Agents of Justice. Architects of Equity.

Five Practices to Promote the Financial Flourishing of Our Pastors

By Rayce J. Lamb

In 2015, a study published by the National Association of Evangelicals painted a grim picture of the financial state of pastors in the United States. Here are just a few of their original findings:

  • 29% of pastors reported having $0 in personal savings
  • 31% of pastors had to work a second job in order to make ends meet 
  • 33% of pastors reported having less than $10,000 in retirement funds. This is more alarming when we recognize that the average age of a U.S. pastor is 54. 
  • 76% of pastors know other pastors who left ministry due to financial hardship

Let that sink in for a moment. People God has called into ministry are leaving ministry due to financial hardships. Since this study, financial literacy has become more popular among clergy, especially evangelicals (think about the sudden rise of Dave Ramsey), but their approach often remains singular and, for many, unhealthy—both theologically and financially. 

Financial literacy education, although important, can only go so far when the faith communities pastors find themselves shepherding have policies and systems in place that only promote inequity and toxic theologies around money. We need a culture shift. We need to be critical of toxic theologies around money—including both prosperity theology and poverty theology. We need to reimagine what a theology of abundance and sufficiency looks like in our modern times. And perhaps most importantly, we need to start enacting policies around staff pay and benefits that contribute to the personal and vocational flourishing of our faith leaders. 

Need somewhere to start? Consider ways your faith community can begin to practice equity from within through the following five practices.

Establish a Thriving Wage

It is time we elevate the wage conversation. A living wage should be the bare minimum, but the goal of any employee should be a thriving wage—or a wage that contributes to the overall flourishing of a worker’s wellbeing. This should be a wage that allows our faith leaders to pay their bills and go on a vacation. This should be a wage that allows our faith leaders to contribute to their retirement and save for their children’s college education. This wage should be a fair representation of the credentials, experience, and talents our faith leaders bring to our communities and should directly challenge the toxic theology that God calls us into poverty.

Create Pay Adjustment Policies

Once that thriving wage has been established, policies should be enacted to keep it a thriving wage. For example, does your church have an automatic annual salary increase of 2.5-3.5% to adjust for inflation? As the responsibilities of your pastoral team shifts, how are salaries reviewed to ensure salary accurately reflects workload? Are pay ranges of staff public knowledge? In other words, if an assistant minister is promoted to associate minister can they know what to expect via a salary adjustment? Many of us often shy away from creating policies, but policies can also safeguard our faith leaders from getting abused and exploited as an employee of the church.

Establish Student Loan Repayment as a Benefit

We all know the debt crisis is real and graduates of seminaries face the same ballooning student loan debt as graduates with any other professional degrees. One of the easiest ways churches can lower the financial stress of young clergy and help them on the path to financial flourishing is to establish student loan repayment as a benefit. Now, this should not be in lieu of contributing to retirement or result in a salary decrease. Rather, it should be our collective acknowledgement that such education only aids in the overall success and wellbeing of our congregations.

Contribute to Retirement

Generally, financial advisors and financial educators say the average, middle class American needs over one million dollars saved up to comfortably retire. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that many, if not most, of us are not on track to reach that goal. Chances are neither are our pastors. When it comes to long-term retirement savings, even the smallest contributions up front can result in substantial gains over time. When retirement comes for our clergy, let’s make our collective message be “thank you for sacred service over the years.”

Professional Development Fund

Here is a little secret: seminary can only teach you so much. Truthfully, clergy find themselves in a vocation with a constantly shifting landscape and,  as a result, they need to have access to continuing education in order to maintain and continue to build upon their pastoral toolkit. Establishing a professional development fund not only allows our faith leaders to access the education, resources, and tools they need to thrive vocationally, it also helps them further understand their call and pastoral identity. 

I recognize these practices are easier said than done. I understand that for many of our faith communities expenses are up and tithing is down. But, I also want to challenge you. Can your church really be a church of justice if it continues to exploit its own workers through low wages and mediocre benefits? The answer is no. So, let’s start talking about it and begin the transition of our faith communities to becoming true examples of economically just institutions.

Rev. Rayce J. Lamb (he/him/his) serves as the Director of Ministry and Vocational Exploration at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, NC. This summer, he launched Faithonomics, a social impact venture with a mission to challenge poverty through the holistic financial formation of faith leaders and their communities. You can learn more about the work of Faithonomics by visiting www.faithonomics.com.

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