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2011-05-01 issue:

Ministry and money

Leadership: A word from Mennonite Church USA leadership

by Beryl Jantzi

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Lack of money is a problem for the clergy, but a bigger problem is our lack of knowledge, skill and confidence to give effective leadership on money issues.—Dan Hotchkiss, Ministry and Money

Money is an important tool for all organizations, including the church. However, pastors generally receive little if any formal training in basic financial principles or personal money management. Yet they are expected to have all aspects of their personal life in order, including their household finances, so they can be good models for the community. In reality, many pastors—like many lay members—struggle with managing their personal finances, according to Dan Hotchkiss in his book Ministry and Money.

Supporting our pastors: School debt is part of this growing problem for graduating seminarians entering congregations across the country. Preparing for the pastorate requires significant financial sacrifice on the part of those who commit to a seminary education.

A 2005 report by the Center for the Study of Theological Education titled “The Gathering Storm: The Educational Debt of Theological Students” states that with the growing cost of education, many seminarians graduate with a debt greater than what they can afford to pay back on a pastor’s salary. A suggestion for congregations who value seminary-trained pastors is to factor an educational assistance line into their salary and benefits package to help pay down their pastor’s educational debt. Another recommendation is to set up a seminary assistance fund to be used by others in the congregation who are following a call to ministry.

It’s understandable that smaller congregations may not always be able to provide adequate compensation for their pastor. But rather than setting full-time expectations and compensating at a part-time level, they should establish responsibilities on par with the remuneration. The congregation can affirm their pastor in seeking additional part-time employment until the church can increase his or her compensation.

Because of ministry demands and compensation challenges, I know of parents who have discouraged their young adult children from pursuing a call to the ministry. Congregations as well as denominational and seminary leaders need to work at calling, equipping and supporting pastors and other church leaders.

Pastoral involvement in congregational finances: In my role as a stewardship educator for Everence and Mennonite Church USA, I’ve been surprised to observe the variety of congregational financial functions a pastor may or may not be asked to carry. One pastor I spoke with is expected to count the offering and deposit the money after Sunday worship (a bad idea). Other pastors are not expected and not invited to be part of congregational stewardship or finance committee meetings (another bad idea).

Some clergy are glad to be relieved of having anything to do with the financial matters of the congregation. I find this unfortunate. Clergy should be able to understand and discuss basic financial budgetary issues. When we don’t involve pastors in financial decision-making processes, we compartmentalize finances and deem them “less spiritual” than other activities of the church. Without conscious intention, we communicate that our use of money lies outside the spiritual call and responsibilities of the church. Money is a gift of God and a valuable resource that requires as much pastoral attention as other ministries of the church.

Being able to speak meaningfully to the financial issues Jesus and the prophets addressed more than 2,300 times in Scripture requires some knowledge and awareness of how money functions in the life of the congregation as well as in the lives of its members. I applaud those congregations whose pastors are involved in the financial conversations and decision-making issues of the church.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:17-20 (NIV) that “the [church] worker deserves his wages.” In turn, church workers need to be involved in the financial ministry of their congregations. Money is a gift of God, and pastors need to be as literate in speaking the language of finance as they are in parsing Greek verbs and exegeting Scripture.

Beryl Jantzi is the stewardship education director for Everence, the stewardship agency of Mennonite Church USA.

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