When Brandon Shields left his full-time position as a pastor in West Palm Beach to start a church several states away, he did what most church planters do: He allotted his family as little money as possible to get by while in the fundraising stage.
As his home and salary shrank to what he believed to be appropriate size for a church planter, his children and expenses grew—and so did his anxiety over finances.
Shields has plenty of company; surveys have shown the vast majority of clergy, around nine in ten Protestant pastors in the US, experience financial stress.
Many churchgoers—and pastors themselves—assume these kinds of budget balancing acts come as part of the job. Just as churches must wrestle with the tension between generosity and being good stewards of the resources God has given, pastors too must work out how to provide adequately for their families while striving to live simply.
But in the end, American Christians might be surprised to learn how many pastors struggle to make ends meet, and how much those financial pressures can weigh on their personal lives and ministry careers.
With October being Pastor Appreciation Month, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) launched its Bless Your Pastor campaign to raise awareness about the state of clergy finances and provide resources for thoughtful ways churches can support their leaders.
“Over 70 percent of pastors know pastors that have left the ministry just from the stress of it, either the personal stress or the financial stress, and over one-third have said they themselves have considered leaving the ministry just because it’s too difficult on their family, especially with some of the financial challenges they face,” Brian Kluth, national director of NAE Financial Health and spokesperson for Bless Your Pastor, said in an interview with K-LOVE.
An earlier NAE survey by found that half of pastors have salary/housing packages under $50,000. When it comes to benefits, most receive no family health insurance (59%) and no pension or retirement funds (62%).
A 2016 study of clergy compensation similarly found that Protestant clergy income (including salary and housing allowances) amounts to just over $46,000 annually on average.
Analysis by GuideStone, the financial planning firm for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), indicates SBC pastor salaries are not keeping up with the rate of inflation, and the financial pull often leaves them without adequate funds to save for the future.
“One thing we can say for certain is that most [SBC] pastors are generally underprepared for retirement,” said Roy Hayhurst of GuideStone. “Many factors contribute to a lack of retirement readiness in ministry including the growing challenge of student debt, the burden of personal debt, inertia and putting the focus on the here and now and not on their long-term needs.”
Chet Lilly, chief operating officer at PCA Retirement and Benefits Inc., the retirement agency of the Presbyterian Church in America, has seen many pastors who spend their professional lives in low-paying ministries, only to discover after decades of serving the church that they cannot retire.
Although Lilly and Hayhurst said their organizations strongly discourage pastors from opting out of Social Security Benefits, the NAE reports that one in five of pastors have done so. Opting out doubles the amount of money a pastor might have to save in order to retire.
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Source: Christianity Today