July - August 2016

Written by Dan Busby
From his column God, Government and Me—Money in the Church

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It’s summer. That means Clergy Appreciation Day (October 9) is months away; an opportunity to give your pastor a special Christmas gift is even farther away; and it has been six months since the church gave your minister a whopping three percent pay increase to offset inflation. Still, today, let’s spend some time thinking about caring for your pastor.

Why? Well, here’s a radical thought—it’s always time to care for your minister. Unfortunately, some churches don’t always do this adequately. Even in the few instances where they are well compensated, pastors need our support and prayers.

Consider these three concepts for pastoral care:

1. Share the blessings. Has God blessed your church financially recently? I hope He has. And when He blessed your church with resources, what did you do with them? Did you build up cash reserves, make early payments on the mortgage, buy new AV equipment, or increase the pastor’s pay—even though it wasn’t budgeted? My guess is that it was not the latter.

Principle: When God generously blesses financially, churches should be generous with their ministry leaders.

2. Flexible budgeting. What is a budget? It’s simply a financial guide to help ensure positive financial results. Too often the budget is used as an excuse to say “no” to any expenses not envisioned when it was approved. There are no rules—written or unwritten—suggesting that a church cannot give a mid-church year pay increase to a pastor, or even provide a bonus.

There are no rules—written or unwritten—suggesting that a church cannot give a mid-church year pay increase to a pastor,
or even provide a bonus.

Principle: A church budget should not restrict a church from blessing the pastoral staff when God blesses the church.

3. Balancing responsibilities. A church has many financial responsibilities. These include paying all obligations on time so the reputation of Jesus Christ is not tarnished. This means having adequate cash reserves to weather low times in cash flow cycles—typically, the summer months. It also means sharing financial blessings with the pastor and staff.

Principle: When God blesses a church financially, being generous with the pastoral staff is an important part of balancing the responsibilities of those who make church governance decisions.

What are the principal challenges that prevent churches from being generous with their pastors? Here are a few that top my list:

Tight-fisted control of pastor’s pay. This is seen when pastoral compensation is overly restrictive. Some people view the budget as an absolute limit on a pastor’s pay and are unwilling to consider a salary increase when God blesses the church financially. This attitude is not consistent with New Testament-type Spirit-led generosity, nor does it reflect compassionate stewardship. It is reminiscent of the old joke (which isn’t funny): “Lord, you keep the pastor humble, we will keep the pastor poor.”

Failure to use the annual budget as a time for course correction. Drafting a budget provides an excellent time for a church to bless the pastor. It’s a once-a-year opportunity for a church governing body to show in a tangible way it places a priority on pastoral care.

Drafting a budget provides an excellent time for a church
to bless the pastor.

Improper use of comparative data. In the relatively few situations when pastoral compensation is extremely generous, comparable data from churches of similar size and regional location can be helpful to ensure if it's reasonable. However, the more common scenario occurs where a pastor is underpaid. In such situations, using comparable data may not be helpful. If churches of similar size in your community are underpaying their pastors, remunerating your pastor at a comparable level simply means sharing mediocre compensation all the way around.

Inflationary increases are not effective pay increases. Far too often, churches think in terms of providing an annual inflationary pay adjustment for the pastor. This means the pastor effectively receives the same pay year-after-year. It takes an inflationary increase—plus a generous pay raise—to truly bless a pastor.

Additionally, limiting compensation increases to inflationary adjustments assumes that last year’s pay level was adequate. If, however, it was inadequate, an inflationary pay increase does not change the situation.

Volunteers may be a good alternative to paid staff. Far too many churches underpay all of their staff instead of facing the reality that they are spreading their compensation dollars too thin. A viable option is to use more volunteers. It is better to reduce the number of paid employees in order to pay remaining church staff adequately. Involving volunteers enables a church to offset services previously provided by paid staff.

It never hurts to be generous. Inadequate pastoral pay is a chronic issue for thousands of churches. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will increasingly impress lay leaders to be appropriately generous in compensating pastors and other church staff.

Dan Busby is a certified public accountant and president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

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