Usually by this time of year I have penned a few editorial thoughts about the necessity of churches providing generous support for pastors and other staff members. Here they are. These words are directed primarily to members of churches as reminders to churches that do poorly in salary and benefit matters for their staffs as well as those who have the idea but perhaps function so routinely that they miss the joy of the “generosity” factor. This kind of planning needs to be very intentional — every year.
Worthy salaries. “Hardly-get-by” salaries for pastors, other ministers and other church employees are a rather poor reflection on a local church. The old joke is that some churches are chintzy with their salaries in order to keep their ministers humble. But it is a bad joke. The effect often is to keep leaders humiliated. If “the workmen is worthy of his hire,” the last thing a church wants on its record before God is to be a spiritual cheapskate. Be realistic; be fair; and err on the side of loving generosity.
Protection. Sometimes churches pretend that insurance is an anti-faith subject. Laymen who push their own employers to provide adequate medical, disability and life insurance should be the greatest advocates for such protection for their ministerial and other staff members. Life is stressful for those who serve even the finest congregations, and illness strikes even those who work the hardest to protect their health.
Insurance coverages are increasingly expensive — prohibitively expensive for families to foot on their own. Usually a congregation can provide such protection for its staff without too much sweat. It is a good feeling for a congregation to know that it has done what it should for a minister, a minister’s spouse and a minister’s children.
Vacation and other paid leave. Most of us non-clergy know the value of getting away for relaxation and renewal before we have to return to work. The value of vacation is not tied to whether we love our work or hate it. Everyone needs a well-planned break from the daily rigors and demands of labor — especially minister-types.
Unintentionally (usually), the lay members of churches tend to use up the ministers. Some experience burn out because they become worn out and have little opportunity to recharge. When ample time away is provided, some ministers need to be reminded to take advantage. Some of them flunked “vacation” in seminary, so they need help in learning how important getaways can be for themselves and their families. A personnel committee or some other entity can make sure ministerial vacations are not interrupted.
Retirement planning. Provide a retirement benefit utilizing the same entities that provide and help plan insurance coverages. Many churches in our state utilize the service of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Others work through the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, which relates to American Baptists and many other Baptists. There are other options.
Churches that do nothing about ministerial retirement planning and provision contribute to a heart-rending and embarrassing phenomena of pastors and spouses who retire to poverty. Help break that cycle.
Ministerial and staff development. We at Word&Way haven’t taken a survey of what benefits — perhaps creative ones — pastors appreciate most. We should. We probably would be surprised by the responses. (Ministers, feel free to send a letter to the editor with your answer, and we’ll be glad to share it with others.) I’m thinking of things like book allowances, conferences with peers, bigger meetings like state and national annual meetings, mission trips and the biggie — a lengthy sabbatical after a specified length of service.
Many thoughtful churches have developed some pretty outstanding pastoral leaders by regularly providing such opportunities. It doesn’t take too much to develop grateful leaders. It certainly doesn’t take relieving them of pastoral demands. On the contrary, when ministers are given the tools to meet the demands of their ministries, they become more valuable — and so does the church.
Celebrate milestones. It is a wonderful thing to celebrate a pastor’s 25th anniversary of service to your church — unless that is the first time you have shown your appreciation. I enjoy hearing about churches who throw appreciation parties or give anniversary gifts to staff on third anniversaries or eighth anniversaries. What minister wouldn’t want to serve a church like that?
Virtually all of my suggestions — and they are not an exhaustive list — are pretty much common-sense ideas with a touch of The Golden Rule. We are sometimes slow to exercise that rule for those we should appreciate and try to encourage the most. How is your church doing?