I’ve done a lot of thinking about the issue of churches taking care of their pastors who leave since I stepped down from my church back in June. I’m not upset or bitter or even remotely angry, but the subject is brought up to me by others. The basic problem is that when a pastor loses his job, for whatever reason, the church does a terrible job in taking care of the man and his family. Let me be clear that the church I left in June did their best to take care of me and my family in my departure. I commend them for that. But my church was the exception, not the rule.
Most churches, when they get rid of a pastor leave him out to dry, especially in less than harmonious situations. The pastor is not given a severance package or a way to take care of his family, just told to pack up his books and get out of the office by the end of the day. If the pastor and his family live in a manse/parsonage, it is even worse. The pastor has to find some place to live without even the resources to pay a deposit on an apartment.
This is really sad and despicable because it shows that most churches don’t really value their pastors at all. They see him as nothing more than some form of odd entertainment in their dysfunctional social club, instead of one who is responsible for their souls and spiritual well being.
In my 12 years in ministry, I had to challenge deacons and elders on several occasions when it came to paying me enough to live upon: “what is the gospel worth to you?” Usually when you are having this conversation with a tight-fisted treasurer, you can count on the fact that the gospel means nothing to the individual because he doesn’t value the pastor or his role in the church. What he values is the church’s money and thinks it is his job to build a bank account for some future rainy day. This is the excuse I’ve actually heard from one man who was hell-bent, and probably hell-bound, on building a bank account for the small church. For what purposes, I’m not really sure.
The church had plenty of money, but very few people and it probably should have closed years ago.
However, if you love the gospel and appreciate the role your pastor plays in the life of the church, then let me suggest the three areas to think about in taking care of him while he is at your church and upon his departure, no matter what the situation may be.
First, please don’t call a pastor if you cannot support him. If you cannot pay him enough for him to buy and pay for house, pay for groceries, pay all his utilities, medical, vacations and provide for his family, then don’t call him. I’m not saying that he should live high on the hog, but paying a guy with four kids and a wife $35,000 is not supporting your pastor. That was a great salary in 1970. But the cost of living has risen a bit and you need to adjust what you pay the man.
If your church isn’t big enough to support a pastor, without a pastor, it will not grow and you probably need to seriously consider closing the doors and finding another place to worship. I know many love the buildings where they worship, but we are told not to love the things of this world.
Realize that astors make a lot of sacrifices by going into the ministry. Most of us don’t have any retirement and have taken far more risks as pastors than you have taken as a church. In fact, the pastor is the one who is taking the risk. We know it’s a calling, and we know that we are passing up on making a lot of money in the corporate world, but it is not the church’s duty to impoverish it’s pastors. It’s the church’s duty to take care of them and their families.
So let me reiterate, if you cannot afford a pastor, then don’t call one. Close the doors and join another congregation in calling a pastor.
Some might want to know how much to pay a pastor. A good rule of thumb is what is the average salary of the deacons and elders in the church. I know that some might not like to give up this information, but you know everything about the pastor’s pay, so lets be fair and reasonable. I have also heard that a church should pay its pastor about the same as a principle makes at the local high school. This is given with the view that the pastor not only has a bachelor’s degree but also a master’s in theology or divinity. He spent years preparing for the ministry, don’t starve him or short-change him once he gets there.
A second way to really take care of the pastor is to plan for his departure. He is going to leave some day and it may be because he is moving on to another church, or retiring or because of moral failure. Whatever the reason, the church should still plan to take care of him in his departure, especially if there is moral failure.
Please realize that being a pastor is the only job in America where if a man’s marriage falls apart, he not only loses his family, but his career as well. I know some elders and deacons would say: “Yes, but he deserves to starve.” Really? What about mercy and grace? What about his family? They still have to eat, why punish them for his moral failure? Are you really that cold and sadistic? Remember, if a lawyer or doctor has moral failure, they can keep working and no one bats an eye. But if a pastor falls into moral failure, congregations suddenly sound like the crowds that surrounded Jesus, “Crucify him!, crucify him.”
There was only one perfect pastor. Don’t nail the rest of us on the cross as well.
A third way to take care of a pastor if he lives in the manse/parsonage is to set aside an amount of money every year he is there for equity. If he buys the house he lives in, then he is building up equity. The problem with churches that have a parsonage is that when he leaves, he has nothing in which to buy a house wherever he is moving to. So the church should set some aside.
I know these suggestions may sound outlandish. But in the corporate world, if a man loses his job, he has unemployment to fall back upon. Not the pastor. We don’t receive unemployment, therefore the church should step up to take care of those who have been in the ministry and quit treating the men we hailed at one point as pariahs upon their departure, whatever the reason. It is the least the church can do for those in the ministry.