Looking out for ministers - Word&Way

Looking out for ministers

By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor

If your church hasn’t yet completed its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, please keep reading. This column has to do with ministers and other church employees. As such, it touches on matters of protection, support, affirmation, respect and a whole lot of other things. It mainly has to do with congregational responsibility.

Here are a few items to consider under the personnel section of the budget:

Salary considerations

In most congregations, the salary of the pastor and other ministers is common knowledge because the details are printed in the church budget. As such, it is pretty easy to evaluate whether or not the church errs on the side of stingy or generous when it comes to salaries.

We’ve all heard the joke about churches that like to keep the pastor’s salary low to ensure he remains humble. Unfortun­ately, that’s no joke. It is poor humor and poor theology. Those who deliberately treat God’s servants poorly place themselves in a precarious position. God notices such things.

Most church people take pride in doing right by the pastor and other staff members, including the support staff. We non-clergy types want to be generous, but we know that if things get tough, the church can hold the line and promise the staff it will try to do better next year. Sometimes, good intentions are the best we tend to offer.

Interestingly, some congregations will take a leap of faith to construct an addition, but don’t apply the same principle to other endeavors. My advice: Research the salary issue, if necessary, but do the right thing. Churches spend money on less important things.

Insurance protection

Everyone has health concerns and needs, and health insurance continues to be prohibitively expensive for individuals and families. Some ministers’ families go without health protection because the church doesn’t make provision for this expense and they simply can’t afford it on a minister’s salary.

This is an expense that a congregation can much more easily handle than can an individual and his family. No one wants to even think about what a catastrophic illness might do to a minister or member of his family. Paying the premium for the minister is a loving thing to do. Any minister would appreciate such a provision.

Usually, options are available for the purchase of life and disability insurance, too. Those are peace-of-mind provisions.

Retirement planning

One of the most appreciated financial provisions a church can make for its minister(s) is a regular retirement investment.

Presidents of GuideStone Financial Resources, one organization that makes retirement and insurance programs available for Southern Baptist ministers, have lamented for generations the sin of aged ministers and their spouses or widows living below the poverty level. The religious landscape has been littered with such servants throughout Christendom, but it simply doesn’t have to be.

A number of options are available from a variety of sources to invest on behalf of ministers to ensure retirement years lived in financial dignity. A church would do well to make this provision and make it a non-negotiable for the minister. If a church allows a well-meaning minister to take funds provided for that purpose as salary, the congregation is being as short-sighted as the minister himself.

Churches can work with staff to be creative in reaching retirement goals, including approaches that allow for matching contributions.

Other helpful stuff

I have an admiration for churches and personnel committees that look after their ministers in creative ways. Some pastors need to be reminded to take vacations, and some congregations even provide a financial incentive for that purpose. Others have a rigid policy that requires a weekday away from church each week.

Some churches are good to remember anniversaries. Some take note every year, or at least every five. Churches that plan to wait until a 25th anniversary to signal their appreciation don’t hang onto ministers nearly that long.

Provisions for attendance at Baptist meetings and training opportunities, book allowances and other kinds of professional development perks are appreciated, and they add to the quality of service of the minister.

For a congregation, budgeting to have the best pastor in town should be seen as a good investment. And it’s the right thing to do.