In July 2015 Grey Matter Research surveyed 4,249 pastors and discovered that 50 percent receive less than $50,000 per year in compensation with 30 percent having student loan debt averaging $36,000. Thirty-three percent have under $10,000 in retirement funds, and 29 percent have $0 in personal savings.
More than 85 percent of pastors said they did not receive financial training from their seminary, and 37 percent had no idea what resources their denomination offers for personal finances. One-third of pastors said they have no one outside their household to talk with about the things that stress them financially.
According to the apostle Paul, managing the home is no small matter for a pastor. “If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5). This includes personal stewardship.
Here are some approaches to personal finance that may help you as you struggle under the weight of Paul’s mandate and the stress of your financial situation.
You know this and probably preach it, but it is a biblical principle that simply works. Start from where you are now and make a pledge to God that you will increase that percentage every paycheck with the goal of getting to 10 percent. As pastor, you cannot preach this principle unless you first practice it. And when you do, you will see how God increases your ability to give. It is the way He works.
Save, Even When It Makes No Sense
Dave Ramsey and others teach that the next 10 percent of your income should go into savings. The first goal is to set aside three months of income (it brings peace of mind). This becomes your emergency fund. Next, create a cash-buying fund for larger purchases so you don’t go into debt to buy a car or purchase Christmas presents.
Beyond your house and car, Christians should not live in debt, regardless of how little the income. So use the next 10 percent of your income to pay off debt. This includes student loans, credit cards, and lines of credit. To do this you may have to go on a strict budget diet, but know it will not last forever.
After the debt has been eliminated, this 10 percent becomes your retirement savings.
This is another biblical principle that when practiced, it becomes a way of living that will stay with you whether you have a lot or a little. This means the 70% of your income left after tithe, savings, debt, and retirement is what you live on. Then learning to be content with it becomes the goal. Contentment means being grateful for the small pleasures in life. It means living within your means. It means knowing financial freedom will set the captives (family) free for life, and therefore the sacrifices are worth it. What sacrifices? Not eating out regularly. No cable television until the debt is paid. No data plan on your cell phone or maybe not having a cell phone at all until all other goals are met. It means giving gifts of service rather than store bought ones. It means acknowledging it all comes from God and if the blessings are flowing you can use them to bless others because you’ve learned the joy of contentment. At first, living on 70% may seem impossible, but with a few adjustments and a mind-shift it becomes doable, even something you will enjoy.
You know this. Satan loves us to keep secrets. He holds us captive by convincing us that shame is what we deserve. But the statistics shared above demonstrate there are a whole lot of pastors suffering in silence. So be bold. Start a pastoral financial sharing group and invite fellow pastors to join you. Become accountability partners for each other. Share how the stress is affecting your family, and learn how others are coping. Reach out to your denomination and learn what resources they offer. Contact Dave Ramsey or Eklund Financial Ministries to see what help they offer. Don’t allow Satan to convince you that keeping this in the dark is the answer. The truth is, when the pastor is financially free, the whole congregation will be set free, too. Freedom comes in many packages and financial freedom may be one of the greatest gifts you can give your family and your congregation.
Cheri Cowell is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and she and her husband followed these principles to get out of debt. Today they have no student loans, no credit card debt, and no car payments–only a house payment. To learn more about Cheri and her books visit her website www.CheriCowell.com