Pastors have an extraordinary calling. They also have ordinary needs. Just like everyone else, when they get to retirement age, church staff will need enough money to cover their living and medical expenses for 15 to 25 years or more.
I’ve been blessed to be part of one church my entire adult life: Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. During the five decades of our marriage, my wife Dottie and I have benefitted in countless ways from the ministry staff at the church. From the preaching from the pulpit to the youth leaders who assisted with the Christian nurture of our children and grandchildren, I can’t think of my relationship with Jesus Christ without also thinking of my relationship with the local church and those who serve there.
As president of Covenant College, I saw first-hand how important service-minded people are to the mission of the church. Many Covenant alumni are now serving in various capacities in Presbyterian churches across the country. I also learned much about handling retirement and other financial matters. Every church must find the right people to serve in ministry positions and then make sure they are properly compensated. I have three pieces of advice for lay leaders as they consider how to compensate and care for their pastors:
1) Pay your pastor a fair salary. No one is going to become independently wealthy by serving as a pastor, but many do become financially distressed. This should not be! Those serving in our churches will never receive a large bonus, stock options, or a huge promotion. Their vocation is rightly based on a strong sense of calling, not monetary ambition.
Yet, it is incumbent that church officers ensure that ministry leaders are compensated for their experience, labor, and needs. A fair salary needs to account for education and experience. Most churches in the PCA include staff who hold an advanced degree. Compensation should account for the level of education and responsibility.
But churches must also take other factors into account. Does the church expect the pastor to enroll his children in a local Christian school? If so, churches must build room for education in the compensation package or set up a scholarship fund to benefit the children of ministry staff. Does the church expect the pastor to have a home within a certain distance of the church? If so, it will need to compensate the pastor sufficiently to to qualify for a mortgage on a nearby home.
The fact is that not every church can afford to pay their pastor a full-time salary. In those cases, churches should give the pastor freedom to pursue part-time employment opportunities in addition to their work at the church.
2) Help ministry staff plan for the future. Retirement is an issue near my heart. Once we are all called to serve for all of our lives, I think Christians, of all people, should be diligent in planning for the future. When I retired from Covenant College, I wanted to do something to help the college indefinitely, and I gave all my effort to grow the college’s endowment. An endowment works like a retirement fund by taking advantage of saving and investing with compounding interest. Every contribution to endowment grows over time. Even if pastors don’t appreciate a retirement fund in the present, an adequately funded retirement account will bless ministry leaders, their spouses, and the larger church, for decades to come.
People who spend their lives serving the church shouldn’t become a burden to the institutional church in their retirement years. However, the failure to properly invest money into a retirement fund during their ministry career has left many pastors and their spouses destitute when they are no longer able to hold full-time positions.
It is prudent for churches to make sure ministry staff have regular contributions being made into a retirement account. Geneva Benefits has a compensation guide to help lay leaders think through how to make appropriate allocations for retirement contributions. We can bless our ministry leaders for years to come by investing every month in their 403b.
3) Make sure pastors are part of an ongoing community. From my perspective, pastors tend to be low on money and low on friends. It is difficult for pastors and their spouses to form meaningful friendships inside the congregation because of the perception of having “favored members.” Most people I know don’t form their closest friendships at their workplace; however, the church is the “workplace” for ministry staff. We need to be aware of their need for relationships apart from their job.
I’m likely an exception since I’ve lived in one town and attended one church my entire adult life. But some of my closest friendships have come through connections in my community, especially my neighborhood. My wife Dottie and I are founding residents of Brow Wood, an active adult community adjacent to Covenant College, in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Along with some other couples, we created a neighborhood for people who wanted to stay and become part of a community that stressed mental, physical, spiritual, and social activity.
As we grow older, it is difficult for me to imagine life without a close community. I want pastors to be part of such a community, both now and in the future. Though some may find community in the local church, others may find it through friendships with other ministry couples nearby or from their years in seminary. We need to give pastors and their families the time and space to be human. They need meaningful friendships whether those relationships come from within the church or their neighborhood.
I have been blessed to sit under the ministry of very gifted pastors and teachers. They are sons of God, but they are also sons of Adam. Pastors are human, and we need to be mindful of their basic needs as they serve us. Though many pastors will never voice a need, it doesn’t mean their needs don’t exist. Let’s compensate and care for our ministry staff in a way that encourages and sustains them in their calling.
Frank Brock is a Chattanooga native and former president of Covenant College. He is a founding member of Brow Wood, an active adult community adjacent to Covenant College, in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.