My recent blogpost on pastors' salaries drew a lot of attention. There are indeed some heated emotions on both sides of the issue. Much of the concern expressed about the pay of ministers seems to focus on those cases of real indulgence and abuse. But it's those cases that get the most attention and, sadly, hurt the vast majority of ministers who are faithful stewards of God's money.
The Real Numbers
Look for a moment at these numbers. Let's assume there are 500 cases of financial abuse and indulgence among ministers taking place today. I'm not convinced the number is that high, but we will use it as a starting point.
There are approximately 1.2 million paid staff members in Protestant churches. That means there are four cases of financial abuse for every 10,000 ministers. To state it positively, there are 9,996 ministers of every 10,000 who are either paid adequately or below their needs.
The Survey Says . . .
My son, Art Rainer, recently completed a book (to be released in June 2013) on ministers' salaries and other financial issues. An informal survey of over 100 pastors provided some of the data for one chapter of the book. In that survey, over 80 percent of the pastors indicated they were financially struggling. About the same number said they needed a raise.
But 100 percent responded that they had never asked for a raise. All of them said that. There were no exceptions.
Why Won't Pastors Speak Up?
So why are pastors so reticent to express a real need that they have? And why is the apprehension almost universal among all ministers? Essentially, we found five answers to these questions.
First, the ministers are aware that a few bad examples in ministry have poisoned perceptions for many. The abuses have garnered much attention. Many ministers think that they will be associated with the small minority if they say a word.
Second, many ministers view money as an "earthly" issue. Their role is to focus on spiritual matters. They are to keep quiet when any discussion of their pay takes place. They certainly are not to ask for anything financially.
Third, there are always critics in the church looking for any issue to go after the pastor or other staff ministers. If ministers broach the subject of a pay increase, they give critics ammunition to attack the minister verbally and in writing. Ministers are keenly aware of such a risk.
Fourth, pastors know the hurts and needs of their church members and those in the community. They know that many are suffering worse than they are financially. They are therefore very sensitive to speak about their own needs. When one has ministered to three families in the past year that declared bankruptcy, that pastor feels terrible even hinting that his family is struggling financially. This reality has been especially vivid during and after the Great Recession.
Fifth, we found that a number of church members think that any mention of financial needs by their pastor demonstrates a lack of faith. The members freely quote out-of-context Bible verses to demonstrate the weak faith of the pastor who is courageous enough to mention this need.
Of course, most of the critics of a pastor's pay would gladly accept a raise in their own jobs. It's just different for their pastor, they surmise. And that is a very sad perception.
A United Front?
I am keenly aware that my writing on these financial issues engenders debate among many church members and ministers alike. I do not desire to be divisive. To the contrary, I am praying for a united response to help those ministers who have a real financial need.
No one should deny the reality that, in a few cases, ministers do not reflect healthy, biblical stewardship. But I pray that the few bad examples won't become a reason for church members to remain silent about their pastors' financial needs.
In all likelihood, your pastor will not speak up about any financial needs. What do you think about this dilemma? What should we as church members do? What do you ministers think about this matter?