If you haven’t yet started your Thrive Process
If you’ve already registered your Thrive Team
TFI Dashboard – First Report
Thrive Teams Finishing Year 1 To Date
Districts Providing Matching Grants To Date
- Total Contribution to Pastors – $126,321
- Local Churches to Pastors – $81,021
- Grants to Pastors – $45,300
- District Contributions to Grants – $15,150
Thriving clergy display well-being spiritually, emotionally, relationally, physically, intellectually, and financially. But do you know the most common financial challenges facing clergy? Neither did we until we surveyed our pastors.
Our survey discovered that the typical Wesleyan pastor…
- Has moderate financial stress
- Has no supplemental savings for retirement
- Has not been able to take vacation or retreat due to time or money
- Has no emergency savings
- Has medical expense concerns
- Believes there is limited ability for future income increase
- Struggles with education expense (their own school debt and their children’s college costs)
- Reports diminished ministry capacity because of economic challenges
Although many families face similar concerns, the current and future earning potential of pastors frequently means that it is especially difficult for clergy to meet unexpected expenses, build savings, or pay off debt. Clergy economic challenges also diminish the quality of ministry by both the pastor and the local church. By reducing the negative effects of pastors’ economic challenges, the TFI helps make it possible for clergy to develop enhanced holistic health that increases energy, optimism, and effectiveness in ministry. The Thrive Financial Initiative, which is part of a larger effort in Education and Clergy Development, helps foster thriving clergy and thriving congregations who build thriving communities.
Thanks to a generous $1,000,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., we are able to address these challenges for our clergy. This site will help you understand how you and your church can participate in TFI.
How does TFI work?
Click on these videos to learn more
Click the following tabs to read the full stories
The impact of the pilot project version of TFI on him and his congregation.
When I agreed to come to the church as pastor, it was just about at its end. The members were discussing whether to close. They didn’t really have any vision or plans about ministry and mission. I agreed to come, in part because I didn’t have a lot of ministry experience and I thought it would be a good place to get some even if it didn’t last for long. I think they agreed to let me come because they couldn’t really afford anyone else. Actually, they couldn’t afford me. A lot of questions during my interview revolved around whether I tithed and how much I tithed based upon a job I had in retail. In many ways, I paid my own pastoral salary. Even with my tithe, it wasn’t long before I had to take a pay cut. The church was running on fumes. We had no more than 15-17 people attending worship.
The entire situation wore on me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Even with a pay cut, I wasn’t doing any less work. I felt like I was paying myself to do the work. It was very frustrating to me to work hard but feel unappreciated. I thought I was doing a lot of self-sacrifice for the congregation but no one was noticing. It seemed to me I was being taken advantage of. I was starting to resent the church and that was spilling over to my home life because that was the only place I felt I could safely complain. It was a vicious circle. I was hiding my feelings and just hoping that someone would notice what I was doing and the economic circumstances I was experiencing. Then, I was growing angrier that no one noticed, even though I was the one hiding my feelings.
Physically, I wasn’t eating right. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was gaining weight and becoming unhealthy in every sense of the word. So, when information about the Thrive Financial Initiative (TFI) first came out, it grabbed my attention. It was called the HOPE project at that time. The opportunity to get a $1,000 check was very attractive. Really, it was the only thing I was thinking about at the beginning. A $1,000 windfall. Wow! The problem I had was how to get my church to go along.
I was very hesitant to go to my church and ask. Doing so was a huge hurdle. I wrestled with it for several days. Finally, my desire to earn the matching grant overwhelmed my fear, and I brought it to the board. I approached it from an emotional and leadership distance. I provided the information to them, casually suggesting this is something the district is doing, is anyone interested in participating as a church? It is out there and available to us. Somewhat to my surprise, the board responded that we would be silly not to do it. Looking back, that courage to ask was one of the critical moments for me and for our church. The TFI plan gave me the courage to ask.
When the project started, one of the first changes that occurred was movement from just wanting to get a check to realizing that this is what a healthy person and a healthy church looks like. The thrive model laid it out in a very simple but powerful picture. It helped me, personally, and us, as a church, articulate the fact that we didn’t have our stuff together. We didn’t fit this model of health. That led to questions such as what do we want our future to look like?
Before we started asking those questions, we were not in good shape. Mentally, our thinking was more along the lines of “I hope we don’t have to close.” That’s the way we talked. That’s the way we acted. As we started asking the question about pastoral, laity, and congregational health, our thinking became “we are not going to close. We are going to thrive.” We literally went from hopelessness to hope in a short time. All previous discussion of spiritual and ministry success had been about the past and some distant glory days. Focus had been on reinventing the church as it was “back then” rather than what it needed to be. Culture had changed. The community had changed. Technology had changed. But we hadn’t changed, yet. The thrive incentive grant scholarship stimulated conversations about what needed to change for us to become healthy.
The project gained a lot of momentum when my vice-chair got involved. When we started, she didn’t really know or at least didn’t think about what I got paid. When she started looking at my salary compared to my responsibilities, she became a champion for me personally as well as for the church. She took the initiative to say the church should be paying this cost for you. She carried the weight of building collaboration and consensus around those ideas. She got some other supporters around her. Pastor appreciation grew significantly, and I changed emotionally. I no longer felt unappreciated and taken advantage of. Greater good will between pastor and laity, in both directions, grew. Soon, conversations about what the church should be doing grew in scope.
It is no secret how much TFI helped me financially, I’ve shared before that we went from operating week to week out of the offering to setting aside a lot of savings and increasing our ministry budget. I started getting raises. The church helped with my education and other expenses. This last year, the church came to me and asked if I wanted to participate in TFI, again. My immediate response was, “you know, I don’t need that grant check anymore. I think it is better to let someone else have it.”
As a church, some of our most important moments were travel times to and from the financial education events. We would stop for lunch or coffee and talk about what we had learned. The content was good, but the relationships we built and the unity and ideas for church mission was the most important outcomes. We were forced to have conversations about the future. We recognized that we could adapt the thrive model to chart our future—a future designed around church health and not just pastoral health. Those conversations branched out to include the entire board and others.
Originally, we were an island church. Nobody in the church lived in the community. Almost everyone drove in from somewhere else. Many had lived in the community at one time but had moved because the community had changed. Sadly, as a church, we had zero engagement with the community. But conversations around the thrive model led us to ask what it looked like to engage the community from the perspective of their well-being. We reflected on how the church was planted as a mission church and that we should get back to our roots and meet the people where they are at. Several other churches in the area had food pantries, so we decided to do something different. We decided to start a clothing ministry. It did not go well. We just didn’t have the right resources. After some prayer and thought, we started reaching out to other churches that we might partner with. One of them brought in a team to meet with us, and we discussed how we might serve the community. Soon we re-launched a community ministry for serving meals. We serve a regular meal to the community while we proclaim the goodness of Christ. The partnership with the other church has become formal as we are now a satellite campus for them.
Our worship attendance has grown from averaging 15-17 to averaging 35-40. We’ve noticed that sometimes we are able to get people into the kingdom yet they find a better fit for a church home at another congregation. Still, we are making a difference. Perhaps more importantly, we average 80-100 each Thursday around our community ministry. We are in the process of establishing a medical clinic as the next phase of our community outreach.
The thrive model works, but you have to work the thrive model. It has helped take us from zero up to a church with a viable future. Personally, I have a much more optimistic perspective about ministry. Even though I didn’t apply for a grant this past year, the model is still here, and we are still using it because that is what makes a healthy church. I’ve become more interested in helping others get involved so that they can go through the process.
The story at my church is one that moves from dead or nearly dead to life and health. It is one that moves from glorifying things that happened in the past to building things for the future. It is truly a story of hope and a story of starting to thrive.
Pastor R's Story
Our story actually begins a few years before the HOPE project. I’ve been at the church for 18 years. When I arrived, one of the things that they were very concerned about was my pension. They recognized that they had not adequately paid pension for previous pastors and now some of them were suffering in retirement. So, the church wanted to make sure that they took care of me in that area. Of course, pension is calculated as a percentage of the compensation package. As a pastor of a small church the amount they were contributing still might not have created an adequate nest egg at the end. After several years and just prior to the HOPE project they began making catch up payments on my behalf. That was nice.
But during that period, the church also took out an $80,000 loan on the facility. Several people both inside and outside the church suggested that it was a mistake, and that we would be unable to pay back that loan. One of the primary concerns focused on the age and number of our congregational members. We are a small congregation, and several of the members at that time were elderly. If just one or two of them died, some suggested the church would be an impossible situation.
What the church didn’t know during those years was the pension was not my only economic concern as a pastor. Our family was in debt, deep debt. Credit cards, car loans, and other debt all added up to over $50,000. We were just barely surviving. As you might expect, that stress and psychological weight had significant impact on my perspectives, my attitudes, and my thoughts about ministry. But the church didn’t really know.
About a year before the HOPE project launched, one of my laity learned about it. I’m not sure how. He came to me one day and said he had been investigating the materials and he wanted us to hit the ground running when the project was launched. So, we began talking about some of the challenges that I faced, our members faced, and our church faced.
When all was said and done there was one answer to the questions. Debt! Interestingly, our church was already headed in the right direction before the HOPE project officially launched, but the project gave us a better understanding and gave us the tools to use to figure out what we needed to do to address the problem and to become healthier.
For example, we’ve discovered ways to reformat my compensation package to take advantage of opportunities such as the housing allowance. We’ve done a few similar things that don’t cost the church any more money but puts more money in my pocket. We have found that it is worth the time to talk with professionals who know what they’re doing in this area because it can make a huge difference in the pastor’s bottom line. The church also came together to find new monies to address my debt as a pastor and our debt as a church. Some came about from budget line item changes. Some came about through generous donations by individuals in the church. Some came through special projects such as rummage sales. Although a few years before everyone thought the situation was impossible, when we became intentional about it, the debt started to melt away. The more we chipped away at it the more the process snow-balled because of savings in interest and the motivation that came from seeing less and less debt.
It is certainly a long story made short, but I can say about my $50,000 debt that it is gone! What a feeling, no more debt. We also tackled our church debt, and we’ve paid off over
$30,000 of that in a short period of time. But the story doesn’t stop there. Even when my debt was gone, the church decided that they weren’t finished. They had helped me pay off an auto loan, but they acknowledged that pastors use their vehicles quite heavily, so they decided to start putting away funds for a future purchase of the vehicle. When the time came, they were able to provide a sizable down payment for a new car, and they kept helping us to get rid of the loan as quickly as possible. We were able to handle a five-year loan in two years.
The whole HOPE project and some of the subtle things that work in the HOPE project have had a deep impact on me my family and my church. My debt is gone. I have a renewed focus on ministry. They have put away a very nice nest egg for my pension, and I still have 15 years before I retire. I think I will be able to retire, but still focus on continued ministry areas that I’m good at and best skilled for. Funds won’t be something that keeps me from being able to minister in my strengths in retirement. Twenty years ago the funds were a detriment. I would have been like so many others who would have had to keep a full ministry assignment just to make enough money to survive. Now I can focus where God wants me to focus and money won’t get in the way.
The HOPE project, the collaboration, and the generosity by the people have not gone unnoticed by my family. My children know what the church did for me and for us. So when they landed full-time jobs of their own, they immediately began tithing, as well as giving above and beyond the tithe. They became some of the largest givers in the church because they feel this responsibility to give back. Although it’s not just responsibility, instead, it’s more gratitude and joy to give back to the local church and to ministry. I’m also beginning to think more about how I can give back not just to my local church but in a way that others can go through this process. The impact to my church has been noticeable. Remember, we were supposed to be an impossible situation. When people died, we were supposed to be done. As people have died, we are not done. God has had a way of replacing people and funds and even more so. But there is another dynamic at work too. The math doesn’t always make sense. We are not busting out the seams with new members by any stretch of imagination. But we really shouldn’t have been able to pay off debt so fast and make some of the other extra contributions or complete some other projects. The money shouldn’t add up that way. But somehow, it does. Things have changed in the heart and mind of our people. There’s a greater sense of wanting to get involved in ministry out there and not just staying focused in the church. They didn’t just help me get healthier. We got healthier as a church because of HOPE.
For example, we had an individual become very ill and need to have a handicap access ramp on his house. Members of our church and youth showed up at his house and constructed the ramp for him. He was at church the next Sunday, and rarely misses. We had a lady in our church become involved in an extensive ministry going and picking up sick and elderly and taking them to doctors’ appointments. It’s not stuff that necessarily people notice, but it’s important, and it’s ministry, and it’s out there in the community. It might not be church like we’ve come to think of church as worship and adding up numbers. Certainly, those things are important. But it’s become more about mission- focused church, touching lives and making a difference.
We find more and more stories of transformation like those. I hope we aren’t among those who just do the HOPE project to get a check at the end of the process. I hope we are part of that group that really engages the process. I think we are, because we moved out of the despair cycle and into the HOPE cycle, as you described it in the project.
Again, we aren’t necessarily growing numerically in huge ways. In fact, we often find that we are able to minister to people and bring them into the kingdom, but they end up landing in another local community, so our numbers don’t always show the real impact. But I’ve been changed. Families have been changed. Our church has been changed. I think our community has been changed too.
Here’s how to get started!
Local Church Thrive Teams from Wesleyan districts participating in TFI may register to use the Thrive Team Resource Center and be eligible for a matching grant. The Local Church Thrive Team consists of the pastor and two key lay leaders. So, recruit your team members, and register using the link at the upper left of this page. Then, use the link in the upper right of this page to access the Thrive Team Resource Center. Using the Resource Center, the team will complete personal reflection guides and partner reflection guides leading to a well-being development plan (WDP) for supporting the pastor and enhancing ministry in the church. Teams will have until April 30 each year to complete their plan and file their report requesting a matching grant. Your district coordinator can help you with your questions.
Click the following tabs to learn more
Who is TFI for?
From a project perspective, TFI is available to each of our North American congregations. Because districts need to participate in the project (e.g., have district coordinator, provide some matching funds, etc.), some districts may have other priorities and choose not to make the project available.
How many pastors in my church can get a grant?
Each participating church is eligible for one matching grant from TFI each year. For churches with multiple pastors, they may choose to include several pastors on the local church Thrive Team and split the matching grant among their clergy. In some cases, a senior pastor may wish to provide the opportunity to be on a Thrive Team (and receive the matching grant) to a staff pastor.
What are the characteristics of churches that need the project?
Our research shows that economic challenges (and the effects of those challenges) are widespread among our Wesleyan Clergy. Pastors of small, medium, and large churches often experience economic challenges, suggesting the project is appropriate in nearly every church. As a district, you may wish to focus the project on areas of greatest need. For example, perhaps small churches or bi-vocational pastors seem to be a particular concern in your district and represent the best opportunity to enhance clergy and congregational thriving.
What are the characteristics of churches who are successful in TFI?
The single, clearest defining characteristics of churches who have experienced successful projects is a collaborative spirit between clergy and lay persons. Rather than approaching the project with suspicion or attempting to assign blame, churches with collaborative environments start with openness to learn more about the problems and then work together to build collaborative solutions. Rather than just thinking about problems as clergy issues, successful churches view a thriving clergy as an essential ingredient in a thriving congregation. Additionally, successful churches almost always have a lay champion for TFI. The lay champion helps promote the project in the local church and advocates for supporting the pastor.
What characteristics make the best lay champion?
Common characteristics of lay champions (of TFI and supporting the pastor) include someone who has developed empathy for the economic challenges experienced by clergy and the multiple, negative impacts of the challenges. Good lay champions usually possess some leadership role (formal or informal) through which they are able to influence the board of administration and build a core group of congregational members who want to support a thriving clergy and thriving congregation.
Why do churches not participate?
It is not always clear why some churches do not engage TFI.
Some pastors decide that they do not need the financial assistance or that they don’t want to take a grant away from others who might need it more. However, it is important to note that grants are not competitive (meaning some get them at the expense of others). Rather, every church is eligible to receive a grant on behalf of their pastor.
As another reason for non-participation, some pastors may be unwilling to share their economic challenges with their congregation. The silence and shame factors can be difficult to overcome. Embracing the idea that we can all “presume” a pastor has some economic challenges inhibiting ministry, that we (laity) don’t need to know the exact details, and that any type of assistance will be helpful can be important ways to overcome the silence and shame.
Some lay leaders may not be convinced that pastors’ economic challenges are unique or problematic. However, pastors economic challenges seem distinctive in their impact upon local church ministry.
Some churches mistakenly believe that they must provide a full, extra $1000 of support to participate. However, a resource investment in the pastor of any size can be matched. For example, if a church can only do $250, then they should be encouraged to do $250. The $250 will be matched and celebrated! The $1000 represents the maximum amount of the potential matching grant each year.
Is there limit to how much extra resource investment a church can provide?
No. Churches should provide resource investments in pastors’ economic and other well-being as they are able. TFI will only match up to $1000. However, churches should be encouraged to report the full amount of their investment, including amounts in excess of $1000 so that we can report accurately to Lilly Endowment.
How many years can a church participate?
A pastor and local church may participate for three consecutive years in the “Thrive Cycle.” The web portal will guide the Thrive Team through each year of the project. Our hope is that pastors and churches completing a three year cycle will have begun to thrive and be able to support others’ engagement in TFI.
How does a church get started?
The local church registers is Thrive Team (pastor and two key lay leaders). One person from the Thrive Team registers the entire team using the form located at www.wesleyan.org/tfi. Once the district approves participation by the local church, the Thrive Team begins working through the guided reflections to build a well-being development plan for the year.
How much time will it take?
It will likely take each person 60-90 minutes to complete their personal reflection guide in the web portal. Then, it will likely take the Thrive Team another 1-2 hours to sit down together and go through the partner guide to develop a Well-Being Development Plan (WDP). Completing the required financial management education activities will also require a time commitment. For example, the first financial management activity for first year participants includes six 30 minute DVD sessions and a study guide. The second financial management activity for first year participants is reading a book. We also recommend that the Thrive Team sit down for a couple of hours after reading the book to discuss what has been learned and what can be integrated into personal and church financial management. Near the end of the conference year (due by April 30), the Thrive Team will complete a well-being development report to assess what happened in the previous year and begin planning for the following year. Altogether, a Thrive Team might anticipate 12-15 hours of reading and work during the year to develop and complete their well-being development plan.
How does the matching grant work?
The matching grant process begins in the local church. The local church makes an investment in the financial well-being and another area of well-being on behalf of their pastor (area and investment amount determined during the reflection guide process). The church also makes a modest investment in the financial management education materials (e.g., for year one, education materials will cost about $140). At the end of the year, the church completes the application process (in the web portal) which, in part, details how much they invested in the project. TFI will match that investment up to $1000. Half of the grant will come from the national project. Half of the grant will come from a district investment. Districts will determine the amount they are able to match, so the final amount of the check may be more or less than $1000 depending upon the district contribution.
What can we use the matching grant for?
The matching grant is intended to further reduce the pastor’ economic challenges. The pastor should have key influence in determining how the funds should be disbursed. For example, the pastor may wish to have the full amount of the matching grant invested in his/her pension. Or, the pastor may wish to use the funds to help pay down some debt. Alternatively, the pastor may wish to use the funds to help cover cost of more financial management or other education. The local church should be careful to understand and address any tax implications for how funds are disbursed to the pastor.
What does success look like?
We want to reduce or remove some of the economic challenges that negatively affect ministers and ministry. We want to stimulate holistic well-being so that clergy and congregations can thrive. We expect to see measurable results such as an increase in the amount of money invested on behalf of pastors (to reduce economic and other well-being challenges). We expect to hear about impacts such as reduced negative feelings about ministry, increased ministry energy, and enhanced conditions towards thriving. We also expect to gather narratives showing how collaboration on the Thrive Team spread throughout the congregation and led to outward ministry. In summary, the highest level of success will be Thriving Clergy supporting Thriving Congregations supporting Thriving Congregations.
Will there be Spanish language versions?
It is our intention to build a Spanish language version once we have the English version functioning. We should be able to provide Spanish version of the TFI process documents (e.g., reflection guides, WDP, etc.). However, there will be some challenges with some of the financial management education modules because many are being provided by resource partners, and we don’t control all of that content .
Case Study - Example of a WDP
Case Study Example 1
Christ Wesleyan Church
Well-Being Development Plan
For the next conference year, Christ Wesleyan Church (CWC) will focus on building the economic and professional well-being of our pastor and laity. As the Thrive Team worked through the personal and partner guides in the Thrive Team portal, Pastor Smith noted a possible deficit in his pension and retirement plan due to some of his past churches not providing a full pension contribution. Further, because CWC has limited ability to pay a salary comparable to other professionals with Pastor Smith’s education and experience, even a full pension contribution on his salary may result in inadequate retirement funds. To support the economic well-being of Pastor Smith, CWC is going to make an additional pension contribution of $50 per month (for a total extra contribution of $600 for the year).
As the Thrive Team worked through the reflection guides, we recognized that the pace and responsibility of ministry doesn’t allow Pastor Smith sufficient opportunity to invest in his ongoing intellectual development. Providing resources and support to build our pastor’s intellectual well-being should contribute to his overall well-being and enhance the quality of his ministry at CWC. To support the intellectual well-being of our pastor, CWC will pay the cost of Pastor Smith to attend a leadership seminar of his choice. We will budget $600 to cover the cost of the seminar (registration, hotel, food, and gas expense).
Combined, our expected investment for the coming year in Pastor Smith’s economic and professional well-being is $1,200.
Financial Management Education
To complete the financial management education requirements of the Thrive Financial Initiative, Pastor Smith, church treasurer Lucy Lane, and vice-chairman Rory Road will complete the two financial management tracks required for year one participation in TFI. Track one includes God Owns it All DVD series and study guides. The leader kit costs @$70 and includes the DVDs and one study guide. Two extra study guides for the other Thrive Team members are @$13 each. Track two includes the Master Your Money book. The book costs @15 each, and the church will buy a copy for each of the Thrive Team members. Thus, CWC will pay @ $140 for its pastor and lay leaders to complete the education.
Accordingly, CWC’s total investment in our WDP for Pastor Smith will be $1340. We acknowledge that the Thrive Incentive Grant matches up to $1000, but we believe our extra investment in our pastor’s well-being and the financial management education of our clergy and lay leaders is worth our time and resources.
Understanding Pastors' Economic Challenges
Are Pastors’ Economic Challenges Unique?
One frequently asked question is whether the pastors’ economic challenges are truly unique. Laity may look at the list of challenges and conclude, “that looks the same as my list of challenges.”
Even though the list of challenges may be the same, there are some unique qualities of pastors’ challenges that we should keep in mind and that we can use to frame conversations.
- Ministry Context: This is the most important idea and likely the most frequent place to start the conversation. A key distinguishing characteristic of pastors’ economic challenges is the negative effect they have on ministry. When pastors exist in a state of economic-induced stress, depression, conflict, and negativity, ministry suffers. Pastors that fail to thrive have difficulty leading churches to a state of thriving. In other words, the laity and the local church ministry are being negatively impacted because of their pastors’ economic challenges.
- Expectation: Laity tend to perceive pastors as role models and examples. Economic challenges are often perceived as conditions arising due to poor choices, lack of faith, or lack of strategic action. Laity think of economic challenges as “their problems” but not as clergy problems. The idea was succinctly captured in one laity response upon learning that his pastor had debt. The laity said, “Pastor, you have debt, too?” Because laity do not expect their pastor has economic issues, pastors experience the impact of their challenges in unique ways.
- Culture of Shame and Silence: In part because of the expectations (item above), pastors sometimes live in a culture of shame and silence with regards to economic challenges. It is very difficult for pastors to talk about their financial concerns. They fear sounding unspiritual or being perceived as complaining. Further, because of the shame and silence, pastors tend to feel isolated. In other words, because pastors’ economic challenges are not widely discussed, pastors sometimes feel it is “just me.” Isolation runs counter to the collaborative and supportive nature of healthy ministry (and ministers!).
- Application: Denominational research has identified thirty-two separate economic challenges (reported by pastors). Some of the grouped, representative challenges are noted below, along with brief statements of how pastors sometimes experience the challenges in unique ways with unique impact on ministry.
- Current/Future Salary/Second Job: Pastoral compensation is often far below salary levels of other professionals with similar amounts of education. Many pastors live below federal poverty guidelines. The potential for future income increase is often limited. To fill the gap, pastors take second (and third!) jobs. Additional work limits the time devoted to ministry and creates scenarios where pastors cannot respond to ministry needs because of time required for other employment. Lower salaries also contribute to a cycle of increased economic challenges that further stress the pastors’ energy and ability for ministry.
- Medical Insurance: Pastors frequently report lack of medical insurance or indicate paying out of pocket for coverage. Sometimes, the pastor (or spouse) works a second job just for medical coverage. In addition to the time constraints on ministry noted in the previous bullet point, the high out of pocket costs further strains the pastors’ already stressed economic situation and creates negative feelings about ministry. Lack of sufficient medical coverage also causes pastors to skip regular medical check-ups or neglect treatment for problems, reducing ministry effectiveness.
- Debt: Debt comes in many forms, including education, mortgages, autos, and other consumer debt. Pastors also frequently note the amount of un-reimbursed business expenses incurred in doing ministry. In essence, pastoral debt reduces their ability to conduct ministry. Debt is also a primary trigger for pastors’ feelings of lack of confidence and competence to speak authoritatively about biblical financial matters.
- Transportation: Along with un-reimbursed ministry expenses, pastors face unique challenges regarding transportation. Pastors sometimes refer to the automobile as the second or mobile office. Visitation, outreach and meetings are part of the ordinary tasks of ministry. Having unreliable transportation can impact quality ministry. For example, if a pastor is unable to afford a second automobile, then s/he might be unavailable for ministry needs. Further, the wear and tear on a ministry vehicle frequently creates a higher wear-out/turnover rate for the pastoral vehicle.
- Retirement/Housing: The pastor’s retirement situation is a combination of factors. For example, a significant amount of the pastoral salary is sometimes connected to the church-owned parsonage. Pastor’s pensions are too often un- or under-funded. Pastors face inconsistency in how various churches they serve during a career contribute (or don’t contribute) to the pension. The low pastoral salary dynamic typically means pastors have limited means to create supplemental and emergency savings. Thus, pastors reach retirement age with no place to live, no money to purchase housing, and very limited financial savings to meet living expenses. Instead of being able to focus on ministry tasks and passions for which they are best able to contribute to the body of Christ, aging pastors are forced to continue conducting ministry tasks they may be physically ill-equipped to handle. In other words, the entire spectrum of pastors’ economic challenges is negatively impacting the best placement and opportunities for ministers of all ages. Ministry widely suffers.
- Retreats/Sabbaticals/Vacations/Development: Lack of funding (and time) too frequently means pastors are not able to take meaningful vacations, retreats, or engage other forms of rest and development. Worn out bodies and minds are not able to thrive or to engage and sustain ministry at the most effective levels.
Building a Successful Project
TFI Strategy: How do I build a successful project?
Although you will need to determine exactly how to best accomplish some of the following activities in your context, several key strategy items will contribute to a successful project.
Increase awareness in the local church, and especially among lay leaders, that pastors’ economic challenges exist and the effect of those challenges on the minister, minister’s family, and the ministry. In other words, the local church ministry is suffering because of the economic challenges faced by the pastor. Our research shows that lay leaders are generally unaware that pastors experience economic challenges. Further, they do not expect their pastors to experience economic challenges. Often, building such awareness is key to unlocking the concern-based response embedded in laity. Leverage the denomination-wide research, the research report for your district, and stories from the pilot-project book draft to create a compelling message in your district.
Steer conversations away from shame and blame. When conversations about pastors’ economic challenges start, they sometimes move in the direction of “fault.” However, who is at fault is a senseless direction to go. It leads to finger-pointing and breaks down the needed relationships to build solutions. Rather, steer conversations towards presuming that the pastor has some economic concerns. Then, focus on collaborative work to address economic issues as the center of attention. The pastor’s economic problems are not just a him/her problem. Within the context of the local church, they are a “we” problem because they are frequently at the center of factors preventing churches from thriving.
Emphasize financial management education, both for the pastor and lay leaders. Unfortunately, pastors do not receive a great deal of financial management education as part of ministerial education. Pastors have told us over and over that they want/need financial management education. Lay leaders also, particularly in smaller churches, tend to have some preparation/education gaps. We should not blame the lay leaders. Simply, we have not always done a good job of supporting church treasurers, vice chairs, etc. to build their skills in tending to local church finances. For example, one church in the pilot study started using a budget for the first time in 40 years. Their finances (and, subsequently, the finances of the pastor) turned around almost immediately once they instituted a budget.
Build awareness…focus on collaborative themes…give attention to financial management education...those are the crucial items trending towards a successful project.
From Our Premier Partners – Resources that anyone can use!
Thrive Teams will find the specific resources they must complete identified in the Thrive Team Resource Center. However, even pastors and lay leaders not participating in TFI can use these financial resources to enhance ministry and improve their personal financial management skill. Keep checking back, we’ll keep adding material as we build new partnerships!
Hope For Pastors
A Collaborative Approach to Clergy Financial Health by Mark Rennaker
From education debt to underfunded pensions, housing needs, and unreimbursed business expenses, pastors face many economic challenges. Written to raise awareness and help start conversations about pastors’ financial concerns, the book traces the development and lessons of the HOPE Project, a multi-year research and relief effort that has changed the lives of pastors, revitalized churches, and resulted in the transformation of communities.
God Owns It All
Finding Contentment and Confidence in your finances by Ron Blue
God Owns It All tackles the money question we all ask: How much is enough? With over four decades of experience in the financial-services industry, Ron Blue presents financial principles that are affirmed by the authority of Scripture and tested by the marketplace. The kit includes 2 DVDs and 1 study guide. Additional study guides are also available so that you can use the materials for group study.
Master Your Money
A Step-by-Step Plan for Gaining and Enjoying Financial Freedom by Ron Blue
Combining the Bible’s timeless principles on money and stewardship with trusted, comprehensive advice for getting your finances in order, Ron Blue teaches you how to: (1) Understand your current financial situation, (2) Design a long-term, workable financial plan, (3) Spend, give, save, and invest wisely, (4) Get out of debt – and much, much more.
Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability
ECFA provides many resources for churches and non-profits.
ECFA resources include Knowledge Center documents, eBooks, governance resources, Podcasts, webinars, surveys, and more. You can sign up for monthly news, up to date resources and information about webinars. ECD and TFI have partnered with ECFA to bring you a free subscription ($199 per person subscription value!). Sign up for your free subscription to the latest resources.
Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax
Church Law and Tax provides many resources to help keep your church safe, legal, and financially sound.
The Church Law & Tax website provides access to reports, newsletters, blogs, and a library of helpful material. The Church Law & Tax Team of Christianity Today needs your participation in the 2017 National Church Compensation Survey. By taking the survey you’ll help yourself and churches throughout America set fair compensation for pastors and staff.
National Association of Evangelicals
Financial health for all – Solutions for pastors and churches.
The NAE financial health for all site provides resources to help you improve the financial health of your family and church. Resources include solutions for: personal finances, church generosity, and pastor compensation.