Pastoring & Personal Finances

The following article is in response to a series of questions that I’ve received from young pastors and/or men training for pastoral ministry. This post is part of a series of blogs wherein I attempt to provide an overview of the advice that I’ve given to younger pastors and seminarians.

Pastoring & Personal Finances  

It is not uncommon for a pastor search team to require a potential candidate to agree to a credit check. While I see both the value and the potential abuses of such a requirement, I understand why such transparency is an important part of such a big decision. However, the questions about a pastor and his personal finances don’t end with an initial credit check. Questions of debt, budgeting, appropriate compensation, raises, and tithing, must also be answered in a discussion about the pastor and personal finances.

I received the following questions from two different pastors:

1. Should a pastoral candidate accept a call to pastor a church if he is in tremendous debt?

2. My family is struggling financially, and we need more support to live a balanced lifestyle. How can I ask for more financial support without seeming greedy?

Are You Qualified to Lead the Church?

Although the qualifications for a pastor are fairly straight forward (cf. 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1), an assessment of a particular candidate may be difficult. Thus, Paul’s provides two arenas in which to verify that a man meets the qualifications: (1) The home (“He must manage his own household well); and (2) The community (“He must be well thought of by outsiders”).

Let’s get started! First, how do we know if a pastoral candidate is “not a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3d)? The truth is that some pastors hate money so much that they spend every dime as fast as they can in order to have none! However, that is probably not what the Apostle had in mind when writing the prerequisites to enter pastoral ministry. An important question to ask is, “How does the pastoral candidate handle money?” In order to answer this question, we must consider both his leadership in his home and his actions outside the home.

1. He must manage his own household well. While this qualification is not limited to any one particular area of the pastor’s life (it appears to be all-encompassing), I will limit this discussion to personal finances.

Pastoral candidates or pastors should answer (honestly) the following questions:

1) Are you always broke? If so, why?

2) Are you compulsive? In other words, do make major purchases before “counting the costs”?

3) Do you have a budget? If so, do you stick to it? If not, why not? 

4) How are you teaching your children to be good financial stewards?

5) Do you give sacrificially to the furtherance of the gospel (e.g., tithing, missions giving, alms, etc.)? 

6) How much money do you spend eating out and/or on entertainment? 

These are just a few of the questions a pastor should ask and answer to analyze if he is managing his own house well. If you are struggling in one of these areas, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t qualified to serve as a pastor. However, negative responses to multiple questions above may reveal that you need financial counseling.

pastoral ministry and personal finance2. The Pastor’s Credit Rating (touchy subject?)

He must be well thought of by outsiders.” What if your creditors were listed as a references on your resume? Although that is a terrifying proposition to some, a good steward would welcome the idea. Frankly, you don’t have to be rich to pay your bills on time, you just need to be disciplined. 

What is your credit score? I realize that there are a lot of factors that go into a credit score. For example, after I sold my house my score skyrocketed (my debt to income ratio was looking really good!). However, my score always dropped when I took out a student loan. Your credit history should demonstrate two things. First, that you pay your bills on time. Second, you aren’t living under a sea of debt. Of course, there are always exceptions. What about a mortgage, a car note, student loans? Although opinions vary on whether Christians can be in debt, reasonable adults recognize that most people had to go into to debt to get an education, and the majority of people don’t have $200k in the bank to pay cash for a house.

If your financial records were open to the church, would they trust you to lead the finance team?

Back to the original question: Should a pastoral candidate accept a call to pastor a church if he is in tremendous debt? It depends on the circumstances of that debt. Furthermore, it depends on how the man is handling the debt. Maybe the better question would be, “Should a pastor take a position that doesn’t pay him enough to meet his current financial obligations?” The answer is, “No!” That would be a recipe for disaster. It may be better to take the necessary time to pay down some of your debt or become debt free so that you are free to serve wherever God calls you regardless of the level of compensation.

The Church’s Responsibility to Keep the Pastor Humble by Ensuring that He is Poor (it’s somewhere in the Bible, just keep looking!).

While some readers may think that I am joking, some churches are so greedy that they will treat their pastor in ways that they would not tolerate from their own employers. While finishing college, a church contacted me and requested that I candidate for the pastorate. Although I didn’t know much about the church, I took the time to read over the governing documents, which revealed the maximum that a pastor could make per year was $12,000. Even in 2005, this was not a lot of money. What made it worse was the pastor’s pay scale was enshrined in the bylaws. The church considered two factors in determining the pastor’s salary: education and experience. According to their scale, a pastor with more than twenty years of experience and the equivalent of a doctorate degree would be compensated $12,000 a year. Believing that I had either misunderstood or miscalculated the salary structure, I agreed to an informal phone conversation, in which a committee member immediately asked what I thought about the compensation. After confirming the low ball numbers were accurate, I asked if this amount was reflective of the average annual household income of the families in the church. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t even close!) Additionally, the numbers weren’t reflective of the church’s actual financial situation. Ironically, the church was in a position to easily pay a pastor four to five times that amount, but they had become accustomed to desperate seminarians willing to fill the pulpit for two to three years at a time. Sadly, this church was looking for a bargain and not a pastor.

Back to the question: My family is struggling financially, and we need more support to live a balanced lifestyle. How can I ask for more financial support without seeming greedy?

While there is no ideal way of handling this situation, I believe the following points will help a pastor navigate this difficult and touchy situation.

1) Be honest upfront about your financial expectations. That is, before accepting a call to a church you need to lay out your expectations for salary, compensation (i.e., health insurance, life insurance, mileage, etc.), paid time off, and work schedule.

2) Before accepting a call to church ask how the church handles pay raises. There is nothing worse on your first anniversary at the church than to realize that your starting salary will be your salary at retirement. The hiring process should include a commitment to at least a cost of living raise each year. It is not unreasonable to request that a scaled pay increase between 3 to 5 percent be automatic each year, which is typical in most professional jobs.

3) Have an open dialogue with the church leadership, especially the finance team. In some cases, your financial situation may change drastically after you’ve taken the pastorate. Of course, I don’t mean after the first month when you buy a new boat and then ask for a raise to cover the payment. However, you may have taken the position before having children. Three years later, if you are like most young Baptist preachers, you now have two kids and are expecting your third. Your expenses have increased, but your pay hasn’t. What now? Go to the leadership/finance team and explain both why you need a pay raise and what level of increase would ensure that you can live a balanced life. If the church leadership is worth their salt, they will make the necessary adjustments to your compensation to ensure that you can easily provide for your family.

Pastor T.J. Francis


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