Monday, April 20, 2015

Talking to your church about finances

Most of the churches that I work with share a common expectation when it comes to the pastor's salary and benefit package. When the finance committee begins to discuss it and when the budget for the coming year is about to be discussed in a business meeting, the pastor and family are expected to leave the room.  For some reason, adult Christians can discuss anything in front of the pastor except his or her salary.

In some churches, the pastor is not allowed to request anything regarding salary or benefits. Other churches specify which board or committee the pastor is to approach when making such requests. But, when the final package is being discussed, the pastor is not allowed to participate in that discussion. I consider that to be unfortunate.

Pastors need to be able to talk to people in the church about their finances. Their situations change which means that their salary package may need to change as well.  Sometimes it's not a matter of needing more money; their situation might be addressed by changing the designation of some of the money the pastor receives.  For instance, early in my pastorate I wanted to move closer to the church.  In order to do that I asked that the church designate part of my salary as housing allowance to make it possible for us to buy a home. The amount of money I was being paid did not change, but that change in designation meant I was paying less taxes making more money available to purchase a home. Incidentally, every pastor who does not live in a parsonage should receive a housing allowance.

Some churches have no idea how their pastors are struggling financially. I know of several pastors carrying a huge amount of student loan debt but does not want anyone in the church to know it.  Others are struggling due to medical expenses or some other financial challenges. How many pastors leave the ministry for better paying jobs just to pay their bills? If you are tempted to criticize a pastor for doing this, chances are you've never been harassed by bill collectors and struggling to provide for your family.

Churches and pastors need to do a better job of talking about the pastor's finances. There needs to be much more open and honest dialogue about what the pastor needs and what the church can provide. If such discussion is not permitted in a church this may be a sign that the church is not healthy and has some deep trust issues that need to be explored. If a church insists on keeping all financial discussions secret from the pastor and the majority of the church family, it is fair to wonder what other secrets exist in the church. As I wrote recently, a church is only as healthy as the secrets it keeps.

If such discussions have not occurred before, it may be helpful to invite a denominational leader or consultant to come and lead the discussion. An outside ear and voice can sometimes help reduce the anxiety that such discussions can create.

However you do it, make plans now to begin having open and honest discussions between the pastor and church leaders about the financial needs of the pastor and his or her family. Both the pastor and the church will benefit from such discussions.

1 comment:

Dustin Long said...

I wanted to say that all pastors should designate some of their income as housing, whether they live in a parsonage or not. Housing can include items related to household maintenance, cleaning, furniture, and many other things. Allowing all pastors to have some amount designated as housing helps their tax responsibilities. Pastors must remember though that it is the LESSER amount between what is designated for housing and what is actually used for housing that will have the full tax benefits. Thanks for another great post.