“Adjusting for church size (see Methodology), the average full-time Southern Baptist senior pastor’s compensation (salary and housing) rose 0.78 percent between 2008 and 2010. That rate of change was only slightly higher than the compounded 0.67 percent inflation rate for the same two-year period” CP
By James Rickard. Reprinted with permission from the Baptist Bulletin Jan/Feb ‘09 issue. All rights reserved.
In the mid-1960s as a young accountant, I began helping my pastor prepare his state and federal tax returns. I was surprised at his meager salary, lack of fringe benefits, and inability to provide financially for his future. His family lived in a church-owned parsonage totally controlled by the church; they couldn’t even paint a wall without committee approval. It was a large farmhouse that was difficult to maintain and expensive to heat. I remember visiting that parsonage and finding his wife in tears over the frustration of living under those conditions. And I remember thinking, This is not right. Little did I know how that experience would begin to sow the seeds for the Stewardship Services Foundation, a ministry that would allow me to devote my energies to counseling pastors regarding finances, helping them prepare their personal income tax returns, and teaching church boards how to structure pastors’ salary packages within the limits of IRS tax law. As a result, in 1977 the Stewardship Services Foundation ministry was born.
A church board needs to know about salary packages and their proper application in the budget process. The most important issue when it comes to this subject is the board’s attitude—a proper understanding of the salary package issue and the desire to meet the needs of the pastor’s family with a spirit of generosity.
Read Part 1.
Author’s note: This critique has been specifically focused on the appropriateness of Financial Peace University as a financial counseling program in a local church. It does not evaluate Ramsey’s TV show, radio program or books, none of which I have ever seen, heard or read.
For all the benefits of Dave Ramsy’s Financial Peace University (FPU), I found several troubling problems with it. I addressed the good and the ugly in Part 1 of this essay. Now let’s look at the bad.
When I mentioned to a friend recently that I was writing a review of FPU, he responded with enthusiasm that Dave Ramsey had changed his life. He explained that through FPU he had gotten out of debt, was saving for retirement and living a much more frugal life. When I indicated that my review was not likely to be favorable, he was surprised and a little defensive. Because he is theologically astute, I asked him about what I perceived to be the major flaw of FPU—the distortion of the gospel. He responded as I think many Christians would if asked that question: what distortion? I think it very likely that many Christians could attend FPU and not notice anything wrong with its message. The reason this is true is because most Christians do not have a firm conviction that the gospel ought to be central in any discussion regarding an issue of the Christian life. The gospel for many is about evangelism, not money, or sex, or parenting, or leisure.
A truly Christian viewpoint, however, sees everything through the lens of the gospel. This flies in the face of so many Christian attitudes toward everyday life, whether it be money, music, the arts, technology, or any host of cultural issues. The typical Christian response is to find some scattered verses and weave together a loose tapestry of references organized by his preconceived notions. To be truly Christian is to approach the issue from the standpoint of the gospel, and here is where I find FPU to be downright lacking.
Few people today interested in personal money management have not heard the name Dave Ramsey. Ramsey has built an empire of financial counseling that includes a nationally-syndicated radio show, a slot on Fox Business channel, and a NY Times bestseller, The Total Money Makeover. His website claims that over 1,000,000 families have taken Financial Peace University (FPU), his financial class designed to help people take charge of their money. On average, the website claims, attendees pay off $5,300 in debt and save $2,700 in just 90 days. FPU is billed as “a 13-week video curriculum—taught by financial expert Dave Ramsey—that incorporates small-group discussions to encourage accountability and discipleship. Financial Peace University is highly entertaining for everyone, with a unique combination of humor, informative financial advice and biblical messages.”
With such stunning results, it’s easy to understand why so many people are turning to Ramsey for financial advice. Since FPU is marketed to churches (along with other institutions such as businesses and the military), it is worth the effort to examine the program and evaluate it biblically. While Ramsey professes to be a Christian and uses Scripture liberally (in his church version of FPU), I discovered profound problems with the program, both in its content, and in its use by churches as an evangelistic tool. What follows is not a thorough critique, but a general attempt to evaluate the program biblically and theologically, while being as charitable as possible.
Being someone’s pastor is actually a very intimate experience. If your pastor is a good one, he loves you. He’s been there during some of your most difficult moments. He’s caught tears, perhaps had to be the one to tell you difficult news, has seen you at your best and at your worst. You may have confided some personal things in him that are known only to you, him and God as you work through the consequences of sin, personal tragedies and other pains. He has invested his heart and soul in you by praying for you, weeping with you, perhaps even putting your needs ahead of his or his family’s at times.