4 Steps Pastors Can Take Right Now to Improve Their Financial Future

March 21, 2017

Resource Review

When I became a pastor 31 years ago, my small, rural congregation, gave my family an annual gift of food at Thanksgiving. This amounted to two or three shopping-carts filled with canned goods, boxed goods, and some frozen foods, probably worth at least a week’s salary. We lived off that stock for months, and I deeply appreciated the gift.

However, what seemed like a nice, homey tradition merely masked the fact that I was not paid well enough to fully support my growing family. We depended on this offering along with occasional cash gifts from church members to make it financially. While I was grateful for the generosity of individual parishioners, I disliked the stress of wondering how to afford a family vacation or a car repair bill.

Many pastors face that same pressure every week, and Mark A. Rennaker believes there is a solution.

Rennaker is the author of Hope for Pastors: A Collaborative Approach to Clergy Financial Health, and he pioneered a program, funded by Lilly Endowment, to address clergy financial concerns in his denomination. He discovered that pastors face significant financial challenges that are not well understood by their congregations.

That’s an open secret among clergy, many of whom receive comparatively low salaries and often have underfunded benefit packages. Rennaker’s research revealed that—

• Clergy incur high education debt but don’t have the earning potential of professionals.

• Churches unwittingly contribute to the pastor’s financial stress by implying (or insisting) that pastors or their spouses should not take outside employment.

• Many churches provide little or no funding for basic items such as pension, health insurance, professional expenses, or continuing education.

• Financial challenges produce stress and shame in pastors, resulting in greatly reduced effectiveness. Rennaker calls this the Cycle of Despair.

• Churches and pastors that work together to understand and reduce financial challenges see dramatic improvements in clergy effectiveness and church performance.

Rennaker’s group used matching grant money to encourage pastors and churches to work together on identifying and reducing clergy financial challenges. Hope for Pastors describes their approach and it’s result as “the Hope Cycle.”

The group discovered that by fostering communication, cooperation, and education among clergy and lay leaders, dramatic improvements could me made in clergy health and well-being as well as the financial strength of both pastor and church.

Here are four steps you can take right now to begin this upward cycle.

1. Build Awareness

Most churches don’t know that their pastor faces money challenges. The first hurdle is to make lay leaders aware of potential problems. It may be best to have an outside voice address that so the pastor does not feel shamed by “asking for help.”

Rather than asking, “Why won’t the church increase my salary?” ask, “What information do leaders need in order to understand my financial reality?”

2. Target Well-Being

The first response to a financial challenge is usually to throw money at it, but that will not produce long-term results. Rennaker’s team found that addressing the underlying issues of spiritual, relational, intellectual, and physical health they were able to produce a lasting impact.

Rather than asking, “Where can I find money to pay this bill?” ask, “What would improve my overall well-being?”

3. Collaborate with Key Leaders

Typically, churches that succeeded in addressing their pastor’s financial challenges have at least on lay champion in the congregation who represent the pastor’s need to other leaders.

Rather than asking, “What should the church do to improve my pay?” ask, “How can we work together to improve the church’s—and the pastor’s—financial outlook?”

4. Start with Education

Long-term success results from changing both church and clergy behaviors, which required financial education. In some cases, simply teaching churches how to budget was a significant step.

Rather than asking, “How can I afford a replacement vehicle?” ask, “How can we be more effective at managing resources?”

The success stories are dramatic.

When both the pastor and the church experience less financial stress, morale improves and additional funds are freed for ministry. In other words, when the pastor does better financially, so does the church—and the community benefits.

Rennaker found that by using this approach, pastors got out of debt and started retirement savings. Churches began budgeting and found funds for new ministries. Pastors’ personal health and marriages improved. Plateaued churches began to grow.

Hope for Pastors includes heart-warming testimonials from pastors who found renewed energy for ministry, often toward the end of their career. This book offers a proven, practical approach to improving pastors’ financial strength, overall well-being, and effectiveness in ministry.

Hope for Pastors: A Collaborative Approach to Clergy Financial Health by Mark A. Rennaker

Wesleyan Publishing House, 160 pp., $10.49

Value to Pastors – Outlines a collaborative approach, including suggested actions, to improving pastors’ finances in cooperation with lay leaders, backed by solid research and demonstrable results.

Rating – ★★★★★

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.