TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]
I’ve recently been promoted inside my mid-sized organization, which means I now have a say in how much we pay our employees. How can I think biblically about wages and raises?
Fiscal responsibility is an important aspect of any organization, and it is up to leaders to create systems and processes enabling good and healthy stewardship. Part of fiscal responsibility is answering questions: How much should my employees make? What type of insurance package should we provide? Am I being both ethically and fiscally responsible in how I care for my employees?
Trying to determine compensation can be complex, and perspectives vary widely on acceptable practice within various sectors. This article will not tell you how much to pay each of your employees. Instead, it will examine what the Bible has to say to employers, and how they should treat their employees and regard their work.
Biblical Foundation for Wages
Paul tells us that wages for work are not a gift, but what someone is due (Rom. 4:4). You aren’t doing employees a favor when you cut them paychecks. You are paying them their due.
When determining how much someone is due, be careful to be prompt and fair (Deut. 24:14-15; James 5:4–5; Jer. 22:13). The Bible is clear that employers will be held accountable before the Lord for how they treat and pay their employees. It’s your responsibility to pay the people you manage a fair and appropriate wage for the work they do.
Before you open compensation conversations with your employee, make sure you know your company’s stance on raises. Do you regularly give cost of living increases? What qualifications would merit a larger raise? If you give a raise to one employee, does it obligate you to give raises to others? If your organization brought in a surplus, do those funds become raises? Or is that capital reinvested for long-term business?
Make sure you understand how the pay structure operates, and be as transparent as possible when explaining it to your employees.
Ideally, your employees would not have to ask for a raise because you are attuned to their responsibilities, the quality of their work, and when those factors deserve a larger paycheck.
Ideally, your employees would not have to ask for a raise.
Of course, that doesn’t always happen. So here’s some practical advice for how to have fruitful discussions about pay.
1. Create systems that allow for annual evaluations of employees with their direct reports.
During these conversations, address changes in job descriptions, areas of strength and weakness, and compensation. This provides a natural space for employees to discuss requests for a raise or, even better, for you to offer a hard-earned increase. It also gives you a chance to explain why you’re able to give a bonus in a good year but need to freeze wages in a less profitable time.
2. Create a culture in which people want to work with and for you.
If you work for a nonprofit, you likely will not have the option to pay your employees standard market wages. But you can help bridge the compensation gap if you work to cultivate a culture in which people flourish and enjoy coming to work. One of the ways you can do this is by knowing your employees. Spend time with the people who report directly to you. Ask them questions. Figure out not only what they produce for your company but also their character. Keeping professional boundaries does not mean the people who work for you need to be strangers.
3. Set compensation based on position rather than personal situation.
It is common within Christian organizations for pay to be determined by factors that have nothing to do with the position or the required skills. Over the years, I have seen a single guy in his late 20s come on staff with a church and be told, “This is your starting wage, but once you get married and have a family, we can talk about an increase so you can take care of them.” I have also seen a woman working for a nonprofit Christian organization learn her male counterpart makes more money because “he is the provider for his family.”
While the intention is well-meaning, this reasoning means single people and women will almost always be compensated less for reasons that aren’t based on their performance or job responsibilities. This is both unfair and unbiblical. In the Scriptures, more responsibility is given to those who have been good stewards (Matt. 25:23; Luke 16:10), not to those with more children.
What’s more, single people also pay down mortgages, support family members, and give generously to the poor. And women often need to provide for their families. Don’t take that from them.
Hard conversations are bound to happen. There will be times someone requests more money, and you will have to say “No.” That isn’t wrong—if people do a job for the original wages they agreed to, they aren’t automatically entitled to more (Matt. 20:1–16).
You are accountable to the Lord for how you care for your employees and how you steward the resources given to you. Steward them well, and honor God in how you choose to do so.
You may want to use this simple prayer: “God, help me to honor and dignify the people who are in my employ. Give me wisdom on how to compensate fairly and appropriately. Help me to be a good steward of the resources you have given me. Protect my heart from greed and give me a spirit of generosity toward all of those in my care.”