How much is a prayer worth? Increasing productivity by assigning value

Stipend not Wages

Before I start, let me get one thing straight: ministers receive a stipend NOT wages because ministry is more like a lifestyle than a job. A stipend is paid living expenses, *so that* the whole life lived is devoted to service and ministry. Wages is money paid for work done. Ministry resembles a job in many ways, but it’s not a job. Ministry is a life. This means that as a minister you spend time on activities that create little empirically measurable difference to the world (e.g. praying or studying). Indeed the bulk of ministry work is relational, spiritual and intellectual. Powerful and important work in ministry may even seem unimpressive and entirely unproductive. Thus, it's a stipend, it's not wages.


This makes learning productivity as a minister inherently difficult. So I’m hoping to simply add an idea to help start deeper thought on this. To summarise my thesis: we should use the concept of money to leverage our productivity, prioritise important work and concretise the unclear and intangible nature of ministry. 

A broken system of ministry productivity

When I was doing MTS, the rector of the church divided the week up slots - morning, afternoon and evening  equalling 21 potential slots per week. He said work between 12 and 16 slots per week. It’s not a bad method. Well, yes it is. It has serious problems. What do you do? Are there more valuable activities than others? ‘Just work a good amount’ provides no clarity on what to do. Neither does it distinguish between emotionally taxing work and pleasant energising work.

Assigning value to our work

I’ve been reading a textbook corporate finance recently, and I think that we can learn a simple lesson from the corporate world. That lesson is simply to assign a value to the work we do. What better value measurement is there than assigning a price in local currency, such as, $AUD?

So to get the hard numbers we need to work with the system we have. Let’s begin by changing ministry work remuneration from stipend to wage. After doing my calculations I’ve come up with $28ph for a theologically-trained, smart, competent, ordained minister. It’s a good number, because it is equivalent to a base wage for a trained professional. 

So what does that make a minister’s activities worth? I've made a broad but incomplete list of tasks a minister can go about and I've assigned money figures to these tasks. In particular, I distinguish between ‘cost to church’ and ‘value to church’. I'm indicating these with bold and italic type. Quick definition distinctions:
Cost to church = hours x wages.  
Value to church = price for a secular equivalent.


Cost 8-12 hours: $224-336
When I was at college we were told that a sermon should take around this amount of time to prepare. 5 years out, I’d say it’s a good amount of prep time to aim for. 
Secular equivalent: This is tricky and depends on how you see your sermon. Academic lecturers would get about that. Motivational speakers would get a whole range depending on how good they are, let’s say $250-1000. Professional development trainers would be about that amount. All in all,  I think $224-336 is a good price for a sermon. Another way to think about cost: in a congregation of 50 it’s around $4.50-6.70 each to listen to your sermon.
Value: How much would they pay? I don't know, ask them. Ask them secretly if you want an honest answer.


Cost: $28 per hour… that’s like 50c per day right? Jokes. 
Secular equivalent: I’m not going to even try to name a secular equivalent. I find the idea repellent. But from a faith and value point of view 30mins-1hour in prayer each day at our assigned rate of $28ph. This means $14-28 is disproportionately cheap for what you get. And it becomes more and more of a bargain the stronger your faith is in it’s power. 

Pastoral care: 

this is an interesting one, because it can happen in a number of ways. I’ll try to break some of them down. 

‘How are you going?’ phone call: 5-15mins. Cost = $2.30-$7. 
Secular equivalent: I don’t know what this would be… some kind of paid care and follow-up? Maybe a community worker. In any case it’s expensive. I’d guess the same service would cost $10-50. As in quadruple the salary - I think phone calls really demonstrate that you care. 

Biblical counselling:

Cost = $28 per hour + recovery time of 30mins - $14 = $42. 
This is when a parishioner specifically needs to understand and apply Biblical teaching to their lives **because of a problem or circumstance**. 
Equivalent secular value: $80 but diminishing depending on how much is done. - I picked $80 because I think it is valuable but less specialised (and regulated) than clinical psychology. If a minister spends a huge amount of time counselling per week, it comes at the opportunity cost of training - specifically equipping parishioners to undertake ministry for themselves, thus strengthening the church into the future. I will arbitrarily pick 3 ‘counselling re: issues’ hour long sessions as optimum, after which there is diminishing value for the church as a whole. Say $50 for the next 3 hours, then $28 for any additional hours spent on counselling (for personal issues).


Cost = $28per hour + 10-20mins prep = around $33-37.
This is where ministers impart knowledge and skills to parishioners and/or senior ministers to their assistants/training ministers to trainees.  Explaining books of the Bible, tricky passages, theological issues, apologetic answers, ethical issues and justification. I would value this at $90 per hour.
This can be increased dramatically ($150+) if specific skills are taught. e.g. Bible reading skills (macro: global Biblical theology understanding - i.e. understanding the whole Bible and how the various books fit into this scheme, micro: how to pay attention to individual words and phrases - using grammars and lectionaries, etc.), theological methodology, ministry skills.


THis one might sound odd, but I’m talking about value so it needs to be here.
I think ministers are inherently worth a certain amount of money each week simply for existing. Once you have been 4-6 years in training and you have tested qualifications in ANYTHING you are valuable. The same is true of theology students. Simply being able to understand and diagnose unclear and inadequate theology, let alone explain anything is a skill. I’m putting $100 as a subscription/reservation fee (I don’t know… I’m just making it up! You can make it $0 on yours!), and any questions that ministers field after that are at a standard consultant rate. By employing a minister, congregations ‘reserve’ exclusive access to their expertise. If you are reading this as a congregation member, make good use of your minister’s expertise.

Secular equivalent: I’d say that any answers given should be valued at training rates above, i.e. standard commercial consultant rates.  


I moderately hate admin, but it has to be done. Could someone else do it? Then it’s worth less than $28, if it can only be done by you then it’s time spent appropriately and it’s worth at least $28 or more depending on how important it is. 

Bible study leading:

Cost $28-56
Value $80-160

Walk up evangelism:

Value $120 per hour

Planning and executing events: 

I don’t know. 

Planting a new congregation:

Planning time value: $60 per hour
Launching and continuance value - $2000 launch, $3000 for every 6 months it stays alive. I don’t know. I'm just making it up here. 

Property maintenance:

I’ve noticed that ministers with strong leadership (and strong congregational attendance) will outsource this. I suspect because it is highly demanding on attention with little tangible benefit to congregational growth and spirituality, i.e., not a highly valuable use of time given the specialised skills of a minister.

Weekends away:

increase in value over time. 

THE benefits of this model. 

But if you look at this model a minister can calculate their daily value. There could be 2 aims firstly simply to be worth more than your cost each day: $224. That is all that is *required* for simple faithfulness.  

A minister could do a solid 3 hours of straight pastoral phone calls. And then spend the afternoon reading theology, or some other low key activity. And that’s ok. People work requires recovery time. 

At the same time, there should be a drive to be increasingly valuable. A minister worth double or triple their cost should be kept around. 

This could be a way for rectors to measure assistant minister’s performance in a clear, objective impersonal manner. 

A defence of using money as a measure. Arguably you could come up some other measure of value (points, anyone?…. No I forbid anyone from using a points system.) The commercial world around us understands money and value. We should too. Thinking in terms of monetary value drives your thinking in new directions - you should naturally start thinking with a view to the future, in particular the preservation and longevity of the church.