By Bill Webb
Most church budget committees are gearing up -- or soon will be -- for the process of funding the missions and ministry plans of their congregations. Amidst the rising cost of property upkeep, literature, utilities and other fixed costs, do not neglect generous support for the pastor and staff.
Each church wants to adequately fund missions at state, national and international levels, and surely each desires to adequately fund local ministry and evangelism endeavors. That's a part of being an effective and faithful congregation. But don't forget the pastor and staff.
The old strategy of determining how much money the church will budget for everything else before it sees if there is anything left for staff salary increases and other support usually has a predictable outcome: "Sorry, pastor, but we really couldn't afford to do any more for you this year."
Evaluate support issues for the pastor and staff in the following categories:
The ministry is hardly a get-rich vocation. It is a calling, but there is no reason for a congregation to take advantage of those who have responded to God's claim upon the lives of vocational ministers. Be generous. Most vocational church leaders are hesitant to bring up the matter of their own salaries. They need advocates, whether in the form of personnel committees or concerned church members. I repeat, err on the side of generosity.
Health, disability and life insurance are expensive commodities for any individual or family. The congregation can afford this coverage much more easily than the staff member.
Churches secure insurance from a variety of sources, but many Baptist churches in Missouri have traditionally used GuideStone Financial Resources (until recently the Southern Baptist Annuity Board), which offers a feature called portability. That means that a pastor who leaves one congregation and goes to another can do so without interruption and without going through the rigors of a new enrollment process.
Provide this coverage because it could save a staff member's family from financial ruin in the case of catastrophic illness or injury. It is the loving thing to do.
The landscape of the Southern Baptist Convention and many other denominations is covered with faithful ministers and their spouses who live with very little financial support in retirement. They did not - or could not - prepare adequately for retirement. The churches they served did not make provision for their retirement either. GuideStone's long-time recommendation has been that a church budget an amount equal to 10 percent of a staff member's salary and place it into a retirement account.
Retired ministers who live out their retirement years in poverty are a testimony -- albeit a poor testimony -- to churches' short-sightedness. Sometimes a church allows a pastor to render this provision null when he requests that the money be given to him as part of his salary. Granting that short-sighted option eliminates the benefit and the post-retirement protection the church intended.
The areas mentioned above are significant, but the list is hardly exhaustive. Working in cooperation with ordained staff members, a church can approve a housing allowance that does not require any more money from the congregation but adds money to the minister's pocket through a tax deduction. Do this. And do it according to Internal Revenue Service guidelines.
Be sure to cover the expenses of staff members when they are doing work on behalf of the church. I know many pastors who do multi-community hospital visits. An appropriate mileage allowance is one way to handle travel costs. There are other expenses of doing ministry. For a more complete list, ask your pastor. Requiring the minister to pay these expenses out of pocket is the same as asking him to personally pay the church's monthly utility bills.
Provide expenses for ministers (and their families) to attend convention meetings. In addition, consider funding training and renewal opportunities. These costs are mere investments that, in time, will benefit a congregation through improved leadership. More and more churches are providing periodic multi-week sabbaticals for renewal and training.
Provide adequate vacation time and have someone at the church make sure the minister uses it. Have a plan to cover ministry, worship and teaching responsibilities in a minister's absence. By the same token, smart congregations insist on weekly days off and do their best to avoid interrupting on those designated days.
Finally, think of other creative ways to support the pastor and staff. The loving concern of a congregation has a positive effect on leaders. Set a new standard.
What is your church doing?