I grew up in a pastor's house. I went to school for biblical studies and theology and eventually received a Master's degree. I love to spend time with other's talking about theology, creeds, confessions, and historical writings. Teaching the truth of Scripture has been blessing that I am thankful for.
Having spent more than a decade in numerous ministry settings; including a church plant, a church that met in a school, and a small traditional church. I can say with confidence that there is one thing many churches have in common: pastoral staff that need financial help.
You probably thought I was going to say something else, something more spiritual. But the truth is that money is a very spiritual issue. In the New Testament, Jesus talked about two topics more than any others: hell and money. I don't think that's a coincidence. I would even suggest that those are two of the least popular topics in our culture today.
And yet, I find myself in a position of spending all day every day talking about money.
As a financial professional I have the privilege of helping people reach their financial goals. There is tremendous fulfillment in walking with someone on their journey towards retirement and other financial goals. I am particularly thankful for the Christians I get to work with, as we have the opportunity to sharpen one another spiritually. But I am concerned for the pastors I know and care about.
I recently learned of a pastor that retired from ministry and told his wife they had enough money for 7-8 years. He then got brain cancer and died shortly after retiring, leaving his wife with medical bills and financial concerns. What could he have done differently? Who could he have asked for guidance to avoid this scenario?
I get the impression that many pastors think they don't have enough money to work with a financial professional. Perhaps they think it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars before it's worth the time and cost. Or perhaps pastors are concerned what their congregations might think if they know their pastor is working with a financial professional. Will people start wondering if the pastor has too much money?
Let me say that the financial services industry hasn't done a very good job welcoming people with modest means. Many places actually do have financial minimums before you get to work with an advisor. And if you don't have enough money you get to work with a call center along with thousands of others. This is partly because financial professionals have traditionally been paid on commission and, consequently, only want to work with high net worth clients. The industry is changing, however, and compensation for financial professionals is moving away from commissions.
Pastor, if your congregation loves you the way they are supposed to, they want to see you financially prepared. The days of keeping a pastor poor to “keep him humble” are largely gone. Congregations recognize the need to provide adequate wages for the spiritual caretaker of their families. No one expects you to scrape by, unable to care for your family.
Preparing for the days when earning an income from full-time ministry is no longer an option should be carefully considered. What will your source of income be? If you, like many pastors, opted out of Social Security, you can't count on that. Most pastors don't have a pension. How will you provide for your needs once you are no longer able to work? These, and many other questions are beginning to plague pastors as they get older.
Allow me to suggest 3 things that can get the ball rolling as you consider your financial position.
First, don't be afraid to talk with a good financial advisor. You might be surprised to find you have one in your church. Advisors are all too happy to offer a free consultation. Consider it an “interview.” You are interviewing the advisor to determine if this is the right person for you to work with. Be honest with the advisor about what you are looking for and your need to work with someone that can thoroughly prepare you for retirement.
Second, be willing to listen to the advisor you choose to work with. You teach people the principals of God's word each week. Your desire is for them to listen, learn, and do. What is the point of teaching if they are going to ignore the principles? The same is true for working with an advisor. If you are clear about your current financial position, your financial goals, and your requirements for working together; you should be prepared to listen when your advisor gives you advice.
Last, share with your church. I can assure you that you have families in your church struggling financially. They need to know that you don't have all the answers but it's okay to ask questions and work with someone that can help. Your humble example could encourage others to get the help they need but may be too proud to ask for (without your example).
Randy Alcorn wrote an article about how pastors can be a catalyst for financial health in their churches. He wrote:
“By God’s grace, pastors can humbly exhort the body of Christ to get serious about learning and living out God’s instructions concerning money and possessions. As they do, Christ’s cause will be furthered and His person exalted. What a joyful and God-honoring call for pastors to answer—both in their personal lifestyle choices and their words.”
There's a lot that needs to be unpacked in that statement but, for now, let's start with this: pastor, set the example. Talk to a qualified financial professional about where you are at and begin taking steps to get your own financial house in order. Share your journey with your congregation and encourage them to do the same. Stewardship should not be a term applying only to tithing in the church; it should apply to each of us individually and we need to be willing to learn to be good stewards of all that God has given us.