As Minister Appreciation Month approaches, congregations are reminded that ministers need the same things parishioners need — encouragement, advocacy, from time to time sympathy, periodic breaks from responsibilities at church, security and relief from excessive worry.
Some of these needs can be met simply by a kind word regularly offered, some by genuine friendship and others by a listening ear. These actions don't necessarily carry a financial price tag but they require parishioners and peers who care, are attentive and make themselves available.
However, appropriate care of ministers, their families and other church staff members will also require a financial investment that usually includes salary considerations, protection, retirement, and personal and professional renewal.
Salary. The economic times are challenging for churches and their members. Congregations find themselves making wise but difficult decisions about resources. In some churches, the first financial safety valve is the minister's support. The most caring churches find a way to be generous in pastoral and staff support. Having the poorest pastor in town is a reputation no church should relish. The Bible cautions against such shabby treatment of church leaders. And it is hardly fair to require a minister to expend funds to carry out ministry and not provide adequate reimbursement.
Protection. Catastrophic illness and other threats to good health are concerns for everyone. Protection is available in the form of various insurance coverages, none of which is particularly affordable these days. Usually a congregation can more easily than the staffer provide health insurance coverage, from basic medical plans to provisions for less expensive coverages like dental, vision and a reasonable level of life insurance. Family coverage is no less important if the church can manage it. Church policy should make provision for sick days and some way to protect employees should they experience short- or long-term disability. Because most ministers drive a lot in the performance of their responsibilities, an add-on like personal accident insurance is wise, too.
Retirement preparation. Anyone who hopes to retire comfortably would do well to begin setting aside funds for that purpose as a young adult and then stick with the plan. Churches can be faithful in making retirement contributions on behalf of staff and encouraging ministers to add to those accounts on their own.
Churches often plan to assist ministers with retirement investments only to succumb when a new minister comes on board and suggests he/she would prefer to take the money as salary rather than a retirement investment. Congregations are wise to say "no" to such requests. Almost as bad as keeping the pastor humble with an unreasonably low salary is to watch a retired former minister and spouse barely subsist. Sometimes both shortsighted congregations and shortsighted ministers share the blame. The landscape is littered with pastors' widows literally living in poverty.
Two of the entities churches in Missouri use for insurance and retirement services are GuideStone Financial Resources (guidestone.org) and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board (mmbb.org).
Personal and professional renewal. The life of a minister is one with unique challenges and pressures. Most of us have known ministers who rarely took time off for a day away from the church or even several days for vacation with family. Some live with the mistaken notion that they are indispensable. Some fail to balance church service with appropriate attention to a spouse and children.
Quite often, a personnel committee or even deacon body can serve the role of both advocate and enforcer, reminding members that ministerial time off is important and holding the pastor accountable for getting away.
An increasing number of ministers find that regular sessions with peers stimulate their learning and provide valuable support settings. Parishioners often notice a more motivated and better pastor afterwards. Book and meeting allowances are benefits with the potential of generating exponential positives for the minister. The ways to help your minister become one of the best are endless. Some congregations find the joy in discovering them and, in turn, reap the benefits.
The sum total of the above advice is to be the most generous and caring church possible. Such congregations produce the finest servant leaders (and members).
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.