The National Association of Evangelicals has launched a $1 million campaign designed to inspire congregants to “bless” their pastors at a time when 90 percent of pastors nationwide are facing financial pressure that could lead them to eventually departing from ministry.
Funded by a three-year grant from the Lilly Endowment, the 45,000-church association launched the initiative to help congregations and church boards “show and share God’s love” for their pastors in different ways beyond the church budget. Data shows that about half of pastors in the U.S. make less than $50,000 per year while serving their churches over 50 hours per week.
Because of financial difficulties, many pastors are forced to work side jobs to help make ends meet for them and their families while some leave ministry altogether.
“Bless Your Pastor is about people in the church sharing their time, talents and treasures to creatively bless their pastors and church staff members,” Brian Kluth, national director of NAE Financial Health and spokesperson for Bless Your Pastor, said. “Some examples can be babysitting, doing car repairs, offering low or no-cost medical and dental care, sharing a vacation home, and providing gift cards to the pastor and family.”
The Bless Your Pastor campaign will serve pastors and churches across America from all denominations and is part of a larger initiative funded by the Lilly Endowment to address the financial challenges of pastors.
“We are evangelical but this movement is for all churches across America,” Kluth, who regularly travels across the country speaking on pastor finances and a former pastor himself, said during a press call.
Kluth said that although the grant runs for three years, he assured that the NAE effort will continue on past that grant’s expiration. He said that as many as 12 different denominations are partnering with them on this effort.
“When you think about supporting pastors, some may think that pastors have a pretty easy job, they are pretty well paid. But the truth is very, very different,” Kluth said. “Some people think of a pastor and they think of a TV pastor or megachurch pastor and they see thousands of people and millions of dollars and big salaries. The reality of real-life pastors is very, very different.”
A 2015 survey of over 4,000 pastors from 19 denominational groups sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals found that most pastors and their families across the U.S. are operating with limited financial resources.
The survey found that 80 percent of pastors serve in churches of under 250 people on any given weekend and 55 percent serve in churches of under 100 people.
“In those churches, the average budget is $125,000 to take care of everything: the building, the missions giving, their pastor salary and programs for the kids and all that,” Kluth said. “So that is not a lot of money to go around.
In addition to half of pastors making less than $50,000 per year, nearly 60 percent of pastors do not receive retirement or healthcare benefits from their churches.
Additionally, three in 10 pastors have student loan debt averaging $36,000 per year.
“Pastors often have advanced degrees that they worked for and sometimes even gone back for. They also are working generally 50 to 60, sometimes 70 hours a week. I know as a pastor, I regularly worked six days a week. Obviously, I am working on the weekends but often those early morning meetings are meetings that went into the evening. So it's a big commitment.”
Kluth himself said he took a $70,000 pay cut when he decided to be a pastor in his early 40s.
“Here is what I discovered at my congregation, which was a great congregation: we had doctors and dentists that would provide low-cost or no-cost dental and medical care, we had some trusted people that babysat our children, people would take us out to dinner or give us some food sometimes,” he detailed. “Contractors would help us out on house projects, mechanics would fix our cars, there were plumbers I could call in the middle of the night that could come over for a plumbing problem.”
Kluth added that other people shared their vacation homes with his family or even gave him and his family frequent flyer miles. When his wife was battling cancer, he said that congregants provided his family with meals and gift cards. Others, he said, took his wife to her chemotherapy treatments and helped the family pay the medical bills.
“It was amazing what the congregation did to rally around us beyond the paycheck, which was small. What we want to do with this movement is to see this kind of thing replicated and encouraged all across America for congregations and for Christians to really step up and do this,” he said. “The Bible really encourages this in Thessalonians and Galatians. It talks about how Christians and churches are to show their deep appreciation for those who minister among them and share all good things with those who teach them.”
The campaign launched the website BlessYourPastor.org where church boards and congregants can find free grant-funded resources to help them organize a congregation-wide effort to help bless their pastors.
“The whole idea is for the church board to organize this but the office staff and communications staff would send out that material,” Kluth explained. “We are also encouraging churches to send out an annual pastor appreciation offering. At my church, they did that and it was a huge blessing to myself and my family and our church staff. Every year we got an appreciation offering that was so valuable to us.”
“Because of the Lilly Endowment money, every church that does that, we are going to be able to provide $150 Amazon gift card to their pastor just because they participated in this movement and blessed their pastor and took up an offering. We are going to be able to do that for 1,000 pastors.”
Focus on the Family has for many years designated October as Clergy Appreciation Month to encourage congregations to honor pastors and their families. George Stahnke, a pastoral counselor at Focus on the Family, said on the press call that financial concerns are a very common problem that often forces pastors out of ministry.
“The majority of pastors if they are not bi-vocational, it’s only because their wife is working a full-time job. Even then, money is really tight. Whether it is financial problems, I guarantee you there is going to be relational problems in the marriage,” Stahnke said.
“Not only as we bless the pastor, but we are also blessing his wife and his children. We are encouraging them that ‘I can do this and I can continue in the ministry.’ There are so many pastors that have gotten out of ministry simply because they couldn’t afford financially to stay in."