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The Proper Care and Feeding of a Pastor

August 21, 2003

Most church members don't know how to treat their pastor! If you want to be a considerate church member, there are some things you ought to know that your own minister will never tell you. Few pastors will put themselves in the precarious position of stating what benefits they feel they should receive from their ministry because they deem it improper to seek for themselves the remuneration and respect due their office. Nevertheless, proper care on the part of church members in certain sensitive areas will aid both the pastor and the church in fulfilling their God-given roles.

The Pastor and Gossip

One thing that hurts ministers the most is that some church members like to gossip. They take devilish delight in relating to their fellow church members those things about the pastor that represent his shortcomings. Pastors are human! Some may have bad habits or may make grammatical errors. Others may quarrel with their mates or devote too much time to personal affairs at the expense of their ministry to the congregation. You don't help your church to grow by detracting from your minister's credibility through faultfinding. If he has a character flaw that you regard as severe, go to him and speak with him respectfully, following the Scriptural admonition to exhort an elder as a father (I Timothy 5:1). Above all, pray for your pastor that he might be able to live up to his own ideals.

The Pastor and His Time

Some church members want their pastor to join every civic group in town because they feel this is good for their church image in the community. As worthwhile as some of these groups may be, they take precious hours away from his duties in the church, from his prayer and study time, and from his personal family time. This kind of community in-volvement should be left strictly to the discretion of the individual minister.

Many pressing responsibilities claim a pastor's time. He should spend between 20 and 40 hours a week in study, prayer and preparation for his messages. The younger a pastor is in the ministry the longer it takes him to prepare his sermons. In addition, he must attend board meetings, committee meetings, and Sunday School meetings and often must oversee youth work and children's work. In many instances the younger pastor finds himself shepherding a small or new congregation that is less than affluent and sometimes cannot even afford a paid custodian. In such a case the young pastor may find himself to be the chief fund raiser, custodian, secretary and errand boy. These are all areas where church members can help to shoulder the burden by typing letters, making phone calls, vacuuming the sanctuary and mowing the church lawn.

Proper Title of Respect

This is a small matter but it's important. Even if your minister tells you to call him by his first name, perhaps it's better for your family and other members of your church if you address him in public with a title of respect. He might give you the right to call him Ed, Jim or Joe to help you feel at ease with him, or you may even enjoy a special friend-to-friend relationship with him. Nevertheless, there are times when out of respect to his office, you should refer to him as "Pastor Brown, Smith or Jones," or at least as "Pastor Ed, Jim or Joe."

Salary or Living Allowance

A neglected fact of Scripture is that the Apostle Paul in I Timothy 5:17 wrote that a pastor deserves double pay. Check it out for yourself. The word "honor" as used in that text is related to the word "honorarium" or "fee." Some interpret this as referring to two different kinds of honor: remuneration and respect. However, the noun is used in the singular form suggesting only one kind of "honor," and the context clearly speaks of wages. The Apostle Paul set an example of not taking pay for his ministry because he ministered for the most part among new and immature believers. Still, the Scripture teaches that "a workman is worthy of his hire." If the pastor deserves double pay he should at least be accorded a salary that will allow for a comfortable standard of living.

Many denominations in this country maintain set policies for the welfare of those who minister under their auspices. The specified benefits in such cases include minimum required salaries, hospitalization, annuities and educational allowances. Nevertheless, there are many other groups and independent congregations that have no such set policies, and it is to them that this advice is directed.

A good rule of thumb for a pastor's living allowance is not in terms of money, but in terms of the median life-style of the congregation which he serves. If almost all of the people in the congregation live in apartments rather than in single-family homes, then the pastor and his family should be able to afford a nice apartment by community standards. If the church people generally own their homes, the pastor should be accorded a salary whereby he and his family may enjoy the same privilege. Often church property includes a parsonage. This is a practical and convenient arrangement because the house is usually close to the church and the housing benefit allows for a lower salary to be taken from the annual church budget. Nevertheless some pastors' families may not be comfortable with such a living arrangement. Self-esteem, privacy and freedom to choose one's place of residence are all important factors to be considered. Besides this, the monetary benefit to the church may be offset by expenses of repair and maintenance for the parsonage. Another factor in favor of a pastor buying his own home is that under IRS rules a home owner enjoys substantial tax benefits in the form of deductions for all housing expenses. In any case, if the pastor were to feel more content in a home of his own choosing, the church might well consider renting the parsonage to someone in the community and adding the amount of the rental to the pastor's salary.

Your pastor has many other needs and expenses of which you may not be aware. As the leader of a faith mission I have found that ministers are extremely generous. They often support Christian causes with their own funds. It is not unusual for Jews for Jesus to receive a gift from a minister that represents his whole week's salary. In addition, because a bishop must be "given to hospitality" according to I Timothy 3:2, pastors must entertain much more than the average church member. That can be expensive.

Then, too, the successful pastor is busier than the average working man in his church and can't do some of the things for himself and his family that can be done by the ordinary layman. He may have to pay for things like shoveling the snow from his front walk in winter or mowing his lawn in summer. Just at the time he gets ready to repair this appliance or do that errand, he is likely to be interrupted by some church emergency. It is necessary that he be paid enough so that he can devote as much time as he needs to his flock and leave errands and chores to those whom he can pay.

Another minister's expense involves study materials. Did you know that your pastor will need to spend $500 to $800 a year for books and periodicals just so he can do the work of informed preaching?

Other ministry-involved expenses include the cost of attending conferences and denominational conventions, and the all too often forgotten major expense of an automobile. The pastor's car is a business tool, and the pastor should be reimbursed for the use of his car on behalf of the church. Car expenses should be in the same category as office equipment used for church purposes.

Furthermore, most pastors find themselves in a social security trap. Under present law, everyone is covered by social security unless he files for an exemption stating that he is conscientiously opposed to any government help for himself or his family. If the pastor does not file the exemption form, he must pay the full social security tax of a self-employed individual out of his own pocket. If he does choose to file an exemption, he is not covered by social security. Then he is left to provide for his own retirement and hospitalization benefits unless he is fortunate enough to belong to a denomination which makes it a policy to provide for such needs.

Another expense for a young pastor might be an outstanding school debt. Few church members realize that a man who completes college and seminary often graduates owing a considerable amount of money. The debt was incurred in preparing himself for the ministry. His income should be sufficient to allow the repayment of that debt.

The pastor's income should also be adequate for him to afford an occasional private, restful vacation that involves travel and hotel bills. A visit with family or friends, while enjoyable, does not usually comprise a time of rest and privacy.

As a considerate church member you should see to it that your pastor does not have to concern himself too much with money needs. Most pastors spend as many years in school as does a doctor or a lawyer, and they deserve a salary commensurate with their training. Though pastors are willing to humble themselves and settle for little in order to serve God, it is up to you to show your pastor that you understand the value of the position to which God has appointed him.

What Else You Can Do

If your church is the kind that cannot give your pastor a proper salary and uphold him financially the way that he deserves, there is one thing you can do that is always welcome. Sit down and write your pastor a note. Tell him how much you appreciate him and what he is doing. Be specific. If you were moved to action by a particular message, tell him which one. There's another way you can uphold him. Tell other members of the church specifically how and why you appreciate him so that they might look for the same qualities in him and gain from God what your pastor has to give them. If you know that what you have received from him is of God and you are growing spiritually and are headed in a proper direction because of his ministry, why not tell others outside of the church, too? Through your efforts the congregation may gain new members, and nothing pleases a pastor more than to see God's kingdom grow, especially if it's his own little flock.

A pastor's lot is often lonely and demanding, and even discouraging at times. Your pastor needs to know that you care and that you appreciate him. Treat your pastor well and you encourage him to do his very best for God. A right relationship between the pastor and the congregation will please God and make your church and its ministry a blessing to the entire community.

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