  Second, this year’s dramatic jump in inflation has hit our ministers especially hard.

We understand that everyone is affected by inflation, so calling for a larger increase now may seem unwise.  However, ministers in the ELCA are some of the best trained in the entire nation.  They tap into a network of support and resources that is nearly unmatched.  Failing to adequately compensate your leaders is always shortsighted.  It makes it harder to keep current ministry staff and harder to extend a call again in the future.

Additionally, after years of conversation around the relationship between Ministers of Word and Sacrament (pastors) and Ministers of Word and Service (deacons), our national denomination has come to recognize these as rosters of equal importance.  As of last year, rostered laypeople now follow a similar schedule to your pastors.  Please carefully review your rostered laypeople’s’ compensation to comply with the new guidelines.  (The primary difference comes down to housing: to reflect their additional education level and the historic practices of the church, pastors receive housing in addition to their salary as part of their compensation package.)

Please note that if you did not increase your pastor’s compensation in the last few years, your congregation should make a plan to catch up.  Even if you must plan for incremental change, you can stretch to make this happen.  If fairly compensating your minister no longer seems realistic, be honest with yourselves and with the Synod staff.  As your teammates in ministry, they work tirelessly to make ministry possible for you.

Lastly, let me recognize that we have endured uncertainty in every ministry context this last year–including your own.  We continue to experience leadership changes at church and job changes in our personal lives.  As we emerge from a global pandemic, we discover that ministry has changed, even if our calling in the gospel remains the same.

I know you have faced changes, too. I know we grow tired of constant adjustments. But in my experience, I also now act the ministers who serve in the South Dakota Synod are some of the most remarkable people in the ELCA. They give tirelessly, and they do this because God has given them many, many gifts.  Take a moment to recognize and appreciate the servants God has called into your midst.  If you await a minister, please know that we pray for you, we are grateful for you, and are committed to working with you to find the right leadership for your congregation. Together, we never stop serving the mission of God.

Lastly, we recognize that every congregation’s finances are given as a sacred trust and used as an expression of God’s love.  Your Support to Ministries team is thankful for your careful stewardship of the gifts of the people of God–in this and every season.

With gratitude,
Rev. Justin Kosec
Dean, Crossroads Conference
Chair, Support to Ministries Committee of the South Dakota Synod 

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