Monday, July 18, 2016

The Topic Churches Avoid

When I was in seminary, I heard the story of the pastor who did not earn enough to maintain a reliable automobile.  According to the story teller, the pastor when to the chair of deacons and said, “It looks like I will have to start hitchhiking to the hospital to visit church members.  I wonder what people in the community will think about the pastor of the Baptist church standing by the road with his thumb out?” 

I don’t know if this story is true or not, but it does illustrate the drastic steps that ministers sometimes have to adopt to get the kind of financial support they need not only for the basics of life but to do ministry as well.

Pastors don’t like to bring up finances and lay people generally don’t want to hear about them.  Churches are reluctant, perhaps afraid, to consider how much it costs to support a full-time minister.  They may realize that they can no longer marshall the resources to sustain a pastor.

Often churches adopt strategies to avoid confronting this issue and pastors go along with them.  One strategy is to take advantage of the working spouse whose job not only supplements the family income but sometimes provides the majority of the income.  A corollary to this is the situation where the spouse’s medical insurance provides family coverage because the church can’t or won’t cover this expense.  Another approach is to come up with a compensation figure and then expect the pastor to allocate how much goes to retirement and medical expenses, thus abdicating the responsibility of church leaders to see that these important items are adequately covered.

The situation will not get better unless lay church leaders become proactive in addressing the financial needs of their ministers.  Pastors come to churches with more educational debt because the denominations do not support theological education as they once did.  Medical insurance is higher for individuals and families.  The cost of living rises steadily.

There are resources available to help with this situation.  Benchmarks of pastoral compensation are available online.  Judicatories like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have launched initiatives to address the economic challenges facing pastoral leaders.  Central Baptist Theological Seminary is one of several schools addressing the economics of ministry and providing guidance during ministry formation.

There is only so much that ministers can do to address this issue.  Concerned lay leaders must step up to the challenge and assure adequate support for their clergy leaders.

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