A TV preacher asked his flock for $54 million last year so he could buy a new private jet. One of America’s most popular pastors owns a $10.5 million mansion and drives a top-model Ferrari. And not long ago, @PreachersNSneakers was launched on Instagram to name and shame pastors who wear designer shoes that cost thousands of dollars.
It’s no wonder, then, that many Americans, and even church-going Christians, have the wrong view of America’s pastors and their money. The real story of America’s legion of humble pastors is unglamorous and largely untold. Ninety percent of pastors feel financial pressure. Hundreds of thousands of pastors make less than $50,000 per year while serving their churches 50-plus hours per week, and many have side jobs to make ends meet.
A 2015 study conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) found that nearly 60 percent of pastors do not receive health insurance and retirement from their churches, while many of these faithful ministers owe thousands of dollars in college or seminary loans, or carry large debt from essential medical care. Their financial reality is as far removed from the TV preachers as you could get.
In fact, the vast majority of America’s pastors (four out of every five) in the NAE study speak to congregations of fewer than 200. And 55 percent have fewer than 100 in attendance. Their churches might have annual budgets that are lower than some middle-class household incomes—budgets that are supposed to pay all the church bills and the pastor’s salary.
I identify with the average US pastor today. I felt God calling me to become a pastor in my mid-40s. I left my career and took a $70,000 pay cut to accept a senior pastor position. I don’t say this because I want a pat on the back, but simply to illustrate the personal financial sacrifices many pastors and their families make in order to follow God’s call on their lives to serve others.
Fortunately, my congregation’s generosity and creativity astounded me: medical professionals provided free care; church members babysat our kids for free; families invited us out for meals; others shared their vacation home with us, or gave us some of their frequent-flyer miles; one family loaned us an RV for a cross-country trip.
Undoubtedly our congregation’s biggest act of love came after we learned that my wife—then in her mid-40s—had terminal cancer. Meals, groceries, gift cards, and financial donations to help pay the medical bills . . . the gifts of love kept flowing in. Our church family made sure I never bore the burden of taking my wife to her chemotherapy treatments alone—they were always there, constant encouragers, right by our side.
I felt like the richest man alive.
Why am I writing this piece?
I want to challenge all Christians and churches across America to ignore the hype and controversies surrounding mega-rich celebrity pastors . . . and show your pastor and church staff some tangible love and appreciation.
This month, the NAE launched Bless Your Pastor. I hope this movement will sweep across America’s churches, and Christians everywhere will personally look for ways to show and share God’s love for their pastors and hard-working church staff members. Most simply, it’s an appeal from the heart to show your pastor you care by sharing your talent, your time, your friendship, and your material blessings with them.
To get involved, visit BlessYourPastor.org and download materials that can be shared with your church leadership and congregation. There’s a brief training video and a brochure that can be given to every family in your church.
The Scriptures call all churches and Christians to show and share God’s love for their pastors and church staff. In I Thessalonians 5:12, people are instructed to show their deep appreciation for those who minister among them, and Galatians 6:6 says: “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor” (NIV).
Take it from one who knows: your acts of appreciation and kindness, big or small, toward your pastor and church staff will result in tremendous thanksgiving to God. Why not start this week with one, simple act of encouragement to Bless Your Pastor? Go on—show and share God’s love for your pastor
Brian Kluth is the national director for NAE Financial Health and spokesperson for Bless Your Pastor. He is also a pastor, public speaker, and author.
Church leaders should note the potential tax and compensation-setting implications of any collections their churches take up to help ministers during this campaign or any future ones. For more information, check out the following:
- “Following the Rules for Love Gifts”
- “Gifts of Money to Pastors”
- “Church's 'Love Gifts' to Pastor Represent Taxable Compensation for Services Performed”
- Church Compensation: From Strategic Plan to Compliance
- The annual Church & Clergy Tax Guide
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