By Daniel R. Gangler

INDIANAPOLIS - The Lilly Endowment informed Indiana Bishop Mike Coyner on Nov. 17, that it approved a $3.9 million grant to fund a four-year project to assist Indiana United Methodist pastors with intense financial management education as well as funds to assist indebted clergy with their debt load through the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Upon this announcement, Coyner said, "this will be a huge project but also a huge opportunity to bless our clergy during the next several years."

According to the Rev. David V.W. Owen, executive assistant to Bishop Coyner and principle writer of the grant, the project, titled "Well Lived Pastoral Life Project," will establish a series of educational programs and funds designed to:

  • Educate all clergy to avoid personal financial distractions to their ministries through financial planning;
  • Alleviate the crisis of overwhelming debt on pastors; and
  • Increase the resources available to increase pastors' salaries in order to minimize the likelihood of future personal economic crisis.

Owen says, "these conference initiatives will increase ministerial excellence, deepen the stewardship practices of our members and congregations, and therefore better prepare United Methodists for faithful service to the world."

Hearing countless stories from district superintendents and other church leaders about the indebtedness of clergy and how it was interfering with their ministries, conference leaders last year commissioned Dr. Matt Bloom of the University of Notre Dame and Dr. Amy Colbert of the University of Iowa to lead a study of clergy indebtedness that confirmed a clergy person's well-being is deeply connected to personal income and the ability to provide for one's family. Their survey revealed that relatively few pastors understand sound financial management and therefore do not practice these skills.

"We believe the involvement of laity and clergy will positively shape the stewardship culture of the congregation and therefore of our denomination. We expect the pastor will have a greater sense of well-being for his or her self and family, will gain greater confidence in dealing with financial matters in the local church, and will teach and preach more wisely on stewardship issues," says Owen.

Conference leaders also are hoping for a connection between a pastor's use of sound personal finances with a congregation's growth in its practice of faithful stewardship.

How the project works

The Indiana United Methodist Church's Well Lived Pastoral Life Project will establish a series of educational programs and funds designed to educate all clergy to avoid personal financial distractions to their ministries through financial planning, alleviate the crisis of overwhelming debt on pastors and increase the resources available to increase pastors' salaries in order to minimize the likelihood of future personal economic crisis.

A program of Financial Management and Planning will be established to educate pastors about personal financial issues and how to develop plans to help them avoid untenable debt burdens and other financial hardships. This program will be linked to a stewardship education program involving laity and clergy. Its focus is to address effective financial management of the congregation and personal finances utilizing latest Christian based financial education programs.

Owen outlined that the grant will help establish four funds. They are:

  • Education Debt Reduction will allow clergy to retire educational debt linked to an incentive to engage congregational support to match the grant.
  • Retirement Planning Incentives will encourage clergy to contribute their share to the United Methodist Pension Plan (UMPIP) linked to a financial education program engaging clergy and laity in financial planning and stewardship education.
  • Funding for Emergencies for pastors and clergy families will help clergy establish their own family emergency fund in addition make available a program to provide immediate relief in financial emergencies that jeopardizes personal and professional well-being.
  • Called Anew Fund will under gird the effort to improve the overall effectiveness of the pastoral pool by assisting ineffective clergy to leave ministry with dignity and financial stability linked to a well developed plan of evaluation and retraining for a new career path.

Participation in any of these funds also will include a financial planning component that allows individuals and families to meet with a financial planner. These educational events and processes will be designed for strategic benefit at different points in a pastor's ministry and may include personal consultations as well as group workshops.

Coyner will soon name a Well Lived Pastoral Life Advisory Team of 10 to 12 members chosen for specific expertise. The Project will be led on a day-to-day basis with a yet-to-be-named director, administrative assistant and conference leaders sharing their skills part-time.

Expected outcomes

"We project that at the end of the fourth year there will be a significant number of clergy and laity trained in effective personal financial management," said Owen. "These trained clergy and laity will be a core group that will significantly change the culture in our denomination. This will result in a healthy congregational approach to stewardship, generosity and appropriate management of congregational funds for effective ministry."

Through surveys in four years, conference leaders are hoping the perception of well-being among United Methodist pastors and their spouses will increase by 20 percent from what it is now. Hopefully, there also will be a sizeable decrease in the amount of debt carried by Indiana United Methodist pastors and that pastors will be better prepared than they are presently in meeting the financial challenges of their ministries.

Congregations, too, will be challenged to increase compensation due to increasing resources for ministry brought about by a stronger conference emphasis on stewardship.

The program will not entirely depend on the Lilly Endowment grant, but also on contributions in dollars or staffing time from related institutions, continued support from the denomination's Ministerial Education Fund and with individuals making major gifts to this project.