Clergy Housing Allowance Ruled Unconstitutional in US District Court - What You Need to Know

"[T]he clergy housing allowance was, once again, ruled to be unconstitutional by Judge Barbara Crabb of the United States District Court For the Western District of Wisconsin... This case will almost certainly be appealed." Brokepastor

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TylerR's picture

Editor

My comments will likely upset some people, but here are my thoughts about this situation specifically and pastoral compensation in general:

  1. Churches are getting smaller, and can afford to pay a pastor less and less.
  2. Pastoral salaries are already generally awful, and they will get worse.
  3. Most pastors struggle to meet often unrealistic expectations of ministry with pathetic pay. Wives are often pressured to work to make ends meet, and provide some health insurance benefits, because the church often can't do any better than a contribution toward a cost-sharing plan. The end result is a strained homefront, and a trip to Applebees is often seen as an insane splurge.
  4. Many pastors are unable to make ends meet, for some of the reasons above, and are forced to turn to extra employment. They often have no marketable skills to make a decent wage, because they only studied bible for their undergrad, so they subsist on low-paying jobs as contract security, clerks, etc.
  5. Many churches are unwilling to reduce the pastor’s performance expectations (e.g. several sermons per week, on call always) in light of these difficulties.
  6. The end result of these compounding problems can often be that pastors burn out like candles in a stiff wind, pastor’s wives become bitter and unhappy (with good reason), and pastor’s children can be soured on the entire thing because they’ve grown up watching their parents be treated like slaves, with no health insurance, unrealistic performance expectations and little to no money.
  7. Now, the FFRF (and others) continue to wage their relentless war against Christianity in America.

I am only more convinced than ever of the following:

  1. The “single pastor against the world” model will continue to be harder and harder to pull off. There will be some pastors who will stick to it, while working themselves to death with second jobs and trying to eke out four sermons per week, while their wives slave away teaching Abeka at the local Christian dayschool for $15/hr or working at the mall.
  2. The dual-pastor model is more biblical, less stressful, and the two (or more) men can split responsibilities while working in the real world. Maybe they can take their family to Applebees once and a while, too.
  3. Housing allowance will go. It might not go now, but to will. Prepare to lose it. I think churches should restructure their compensation plans accordingly, as they’re able.
  4. I also think churches need to look at the age of their congregations, the annual income trends, and the realistic salary expectation for a young man with student loan debt and a family in their area. Would you work in Olympia, WA for $35,000 per year? Is it even fair to offer that to somebody?

Prepare to lose housing allowance. It won’t last.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

What Tyler says; I just interviewed a guy who burned out of pastoring and doubled his pay working construction.  Think about that one a moment.  The guy was not exactly quitting the pastorate to take a job as a lawyer or corporate executive or anything like that.  Construction worker, probably not certified to drive heavy equipment, and he doubled his income.

One might infer that due to the property tax exemption and the housing allowance for pastors, that church members are willing to pay for their own homes, their own businesses, their pastors' homes (especially megachurch pastors' McMansions), and church buildings, but not other expenses for those who actually teach them the Word of God.

Or, more scarily yet, maybe a lot of pastors have clued in to what's really important to their church's members, and they're not teaching them what they need to hear.  We could well find that the best thing that could happen to our churches' spirituality would be to end these tax exemptions.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JBL's picture

Compared to health care expense, insurance, staff salary...the housing allowance is typically a much smaller part of the church budget.

Housing is very tax advantaged, a good accountant should be able to soften the blow even if the housing allowance disappears completely.

Furthermore, if churches own the property that the pastor lives in, this financial arrangement becomes unnecessary.

 

 

John B. Lee

T Howard's picture

If the church owns a parsonage, they need to sell it. A pastor would be better suited by owning his home.

$15/hr for a Christian school teacher is "very generous." Most make around $10-$12/hr.  My cousin had a masters degree in Christian education, worked for a Christian school in Florida, and didn't make enough money to cover her medical insurance (which the school didn't provide). Her dad had to pay for her insurance payments. She ended up quitting, going back to school to be a medical technician, which started out making 2x what she was making with a masters degree in education.

I believe most church staff are underpaid. Our church secretary makes $15/hour (she's been the secretary for more than 15 years). She receives an annual 1% raise... because we're a non-profit. She is the glue that keeps our church office, activities, and personnel functioning. In the corporate world, with her experience she could easily make $25-$30 / hour as an office manager.

Larry's picture

Moderator

If the church owns a parsonage, they need to sell it. A pastor would be better suited by owning his home.

In many cases, the opposite is actually true. A smaller church can't afford to pay a pastor enough to buy a house, but because they own a house he can live in it for free and they can pay enough cash to support him. This gives the added advantage of not having to pay property tax. So a pastor is frequently better off when he is not forced to live beyond his means to afford housing. It is also advantageous for the pastor in a case such as he leaves the church. He has one less thing to deal with since he doesn't have to sell his home. In addition, even if a pastor owns his own home, having a parsonage can be good for an assistant pastor or an intern or some such. 

I have lived in a church owned house and a personally owned house so I know both sides. And the church owned house has some advantages that owning a house doesn't have. So a church should think very carefully before selling a parsonage and, in most cases IMO, they should not do it.  

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Agree w/Larry that sometimes the only affordable way to do it is a parsonage that is already paid for. Especially the case with smaller congregations.

Tyler, on the two-man idea: wouldn't that cost twice as much and double the problem? What I see slowly happening is that the big churches get bigger and the small churches get smaller. Eventually that hits some kind of bottom and things go some other direction (back the other way?). But in the mean time, we're more likely to see circuit preachers again in rural churches (though probably not on horseback Wink ). Not two pastors for one church, but several churches for one pastor.

To JBL, in what way would housing be tax advantaged without the housing allowance? I'm not seeing how that would at all be the case.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Aaron, what I'm advocating is for churches to consider having a second man as a pastor as a volunteer, essentially unpaid. Take me, for instance: I already teach every week and could assume some other duties (if need be) and be considered an associate pastor. I wouldn't need pay, because I already have a full-time job with excellent benefits.

The specifics would vary with each church, and each situation. But, in general, I think the old concept of "full-time Christian service" as the endgoal for ministers isn't necessarily biblical or logical going forward.

To be sure, this would require a massive paradigm shift in our Christian subculture. Add to it, the Bible college and seminary industrial complex has a built-in reluctance to promote this paradigm. I see affordable online education as the vehicle that can make this dream a reality. Churches should consider quality unaccredited theology programs in online or virtual format for prospective ministers in their midst, and reorient expectations toward this volunteer paradigm.

I could say more, but must dash.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

 I think the old concept of "full-time Christian service" as the endgoal for ministers isn't necessarily biblical or logical going forward.

The other side of this is that "those who preach the gospel have a right to live of the gospel" and "the elder who rules well in preaching and teaching is worthy of double honor." So it seems to me that "full-time Christian service" is the biblical ideal of a pastor.

IMO that raises a problem with churches who require that a certain number or percentage of elders/pastors be lay elders. I think that, at least in principle, requires them to forgo something they have a biblical right to. An elder can follow the example of Paul and refuse compensation for the good of the body or because he chooses to work elsewhere, but can that be required of him biblically? I am not sure it can be. Of course, everyone would look askance at an elder who refused to be an elder because he wasn't being paid. So it seems to me that the church is putting elder or potential elders in an awkward position. It may well be that most people who have full time jobs would gladly refuse compensation, but they should be the ones to make that choice, should they not? I don't think the church should make it for them. 

I think we should be training others to do the work of the ministry and that relieves a large burden from the pastor. And in certain neighborhoods or areas, an "indigenous church" (so to speak) can't support a full time pastor. But we need to approach the thinking from a different perspective, IMO.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Larry has hit several nails on the head.  Many pastors and churches are clearly struggling to address the financial costs of supporting one pastor, much less two or more.  But in this area, as in every other, the Bible, not tradition nor human reasoning should be our guide.  I am oft amused at the necessity some churches feel to acquire a plurality of elders at the expense of following Biblical patterns of elder-ship, including the command to support elders financially.  How does achieving one Biblical goal (plurality of elders) at the expense of another Biblical goal (financial support of elders) improve the fidelity of churches?  Even when "lay" elders are utilized (which I consider a good idea), if the long-range goal is not to eventually support them financially, is that church Biblical in its approach? 

I have long believed that willingness to be financially supported by the church is actually an over-looked qualification for Elder.  Many men could make more in public work.  Are they committed enough to the work of the ministry to take a cut in salary to become a pastor?  If not, they should probably not be ordained as an elder.  Let them serve the church as laymen according to their gifts and desires.  Our church has three former pastors in active membership whom we do not financially support nor recognize as elders, but do outstanding work in the ministry.  There are surely many factors to weigh on this subject.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

One huge advantage, beyond tax considerations, is that if it's adequate for most pastoral families, the pastor does not lose 10% or so of the value of his home every time he takes a new pastorate.  You need to make sure he's getting some funds for retirement, but we knew that anyways, no?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

The people commenting here have lots of experience. My main concern is that we're seeing (and will continue to see) an attack on Christianity which will make it increasingly difficult to sustain the model of "single fulltime pastor" we often see here in America. Bro. Barkman asked:

How does achieving one Biblical goal (plurality of elders) at the expense of another Biblical goal (financial support of elders) improve the fidelity of churches?

My answer is that, for most churches, they will never be able to sufficiently support a pastor fulltime financially (including healthcare), and this situation won't change - it'll get worse. I'm not talking about "scraping by," I'm talking about actually compensating his family appropriately. I believe a dual-elder, bi-vocational model is more realistic, and it is not un-Biblical at all. Wjy does the pastorate have to be fulltime? Why does it always have to be one guy? It doesn't. Churches are crippling themselves by sticking to a model that isn't necessarily the best thing going. I already gave myself as an example. To add to it, I work with an attorney who is a conservative Presbyterian who also has an MA in theology. He teaches at his church. This is the kind of person who would excel at being an associate pastor, relieve burden from the "fulltime guy," and not need any pay at all - because he doesn't plan to stop being an attorney!

This is what I'm suggesting:

  1. The single, fulltime pastor model is increasingly unsustainable and unrealistic from a financial perspective, and it won't get better
  2. Churches should consider a dual-elder, bi-vocational model where one (or both) pastors have jobs outside the church, and salary and benefits are provided by a secular employer. They split ecclesiastical duties and responsibilities, according to their own arrangement and gifts, abilities, etc. The church can pay them whatever they want, but it likely won't take much - they already have jobs.

Some people will scoff. But, I ask, why won't this work? Why isn't this more realistic? Why is it un-Biblical? I doubt many people will seriously consider it, because Christian cultural mores and expectations, coupled with the bible college and seminary industrial complex all argue against this kind of model. It would work for me. It would work for the attorney I work with. It would work with tens of thousands of working professionals across our country who are committed, serious Christians wgho have no plans to give up their dayjobs. "Fulltime Christian service" is, in my opinion, a bit of an idol.

Larry wrote:

The other side of this is that "those who preach the gospel have a right to live of the gospel" and "the elder who rules well in preaching and teaching is worthy of double honor." So it seems to me that "full-time Christian service" is the biblical ideal of a pastor.

I disagree; I think it's an idol. We're taught, perhaps subtly or perhaps overtly, that unless you're in "fulltime Christian service," you're somehow doing less than you should or could. This isn't true. I know too many Pastors who're more burnt-out than charred toast from worrying about finances. I've known too many pastors wives who've had to work in miserable jobs for too many years to provide healthcare, who're not happy people. I'll always remember one pastor friend who confessed to me that, if he knew how to anything else, he'd have bailed a long time ago. I still remember his wife, who cried and told me that she always wanted to homeschool their children, but she couldn't - because she had to work fulltime so they had healthcare.

I'm happier, more spiritually healthy, and doing more effective things for the Lord now than I ever did when I was a pastor. I'm part of a team at my church. I als have a good job, we took my son to urgent care last night to get stitches, and the folks didn't sneer at my Medicaid card - because I don't have one. I used to. No more; I have a job that allows me to actually take care of my family.

I'm saying the "single fulltime pastor" model is going, and these continued assaults against hosuing allowances are just one more step towards a deliberate marginalization of Christianity in America. Small churches won't find it easier to attract a pastor. Perhaps they should start thinking outside the box.

I'm ducking for cover now, and heading to get some coffee.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Barry L.'s picture

Churches are too small. If the church has less than 80 people, it is near impossible to support a full time minister even if the people are giving like they should. The town I'm in has so many churches with less than 50 people that meet in buildings that seat 400-500 but can't pay their minister. Then there are growing new works that can afford a fulltime minister but not the cost of having a permanent church location.  It would make sense that congregations would merge, but everyone has their fiefdoms with their clutch fist preferences so it continues on.

If the money is there, it is better to have the pastor own their house. One perk in the minister's allowance is that you are allowed to double up on the housing allowance and mortgage interest deduction. Use the parsonage for a young up and coming minister or staff who would be renting anyway.

T Howard's picture

From Stewardship Services Foundation:

Quote:

I have advised churches for over 30 years to get out of the parsonage business.

7.     Housing/Parsonage Allowance – I have advised churches for over 30 years to get out of the parsonage business.  I think it is very important to get a pastor into his own home as soon as possible for many reasons. Retirement – owning a home at retirement is a key ingredient to retirement planning.  Security – for his family particularly his wife, privacy – they can decorate how they want – it’s home.  I think it tends to add to longevity – the family feels more attached to the community because there’s a stronger sense of belonging.  Tax purposes – income tax law provides for generous benefits to the pastor who is buying his own home.  Federal and state income taxes are greatly reduced and sometimes eliminated due to the housing allowance and the double deduction for mortgage interest and real estate taxes.

This is very sound and helpful advice to both pastors and churches.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that Tyler is really, in effect, contrasting the lives of the eleven apostles with Paul--Paul having earned, at least prior to prison, quite a bit of his upkeep in tentmaking, while indications are that the other eleven were paid for their services.  While certainly the worker is worth is pay, the model Tyler espouses has a lot going for it, too.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JBL's picture

Thanks for pointing out the error in my statement regarding tax advantage for housing.  While there are significant tax deductions, and also much financial engineering can be done regarding the leverage of equity in the house (thus increasing tax benefit), both of them are available whether or not the housing allowance is in place.

John B. Lee

Greg Long's picture

"Bible college and seminary industrial complex..." sorry, just have to laugh at that, as if Bible colleges and seminaries are this huge, sinister monopoly that's just raking in the money...

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

They're not raking in money, to be sure. But, this goes back to the discussion in another thread about whether a Bible undergrad is necessary or prudent. They're in the business of attracting what students they can, and their alumni obviously want to direct people to these colleges and seminaries. Thus, the cycle repeats:

  • Scenario 1: A 22-yr old with a BA in Bible tries to make a go of it at a small country church, while being paid $25k per year with no medical benefits, while his wife works at the mall for $9.50/hr. Meanwhile, he has $20k in student loan debt. If, by chance, he stuck around at seminary and has an MDiv, he's 26 (or so), with $40k in student loan debt. He burns out after four years, after he and his wife have two children, he's still responsible for preaching four sermons per week and he's been trying to work a second job at the front counter at a local hotel to make ends meet. He vows never to return to ministry, and crawls into a shell and tries to find a job. He is bitter and disillusioned. His wife vows she'll never support him if he tries to be a pastor again.
  • Scenario #2: His high school friend (also a Christian) graduated from state university with a BS in Engineering, and has a job paying $50k per year. This same friend takes virtual classes over the next several years from Maranatha Seminary (the best out there, obviously!), and eventually gets an MA in English Bible. He beings teaching adult Sunday School and enters into a sort of apprenticeship with his pastor, who has an MDiv from BJU and wants to train a man from his own congregation who wants to keep his day job. The church agrees to help a bit towards the man's MDiv program. He continues teaching Sunday School, getting mentorship, and serving in church. Six years later, the man graduates with his MDiv from Paul Henebury's seminary (which costs a fraction of what Maranatha does). He is ordained by his church, and begins serving as the associate pastor. He's now been employed as an engineer for 12 years, and makes $69,000 annually. He takes no salary from his church, because he doesn't need one. They agree to re-direct a good portion of what would have been his salary to missions. The man continues to serve at his church as a pastor for the next several decades, and trains five other men with fulltime jobs during that time from his church, the same way his pastor trained him.

There is a world of difference between these two scenarios. One follows the traditional model; the other thinks outside the box. You choose.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Greg Long's picture

But the guy in scenario #2 is still taking classes from the Bible college/seminary industrial complex...

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

TylerR's picture

Editor

The point is that the traditional model, which feeds what I've termed the "bible college and seminary industrial complex," encourages the:

  1. turn 18
  2. go to bible college
  3. graduate at 22 with a BA
  4. become a pastor and enter into "fulltime Christian service"
  5. suffer with poor pay for the rest of your life
  6. and, as a bonus, lose your housing allowance

model. Scenario #2 is what I'm advocating. Housing allowance? The guy in scenario #2 couldnt care less. He can laugh at the FRFF's lawsuits and say, "bite me" just like I did this morning.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that if a pastor is one who ought to be "apt to teach", at least a certain part of seminary education should, in an ideal world, be done at local churches for free, or for a nominal cost.  Now there's a dagger in the heart of the Bible college/seminary industrial complex!  And really, if I'm reading my history correctly, I'm thinking--Plato, Aristotle, Hillel, all those--that teachers of the past were far more along the lines of the German Privatdozentespecially those prior to 1800.

Not that we're required to use that model, but it does seem a lot more congruent with Matthew 28's call to make disciples.  I've reviewed a couple of degree programs lately as part of a search committee, and I'm struck at how basic a lot of the coursework is.

Which is to say that to a great degree, I'm in agreement with Tyler; spurred on by the tax codes, churches are doing what matters to them--buildings, be it church buildings or the homes of pastors.   Given the status of too many people with a "pastor" undergrad degree and/or some level of master's degree, I think it's time we consider a change.  

One thought regarding the customizability of the parsonage vs. one's own home; you certainly cannot get around the reality that the general architectural style of the parsonage and such cannot be easily changed.  However, you can provide an ample allowance for repainting, carpet, etc.. to help make it "their own" home.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

The guy who posted the linked article for this thread runs a website named "broke pastor." This is a pretty good gut check which confirms there is a problem with pastoral compensation, and I don't believe the "single pastor fulltime" model can solve it. It'll just get worse.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I, quite literally, just spoke to a friend of mine who is looking for a church to pastor. He's a successful executive for a healthcare company, and makes six figures. He is looking to pastor a church and keep his day job. He preached at a church near his home this past Sunday. He liked the church, and the church is full of wonderful people. The church has been without a pastor for three years. The search committee told him he:

  1. Must leave his job
  2. Must be at every church function
  3. Must preach four times per week
  4. They cannot afford to pay him much
  5. They hope to be able to provide a better income in the future

He declined to pastor that church. Those people are fools.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

I disagree; I think it's an idol

Did I miss something here? I quoted Scripture and you disagree because you think it is an idol? I don't want to misunderstand, but what of the text of Scripture? Does it mean something other than what it has historically been understood to mean? I don't follow this at all.

The fact that you may be happier doing it one way says nothing of what the biblical model or pattern is, does it?

TylerR's picture

Editor

To your question:

  • 1 Cor 9:14 suggests a man deserves to make his living by the Gospel. If a church can swing it, then have at it. Many churches can't, or at least, they can't do it well. I'm only suggesting that "fulltime Christian service" isn't the brass ring many people are taught it is. You can be just as effective working a normal job and teaching in your church. If a person feel guilty because he isn't in "fulltime Christian service," then it may be due to Christian cultural pressure than to actual failure on his part.
  • 1 Tim 5:17ff suggests a pastor should be paid well. If a church can swing it, then have at it. Many churches can't, or at least, they can't do it well.

The concept of "fulltime Christian service" can be an idol; in the sense that Christian men and women are often made to feel they are "not doing enough" if they're ordinary people who serve in church and work a normal job. Being compensated for preaching the Gospel doesn't necessarily = 40 hours per week and solo employment as a pastor. I'm asking people to consider whether the "single pastor fulltime" model is the most biblical, most practical or best solution. I don't think it is. For many churches, it's increasingly unworkable. If you're a fulltime solo pastor reading this:

  1. Do you make a decent wage? Honestly?
  2. Does your church provide your with real healthcare benefits?
  3. Do you get paid vacation?
  4. Is your spouse forced to work to provide extra income and.or healthcare benefits?
  5. Are you forced to work a second job to make ends meet?
  6. Do you read blogs, like "brokepastor.com," to find encouragement when you're depressed?
  7. Do you listen to Thom Rainer's podcast (including the one I posted today in Filings about unrealistic pressures on pastor's wives) for solace when you're tired of your wife being miserable in ministry?

Part of it is that ministry is very, very hard. The other part may be that the "single fulltime pastor" model isn't the best way to skin this particular cat. This isn't popular position to take, but it's my two cents.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks, Tyler.

Those passages sure seem like more than a "suggestion" to me. It may not always be possible, but it should be the goal And I think calling it some sort of lesser state is not a good. Paul is actually rebuking the church for not paying him. Regarding working outside, I work outside the church and it most certainly does not enable me to serve just as effectively. It is worse because I work outside. I have less time and less energy for certain things. I am not complaining about that. It is what I choose to do to preach and pastor in this church so long as I remain here.

As for your questions, I am not sure how they help diagnose anything meaningful. What's a "decent wage"? Why does the church have to provide health care? What's wrong with working a second job? I am not familiar with the website you mention, but how is that encouraging us to live out our sacrificial call to minister? I find it hard to imagine that past generations of men like Adoniram Judson, William Carey, James Chalmers, John Paton or the like would have much time for these kinds of discussions. Remember the famous letter of Judson to his prospective father-in-law:

I have to now ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and suffering of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

Or what of John Paton and his wife of whom his biographer writes:

“Paton and his wife knew that they were going into a dangerous and difficult work; they had bidden farewell to their parents and friends with the clear understanding that they might not see one another again on earth. Then they went with cheerful hearts, for they were convinced that the Gospel of Christ would save even the cannibals” (36).

What of Mrs. Paton who, on her deathbed just three weeks after giving birth, said to one of her coworkers:

“Oh, Mr. Copeland, I did not know that you were here! You must not think that I regret coming here, and leaving my mother! If I had the same thing to do over again, I would do it with far more pleasure, yes, with all my heart. Oh no! I do not regret leaving home and friends, though at the time I felt it keenly” (Mueller, 58). 

Paton himself wrote of the death of his wife in his journal,

Stunned by that dreadful loss, my reason seemed for a time almost to give way. But I was never altogether forsaken. The ever-merciful Lord sustained me, to lay the precious dust of my beloved ones in the same quiet grave, dug for them close by, at the end of the house … That spot became my sacred and much-frequented shrine, during all the following months and years when I labored on for the salvation of these savage islanders amidst difficulties, dangers, and death. Whensoever Tanna turns to the Lord, and is won for Christ, men in after-days will find the memory of that spot still green, where with ceaseless prayers and tears I claimed that land for God in which I have ‘buried my dead’ with faith and hope. But for Jesus, and the fellowship He vouchsafed me there, I must have gone mad and died beside the lonely grave” (Kindle; 835-59; Mueller, 56). 

Paton's biographer Mueller writes,

“Let us remember with reverence the devoted wives of the Christian missionaries of the wonderful nineteenth century, who leaving their home, friends, and comfort, accompanied their husband to the uttermost parts of the earth. Many of them died far away from everything that was dear to them, often in pain and sorrow, yet never one murmuring because they had cast in their lost with their husbands in the Lord’s vineyard. The wife of Livingstone sleeps in the heart of Africa. Adoniram Judson’s companion rests in Burma; Mrs. Paton found a lonely coral grave on the secluded island of Tanna. There are dozens more, brave, loyal, godly women, who like Mary listened to the voice of Jesus and like Martha served Him with zeal and consecration. On the great day of the Resurrection, how wonderful will be their reward of grace when glorified they shall learn at the throne of Jesus that their labors and sacrifices have not been in vain! Must we at home not feel ashamed for doing so little for our foreign missions when these heroines of faith have done and given so much” (Mueller 59).

Are we really better than these folks? Do we deserve more? What does "being free from the love of money" actually mean for us?

When we decided to into ministry, we did it knowing what it entailed (or at least should have known). If we are not longer willing to embrace that, perhaps it is time to, as you suggest, chase another profession and be a layman serving in the church. That is certainly a high and noble calling and one that is needed. And if anyone is looking for such a place to serve, I can provide you with a really good lead, and a place where you can achieve the dream of home ownership for very little money. 

I am not for paying pastors the least we can get away with. And I am not in favor of pastor's being poor and destitute and living on a shoe string. But perhaps we need to adjust our expectations and consider the call. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

I think it is very important to get a pastor into his own home as soon as possible for many reasons.

It can be helpful to own a home, but there's another side.

Retirement – owning a home at retirement is a key ingredient to retirement planning.

Owning a house is nice, but it isn't key to retirement. Retirement planning can take place in other ways that may be better in the long run for a variety of reasons.

Security – for his family particularly his wife, privacy – they can decorate how they want – it’s home. 

Not sure how either of these matter. If a church wants to dictate how the parsonage is decorated then that's a dysfunctional church. If people continaully just drop in and invade privacy, then that is a pastoral problem that needs to be addressed with the people who do it. Neither of these offset the benefits of a parsonage.

I think it tends to add to longevity – the family feels more attached to the community because there’s a stronger sense of belonging.

If the primary reason someone is staying is because they own a house, that is a problem. And this can actually be bad for the church because you have a pastor who might rather be somewhere else but can't leave because he can't sell his home. Imagine being a pastor who was called somewhere else in 2008 or 2009, or still in some places today. Or a pastor who bought a house in 2005 or 6. Bummer, dude (as the kids used to say). 

Tax purposes – income tax law provides for generous benefits to the pastor who is buying his own home.  Federal and state income taxes are greatly reduced and sometimes eliminated due to the housing allowance and the double deduction for mortgage interest and real estate taxes.

A great many pastors don't pay income tax, at least of any significant amount. You can double dip but again, that typically isn't all that helpful most likely in the kinds of churches we are talking about.

Again, consider the other side. What about the urban church where property values are so high a pastor can't live in the community. Or what about the urban church where property values are so low, buying would be a bad investment. Or what about the small church who can't afford a salary big enough to allow a pastor to buy a house, but the foresight of a previous generation enables them to have a pastor because they can provide a house.

Or what about the church who has a small salary set aside for a young assistant, but it's not enough to live on. A parsonage enables the church to fulfill its calling of training a new generation (as you think the church should do rather than seminaries; and I halfway agree). We were able here to get help for a few years because we have a parsonage and I own a house. We could do it again if we find the right guy, guys, or family. But we couldn't even pay a parttime salary.

I wonder if, at least in part, an idol here is not money/salary/security. I don't care what anyone makes, but why do we think that certain things are below a pastor? Are we really entitled to church provided healthcare instead of availing ourselves of what is available for us?

I am not attacking you at all, Tyler. I would just encourage a different pattern of thinking about this.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

I wonder if, at least in part, an idol here is not money/salary/security. I don't care what anyone makes, but why do we think that certain things are below a pastor? Are we really entitled to church provided healthcare instead of availing ourselves of what is available for us?

There's a lot of merit to the concerns you raise. I've pondered these issues a lot over the past few years. In general, here is where I'm at, which may help clarify things a bit:

  1. If you're a young guy
  2. and you plan to minister in your own native country, in a first-world environment
  3. then there's no reason to take the traditional path of "single fulltime pastor" and subsist on a low salary and little to no healthcare
  4. If you decide to go that route anyway, then you're working harder, not smarter

For some folks (even some reading this post), it's too late. But, it may not be too late for your teens, or the young college-aged men in your congregation who you plan to encourage to go into ministry. Encourage them to get a secular undergrad, work in a job field they're gifted in and enjoy, and serve in church. Work towards ordination, and encourage a different paradigm for ministry - one that is more of a team approach and not a "fulltime" occupation, in the traditional sense. Their employer takes care of benefits and healthcare, and the church can perhaps help on that end, too. Maybe the job doesn't offer good health benefits. But, the salary works. The church could contribute 100% towards a cost-sharing medical program in lieu of compensation.

I get that each situation is different, and some churches cannot hope to stumble across somebody who this could work for. However, I am convinced there are many serious, dedicated professional men out there in the pews who could do well in an associate pastor role if a different paradigm for ministry were emphasized. Remember the attorney I work with who has an MA in theology, and teaches in his church? Case in point. He'd love to be ordained and assist in preaching and pastoral responsibilities regularly. But, he's a Presbyterian and there's a lot of red tape to cut through - and he doesn't have an MDiv. Most of us are Baptists and don't have to deal with a bureaucracy above the local church. We're free to improvise and try new things.

It's not too late to stop the cycle of the 22-yr old with a bible BA who heads to a $25k/year pastorate with a new wife to get flattened by a semi-truck. We can each try to stop this unproductive paradigm for ministry, and work towards something more realistic and sustainable for our churches.

If you're making the decision to head off to the jungle to preach the Gospel, then we're talking about an entirely different context with an entirely different set of commitments.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

WilliamD's picture

Have your ideal full time, all expenses paid pastor idea if it’s do-able. But the reality for churches in places of extreme persecution is lay pastors with no seminary education because seminaries don’t exist. Full time pastors salaries don’t exist either. They make due with what they have and they suffer. We need to start mentally preparing for that. There is a great book about bivocational ministry by Hugh Halter called “Bivo” which would be a good guide to how to thrive in this environment. 

BiVO: A Modern-Day Guide for Bi-Vocational Saints https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IEKB62Y/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_s0V5zbZFVAW96

Stacy Potts's picture

TylerR wrote:

The guy who posted the linked article for this thread runs a website named "broke pastor." This is a pretty good gut check which confirms there is a problem with pastoral compensation, and I don't believe the "single pastor fulltime" model can solve it. It'll just get worse.

Ha! There is truth in that. I chose that name for the book and website because, not only did I struggle for a few years when I first became a pastor, but over my past 10 years of ministry, I've seen pastor after pastor who either is OR is on their way to being totally and completely broke. I've spent a few years thinking very deeply about the root problem here. I don't think it's just one thing. I think it's several things working together:

  1. I think that, in general, ministry training schools (i.e. Bible colleges, seminaries, etc.) do a poor job of preparing future pastors to understand the unique and confusing world of pastoral compensation. Many of these students enter ministry with absolutely NO IDEA of how their pay is going to work. If there was ever an oversight in pastoral education, this has to be it.
  2. I think that, in general, there is a commonly held mindset by many Christians, churches, and even pastors that a call to ministry is a de facto call to poverty. I 100% disagree with this mindset. I think few, if any, genuine pastors enter the ministry to "get rich," but that does not and should not mean that they have to be broke. They should be paid a reasonable wage for their work. This commonly held mindset has to change.
  3. I think that, in general, since many of the people (in most churches) who are tasked with making decisions about pastoral compensation are untrained volunteers, they don't know how to structure a pastor's compensation in a way that will truly bless the pastor. They're not trying to hurt their pastors. They just don't know what they don't know.
  4. I think that, in general, many pastors are good at many difficult things - preaching/teaching, counseling, discipling - but are just not prepared to think through, understand, and create a strategy for whatever compensation they receive. They're so focused on ministry (which is good) that they don't spend enough time focusing on their own financial health (which is bad). This is why some pastors, in the end, leave ministry.

My belief is that these four issues, combined, have led us to the situation we see around us today. 

T Howard's picture

Being an elder, I and the other lay elders at my church review pastoral compensation every year. Last year, many of the elders just wanted to give a 1% COLA (cost of living adjustment) to our pastors based on inflation. I asked each of them, "Which of you would be happy with a 1% COLA at your annual review if you felt you did a great job that year?" They agreed they would not; however, their response was, "But this is a ministry, not a corporate career." I agreed that this is a ministry, but we should still recognize the excellent performance of our pastors. A $50 gift card to Red Lobster doesn't cut it. I encouraged our elders to approve at least a 3% increase for our senior pastor.

If the laborer is worthy of his hire, that is true in ministry and in non-ministry contexts. Just giving a COLA when God has provided financially for the church to do more is disheartening and discouraging to guys in ministry.

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