Improving the Financial Health of Ministers

Written by Kevin P. Gilmore
From the Director

from-the-director-03-21_article.jpgPensions and Benefits USA partnered with several organizations to assist the Wesley Center at Northwest Nazarene University with its 2021 conference, “The Economics of Vocational Ministry: Living at the Crossroads of Affordability and Calling.” One of those partners was our denomination’s COMPASS Initiative. I invited assistant director Bonnie Beam to share how this program is helping men and women to reduce or eliminate personal financial challenges which can hinder the effectiveness of God’s call on their ministry. If you can’t benefit from the assistance offered by COMPASS, I encourage you to spread the good word about it to others who may be helped. – KPG

Improving the Financial Health of Ministers
By Bonnie Beam

“We long to be free so that our current income never hinders what God desires to do through us.”

The Church of the Nazarene has heard the cries of its ministers. Student loans, medical debt, a lack of emergency savings, and little to no retirement planning burden many of today’s pastors. One response from the denomination is the COMPASS Initiative.

“After 13 years of church planting, we believed that debt was simply the cost of seeing new churches begin. Although we hoped to one day pay off credit card debt, we believed we would die with our student loans.”
R. J. Strickland (Bend, Oregon)

“My call to ministry is so strong and yet my financial burden was enough to cause me anxiety and worry about my call. The COMPASS Initiative has been a means of grace in the midst of a broken financial situation.”
Valerie Wigg (Mountain Home, Idaho)

Ministers who are struggling under burdensome debt and those who have not yet planned for retirement are finding hope in the COMPASS programs. Through basic financial literacy training, accountability, and matching grants, these pastors are getting out of debt, improving financial management skills, saving for the future, and finding freedom to follow God’s call without financial hesitancy.

“We long to be free so that our current income never hinders what God desires to do through us, and I think we are on our way.”
Brian Westover (Burton, Ohio)

“We are now more prepared for retirement and student loan payoff. We have solid, achievable financial goals for the next 5 years.”
Joshua Farmer (North Bend, Oregon)

Pastors in the COMPASS programs develop personal financial training goals. They learn about budgeting, become intentional about spending and saving, and they utilize tools for better financial management. After working to apply biblical principles to their own finances, many find themselves inspired to invite others to do the same.

Financial Challenges Faced by Nazarene Ministers
A 2016 survey of U.S. Nazarene pastors revealed what most who serve our churches already knew—it is difficult to afford to be a pastor in many situations without a second job, what is commonly known as being “bivocational.” According to Nazarene Research Services, in 2020 slightly more than 47% of U.S. Nazarene pastors considered themselves to be bivocational. Almost 40% (37.8%) of these reported the additional employment was necessary to supplement family income.
Here are some highlights from the 2016 survey.
Top Three Financial Challenges
  1. High levels of student debt caused by ministerial preparation
  2. Excessive consumer debt combined with insufficient savings
  3. A lack of retirement readiness
Key Stats
  • 1 in 7 pastors exceeds a debt ratio of 43%.
  • 1 in 3 pastors has considered leaving the ministry because of financial stress.
  • 58% of pastors believe training in personal financial management will increase their effectiveness as leaders.
  • More than 1/3 of pastors are “somewhat not” or “not at all” financially prepared for retirement.
Pensions and Benefits USA works with Nazarene Research Services to produce an annual Compensation Report which shows average compensation of ministers by region. We encourage church boards to consult this resource when working to offer equitable benefits to staff members.

“We have been instilled with a huge sense of confidence with financial stewardship, and we look forward to sharing what we have learned with our people so that they too can experience God’s blessing for faithful stewardship.”
Joshua Dees (Brookings, Oregon)

“Without this program we would not be where we are at today. We have learned and grown so much in the area of financial responsibilities and are excited to share this with others and help them experience what we have seen God do for us.”
Aaron Mednansky (Rapid City, South Dakota)

Participants in the COMPASS Initiative Journey program also develop financial training goals for their churches. As they become more confident in managing their own finances, they gain the confidence and tools to address issues of financial stewardship within the church.

“I believe that this journey has given me an increased confidence concerning finances and I have felt more at ease talking about them within a church setting.”
Dean Shaw (Eldersburg, Maryland)

“On a church level, we’ve seen our giving increase as a church and several of the families that went through our pilot financial study have become consistent givers.”
Ashok Dhanarajan (Lake City, Florida)

After learning, practicing, and teaching biblically based financial stewardship, these ministers also qualify to receive a matching grant, which assists in paying off educational and personal debt, or increasing their Nazarene 403(b) Retirement Savings Plan account. The local church raises or allocates funds into a Ministerial Excellence Fund, out of which they give the pastor a grant to assist in debt reduction or retirement readiness. Then the COMPASS Initiative matches their grant up to $5,000 for the COMPASS Journey program, and up to $1,000 for the COMPASS Quest program.

Through involvement in the COMPASS programs, many ministers have paid off hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in debt, just by becoming more intentional about how they handle personal finances. The grants have allowed some to achieve complete freedom from debt, and to boost their retirement savings accounts. Minister after minister has reported changes to their lives with improvements in their financial trajectory. The outcome has been less stress and anxiety about money, and more freedom and energy to focus on ministry.

“It feels good to be free!”
Kevin Knight (Dothan, Alabama)

If you would like more information about the COMPASS Initiative programs or want to donate toward Ministerial Excellence Fund matching grants, visit this page or phone the COMPASS Initiative in the USA/Canada Regional Office at 913-577-2715.

Rev. Bonnie Beam serves as assistant director of the COMPASS Initiative for the Church of the Nazarene.