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From his column It’s Your Money

its-your-money-03-13-1In Part 1 I contrasted the financial situation of my father (who graduated from high school in the 1930s and began pastoral ministry in the 1940s) with data from recent seminary graduates involved in ministry in the 2010s. This time, I’d like to explore the implications of that data.

When my father served as a pastor, his church compensation was the only income the family had. Now, pastoral families have multiple sources of revenue. Various studies suggest about 30 percent of Nazarene pastors in the United States work outside the congregation to provide additional income. Some are able to find employment that utilizes pastoral skills (e.g., chaplaincy), but others may work at jobs unrelated to their calling (e.g., school teacher, bus driver, retail sales).

Our research indicates a majority of pastoral spouses are employed to provide additional income, healthcare benefits, or both. The family’s role in the economic viability of pastoral ministry seems to be increasing. When considering a call, some pastors now consider whether the spouse can find appropriate employment.

Congregations that recognize the need for their pastor to earn additional income also must acknowledge they may have to adjust their expectations of the pastor and themselves. In some congregations, the reliance on the “professional” to do the work of ministry is giving way to a team approach. We’ve been through a period when specialists have directed the ministry of the church—youth, children, music, etc. Many congregations that released a paid associate in the economic downturn now rely on a group of lay leaders to facilitate facets of ministry.

I welcome some of the changes forced on the church by the economic conditions. Many of us are re-examining what it means to be “The Church” in these days. We’ve been through a time when utilitarianism created ministry out of needs, and pragmatism morphed ministry into a marketing strategy. This has reduced the church to a dispenser of religious services. This distorted understanding of the church led to a pastoral identity crisis. The economic turmoil we’ve recently experienced has aided the erosion of erroneous assumptions that cast the pastor as CEO or therapist. Financial challenges have prompted some to probe what is essential in the church and to lay aside that which is not. God is bringing reformation and renewal out of challenging circumstances.

Some pastors who work outside of the congregation understand more fully than before the need to be ambassadors of reconciliation 24/7 and in all contexts. Some are energized by their full-time engagement of incarnational ministry in spite of the fact they only serve the congregation on a part-time basis. Our research shows those who do not integrate their congregational and non-congregational work into a missional whole tend to report higher levels of stress than those who see ministry as more of a lifestyle.

Structural changes are coming to some congregations. I hear more talk about “simple church” these days. Numerous books challenge church leaders to sort through the complexity that engulfs many congregations, some of which seem more willing to lay aside those practices that do not directly help them proclaim and embody the gospel.

In an earlier era in the Methodist tradition, one pastor had responsibility for a “circuit” of two or more congregations. More recently, district superintendents have told me that when they have suggested this arrangement to congregations, they have met with strong resistance. As viable options diminish, some congregations need to swallow hard and take the step to this or other models.

A congregation down the street from where I live in Kansas became an extension campus of another congregation in Missouri. This arrangement strengthened both groups. I recently heard of five independent congregations who will each sell their buildings and form a network of missional communities with centralized pastoral leadership. The economy pushed the innovation, but the missional advantage will win in this case.

As you can see, things have changed for both pastoral and congregational ministry. I can look back only to the late 1970s when I started pastoral ministry and find substantial differences. The change will continue, I expect, but we must acknowledge that the economics of pastoral and congregational ministry have already changed profoundly. My parents put in a garden; now pastoral families have two, three, or four jobs. My father received a discount from some businesses just because he was a minister; such discounts disappeared long ago. The congregation and community took care of clergy in my father’s day; increasingly in our economic world, financial responsibility has been pushed to the individual. For example, many pastors have to provide their own health insurance when in previous decades the district or congregation would do so.

With the economic factors already altered, the expectations of pastors and congregations need to change too. Going forward, young pastors should expect that household income will come from multiple sources, not just the congregation. This reality will likely change educational strategies as it becomes increasingly necessary for a pastor to have skills that function well in the marketplace.

The lessons my father learned as a teenager in the 1930s equipped him to navigate the continuing difficulties of life in the Midwest in the 1940s. In some respects, life today feels like the 1930s all over again. We don’t yet know how these financial issues will be resolved, so we need to pay close attention and act promptly when even a minor adjustment will help.

But in other ways, life today is radically different. Globalization, pluralism, and information availability have altered our society. We must go back to our theological core, especially in our understanding of the church, and work out from that center as we seek to discover what ministry looks like in today’s world.

Keith Schwanz is a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kansas, and the founder of Storian Press, a book production company.

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