These are difficult times financially for a lot of people. Most have been affected negatively by the prolonged economic downturn. Most people have found themselves needing to prioritize their activities and their spending. Most of us try to do so as painlessly as possible.
Naturally, because church members have been impacted, church programs and ministries have been affected. Congregations have had to prioritize and to become creative in exercising good stewardship. More than a few churches scrapped plans for our-of-state mission trips and instead participated in mission efforts in their own communities or across town.
Some churches have felt the need to scale back on their own support of denominational missions and ministries or to cut back on Bible teaching and training materials. Naturally, they do so hesitantly.
I have a strong conviction that churches need to prioritize support for the pastor, other ministers and church staff. I usually say so in this space about this time each year. Doing the right thing in areas of salary and protection benefits should be a source of pride on the part of a congregation. Sadly, this is not a universal concern.
But there is power in numbers. The church membership can do for ministers what might be difficult for them to do for themselves. Here are some suggestions for things to do that reflect positively on the congregation:
Worthy salaries. The church cannot be the money manager for a minister or other staff member but the congregation is responsible for doing right by those on its staff. My standing advice is to be realistic, to be fair and to err on the side of generosity. Churches can use meager salaries to humiliate their minister's family, but such churches dishonor Christ and themselves.
Protection. A lot of concern is being expressed over the problem of health care for U.S. citizens and how to make it more readily available and more affordable. A necessity for a congregation is to see that staff members and their families have health insurance. At the very least, churches can assist staffers in securing coverage, but the optimum approach is simply to provide it. GuideStone Financial Resources, which primarily serves Southern Baptists, and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, which services a broad range of Baptist groups, both offer policies tailored to the employees of churches. They include options for long-term disability, life insurance and specialty coverage such as dental benefits.
Retirement benefits. The Baptist landscape is littered with old ministers and their spouses who live below the poverty level, either because of their own negligence or that of the congregations they served. Both GuideStone and MMBB, among others, also offer retirement programs geared toward clergy and other church staff. They can recommend levels at which churches might want to consider participation. We often talk more about dying with dignity than living into old age with dignity. A good retirement plan can ensure both.
Paid leave. Some church leaders have the idea that the church cannot do without them long enough to take and enjoy family vacation time — and some members make them feel that way. Some have to be firmly reminded. Time away is absolutely necessary for ministers. Most appreciate the congregation sending them to convention meetings and offering training opportunities — at the congregation's expense.
Consider such expenses an investment that will produce a more highly motivated and even better minister. I'm hearing more and more about congregations allowing staff members sabbaticals after they have rendered faithful service for a predetermined number of years.
Some congregations — and not always big ones — budget for such things. They often provide book allowances to enable ministers to minister more effectively.
Celebrate milestones. Memorial celebrations are a little late. Some churches celebrate the pastor's anniversary in oddball years like four or seven. They usually don't forget the round numbers like five, 10 and 15 either. It doesn't usually take too much to make a pastor and his family feel appreciated. Cards of appreciation and a pot luck, or any one of a thousand other creative ideas can "make the day" of a staff member.
Church staffers may advocate some of the above for themselves to church personnel or budget committees but they should not have to. Making such concerns a part of the work of a personnel committee or whoever is charged with pastoral care is wise. Few pastors would bring up such matters on their own.
If there is no other advocate, be that person. Others will step up to join you because it is the right and loving thing to do. It feels good to support God's servants. Don't be like the congregation that was afraid it might do something nice for its pastor.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.