Pastors and Their Personal Finances…Why the Struggle is Real

Of the more than 700 pastors’ spouses surveyed in a recent LifeWay research project, more than half expressed that their income from the church is insufficient, and more than two-thirds are concerned they do not have enough saved for retirement. Why is this? Why do so many families in local church ministry struggle financially?

While there are likely many reasons, I want to offer four possibilities—three of which place responsibility on the church for not providing enough support and one that places responsibility on the pastor for not being a wise steward. In my more than twenty years of serving in local church ministry and working alongside pastors and churches, I have seen all four reasons at play.

1. Churches comparing apples and oranges in compensation

Early in my ministry I was in a committee meeting and heard someone make a complaint about a pastor’s salary. The printed number that the person was looking at was the total cost of compensation—which included social security tax at 15%, retirement, book allowance, and health insurance. The person said, “I did not know we were paying this.” The reality is the pastor was not being paid that. And if asked about his own salary, the person making the argument would never have given total cost of compensation. You don’t budget or live on the total cost of compensation. While it is important for those who prepare budgets to understand total cost of compensation, total cost of compensation analysis can give the perception a pastor is being paid more than the reality.

2. Church members projecting old costs to a new context

Imagine someone who bought a house in a growing community fifteen years ago. If a pastor moves in next door this year, the pastor will be paying much more to live in the same size house. The costs of property taxes and the price of the house (mortgage payments) are much higher. The person who has been there fifteen years is locked in at a much lower cost. So people who have been in the church a long time can easily make decisions without really feeling the weight of how much it costs currently to live and start a ministry in an area.

3. Bad theology in a church

The first two reasons are common and can happen among good people who just are not thinking clearly. The third reason is erroneous thinking about the Lord, about spiritual growth, and about the relationship between a church and the pastors. It is bad theology to believe it is a church’s job to keep a pastor humble by paying very little. It is the Lord’s role, not the role of the compensation package, to keep a minister on his knees. While it is scriptural malpractice to teach the godly will be wealthy and not suffer, it is also a disregard of Scripture not to take care of a church’s leaders. The Lord commands His people to take care of those who lead and preach and teach (1 Timothy 5:18). Sanctification ultimately comes through the Lord, not through poverty or prosperity.

4. Bad stewardship among pastors

Pastors are not immune to the temptation in our culture to live outside of one’s means, to accrue lots of debt, and to grow cold in generosity. Pastors who are bad stewards of their own finances lose credibility to manage the finances in a church. According to the apostle Paul, managing the home is no small matter for a pastor, and this includes our personal stewardship. “If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5).

A local church does not benefit if her leaders are struggling financially. A church benefits when her leaders are able to serve with joy (Hebrews 13:17), and ministry leaders who are struggling financially are often distracted and filled with constant grief and worry.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger serves as the Vice President of the Church Resource Division at LifeWay Christian Resources. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, playing with his daughters, and shooting basketball.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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