In the September issue of Together, I suggested we begin a serious conversation about the impact finances have on the overall state of well-being of clergy. Clergy are called to representative ministry for the purpose of equipping laity to carry out the work of the church.
If clergy are experiencing economic challenges, it is difficult for them to carry out such an important task.
What are the causes of such economic challenges faced by clergy? Each clergy person’s case is unique, however there are several common factors that may inform our conversation.
Silence in the church about money – I have shared with you about research that has been completed on the unwillingness of some clergy and congregations to discuss the topic of money in the church. How many of you pastors have been told, “Pastor, you address the spiritual matters and leave the rest to us.” Or, “We don’t use pledges here. We haven’t had a campaign for years. We don’t want one.” Or, the number of laity who have shared with me that they wish their pastor would preach and teach on stewardship but refuses to do so.
The lack of stewardship education in our congregations – Congregations have been silent when it comes to teaching and preaching about financial stewardship. And yet, if a disciple of Jesus Christ is to reach spiritual maturity, that disciple must be committed to submitting every area of his or her life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ including finances.
Yes, many of our churches offer stewardship campaigns, however, these campaigns are not designed to teach personal stewardship practices. They are designed to assist congregations in reaching levels of financial security. Such campaigns presume that the individual who makes a financial commitment during the campaign does so only after he or she has reviewed the family budget and has prayerfully consulted with Jesus Christ about the level of giving that he or she is to commit.
Through a stewardship campaign and a financial stewardship education program, disciples of Jesus Christ will consistently be challenged to grow into becoming generous followers of Jesus Christ for the sake of God’s kingdom.
The lack of financial management and planning opportunities for potential clergy – Until recent years, the majority of our seminaries and our Course of Study schools have not required nor offered courses in financial management, planning or stewardship education. As a result, graduates of seminaries and Course of Study schools have not received the necessary training in these areas. An exception is those clergy who may have taken the initiative to take the training or second career clergy.
The historical view of the call to ministry has been a spiritual discussion only – Historically, when individuals acknowledged they were discerning a call to representative ministry in Indiana Conference’s predecessor conferences, the focus of the conversation was on the spiritual call and on the spiritual gifts of the people. Historically, there was no focus on the individual’s financial health. In light of the “silence” one experienced while going through the process, it is not difficult to see why the topic of finances would continue to be viewed as a topic one would not bring to the forefront of discussion as a candidate for ministry or even as a clergy person. One would just live with the challenges and consequences of not becoming financially equipped.
In recent years, the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry has begun to address the issue of financial health with candidates. The conversations have served as the opportunity for candidates for ministry to become proactive in addressing their financial health.
I am not suggesting the call to representative ministry should be ignored, because of financial challenges. I am suggesting that conversations begin early on how a candidate’s indebtedness will be managed after an appointment to a congregation.
The funding of a seminary education – The funding of a seminary education has changed over the years. The abundance of scholarships, grants and congregational support that were available years ago is no longer the case. Today, there are fewer scholarships and grants available to fund a seminary education. Also, there are churches who do not view their role of sending forth a person into ministry as one that includes financial support. Not all seminary graduates however, graduate with debt. There are recent seminary graduates who have graduated from seminary with little or no debt, because of their commitment to graduate debt free.
Ill-informed and uninformed decision-making – Due to the lack of training in financial management and planning, clergy have made ill-informed and uninformed decisions that have a negative impact on their financial health.
The reasons listed are not excuses. They are reasons I hope will form the basis for our ongoing conversation.
As we continue this conversation in the next issue, we will discuss the unique status clergy have in our society. I will share several ways that Rejuvenate is attempting to address the above factors.
Thanks to the generous matching grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., to address economic challenges facing clergy, the Rejuvenate Project has developed educational programs for clergy, lay teams and laity. There are stewardship education programs for clusters of churches and clergy groups. There also are workshops for clergy and lay teams that address financial management and planning. We are providing financial counseling and coaching for individual clergy and clergy spouses. Eligible clergy can apply for one of the clergy grants.
Because the average debt level of seminary graduates is $62,000, Rejuvenate is awarding grants to eligible seminarians to assist them with financing their education. Pastors, visit Rejuvenate’s website at www.rejuvenateindiana.org to learn how this project can assist you and your congregation.
Michelle Cobb serves as director of the Rejuvenate Project and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congregations have been silent when it comes to teaching and preaching about financial stewardship.