Church as slaughterhouse; pastor and wife and children as lambs

I just saw this link from Carl Truman regard this article entitled “Free Church Crisis?”

I’m almost afraid to comment on it. I don’t think we have this kind of thing denomination-wide in the NAPARC churches, but I know quite well that we have this situation in many more congregations than anyone wants to think about.

Let me quote what I think are the salient details:

A second major reason for insecurity is financial. I have been a minister for 21 years and currently am paid £17,500 per year. My wife works part time and almost gets the same as me. In no other profession with the level of experience and responsibility I have would I be paid such a wage. This has been made much worse by a significant change in society (one that the Church has completely ignored). Our society has moved away from ‘social housing’ and rented accommodation towards home ownership. In order to have a home when one retires it is essential to get a foot on the property ladder. But that is impossible on a Free Church ministers wage and thus the vast majority of my colleagues are in situations where they depend on their wives to supplement their incomes – indeed there is now an increasing trend whereby the wife is the main breadwinner in the home. I may be old fashioned but I am deeply uneasy about this. And of course many in congregations are not happy about minister’s wives working because they think (at least subconsciously) that they have employed two for the price of one. There is an unofficial office in the Church of minister’s wife – she is expected to be a leader, a hospitality Queen and organiser of all things ‘feminine’. For many wives the work/family/church balance is a very tricky tightrope to walk – little wonder that some fall off. Incidentally this applies to Elders wives as well, who often have the same three fold balancing act to perform. It should be no surprise that some end up resenting the Church and their husband’s role in it. Of course it is essential that the Manse be a place of hospitality and that ministers wives be involved fully in the life of their congregations. But the assumption that this is ‘what we pay you for’ is wrong. ALL Christian homes are to be places of hospitality and ministry.

I hate to sound like an economic materialist, but this is pretty much at issue with everything else mentioned in the essay as a problem. Why wouldn’t candidates for the ministry not come to their senses and go elsewhere? Frankly, given the Reformed response to perpetual vows, including both vows to both chastity and poverty, why shouldn’t they bolt? Getting paid at the denomination’s expense for a life time of dual-income struggling just doesn’t seem like much of a moral obligation. Get out while you can.

Besides, the property ladder is not the only issue. If you don’t make it, what are you going to do twenty years down the road? If you have a family to support, wage-slave jobs are not possibly going to cut it. You’re going to find you aren’t qualified for anything, at least not in anyone’s mind. Yes, people with soft skills can make a great deal of money in the right sitution. People with years of pastoring in their resume are not usually in a position to get those situations.

How would you counsel a couple who were in obvious stress because the husband was choosing an financially depressed carreer path? Would you not tell him to try to find something better? In what universe are people supposed to be qualified for a ministry that means they don’t meet their ethical obligations to support their families?

And worse, when they get caught in it, and realize what has happened, they will feel personally ashamed. They will think they are guilty for not “managing” better.

Are those the kind of people you want pastoring you?

But it happens all the time. Churches that should have long ago been closed down because they are financially incapable of supporting a pastor go on and on and on, and because there are more graduates from Reformed seminaries than there are churches, these congregations will have a regular supply of over-optimistic cattle with their young wives and children to drive through their slaughterhouse. More often than not congregations get tense with their pastor in these situations and lower their expectations so that they are even less likely to want to pay one more.

In America, this is mostly hidden. Most people going to seminary come from healthy suburban settings where they see the pastor provided for (usually) in a way commensurate with grad school education. They think they know their own country and they think they can minister anywhere and they assume that finances will work out. They are, in short, totally deluded. What they think is normal is actually a major success story that requires beating odds and leaving other pastors in the other situations. Some, realizing the true situation and having the ambition to match it will do all right. Others will not realize what it really takes. They will expect as a natural outcome to pastor the sort of church in which they came to feel called to the ministry.

Pray that such people have an extended network of friends and family who are finacially well-off.

I have never yet seen a presbytery refuse a call because the finances were pathetic. This is America. Buyer beware. After all, the guy has been through seminary so what else can he do but pastor? We’re keeping him unemployed if we prevent him from his call. He wants it. The church wants it. And we all know it is “Liberal” to close down churches. We have to let them limp along and damage as many families as possible.

“Ministry should be sacrifice.” First Corinthians 9 makes it clear that Paul believed that–and thus remained single and childless. That has nothing to do with calling husbands and fathers to pastor churches. A lot of these gifted men would be a ton better off if they found other work, got to the point where they were skilled and self-sustaining, and then tried to plant churches themselves. Yes, that is really hard to do, but the stakes are lower than what is going on now.

I’m not to impressed with the writer’s Milleresque response to what is going on. You can preach the Gospel to yourself until you’re blue in the face but you are still obligated to tell young husbands to do something that will end up supporting their families. Sorry, but I thought Trueman’s own pessimism is justified and applies outside of Scotland: Saying the glass is half-empty is indeed too upbeat.

15 thoughts on “Church as slaughterhouse; pastor and wife and children as lambs

  1. Garrett


    I actually saw a call letter go back to the church in my old presbytery out here in California because the pay package was too low. I have a general rule for pastoral compensation and that is to find the most recent average household income statistic for the region and drop 10% under that. This normally should be a decent salary level for a pastor and scholar (he after all normally has completed graduate work). For example, Crestwood, MO comes out to $55,300, Jackson, MS comes to $41,000 and Seattle, WA comes to $58,000.

    Cheap parishioners get cheap ministry and their whole attitude and church reflect it.

  2. Wayne

    I’ve been at Presbytery meetings where the Presbytery changed someone’s call from 2 weeks vacation to 4 weeks. Ok, not a very remarkable recollection, but it made me glad at the time to be Presbyterian and a member of a body of men who genuinely cared for another pastor’s situation.

  3. mark Post author

    Joseph, I see it as a given that those who minister in the Gospel are supposed to get their living from the Gospel. I don’t know how we can “rethink” that without going against God’s Word.

    My opinion.

  4. Joel W

    How well I remember toying with the idea of ministry in an indie reformed church and being told by the pastor – “don’t worry about a degree, just go for ministry.” I wasted years of not trying to advance at work or go to school because I wanted to be an elder – it was a huge mistake and I’m glad it’s behind me.

  5. jmucciolo

    Your opinion most definitely has historical weight to it but perhaps we’re reading things a little askew? for instance the right to be supported and enabled monetarily doesn’t necessitate a responsibility to do it that way, and maybe what is the norm right now should actually be the exception? My opinion, for what it’s worth! Thanks!

  6. Anonymous

    Commenting anonymously because I’m talking out of school —

    I was once in a congregational meeting in which a proposal to raise the pastor’s salary significantly (he’d been underpaid and his family had been struggling for years) was defeated. The two most heartbreaking things I heard said were,

    “No one in business is getting this kind of annual raise.”

    (No one “in business” is expected to keep the same job as long as he’s wanted there into order to faithfully serve, regardless of whether he’s having trouble paying the mortgage. No one “in business” has probably been cheerfully doing a job way below the going rate and his family’s needs for 10 years because of a disinterested desire to serve the employer.)

    “My husband’s father was a pastor. They never got paid that much. Pastors know you don’t get paid well.”

    The money was in the budget for it. The pastor had been serving us faithfully for decades at a rate of pay none of the degree men in our congregation would have accepted lying down.

    Thankfully, due to steady raises over the years since, and the pastor’s family leaving the nest, he’s now living at a reasonable, if not affluent, standard of living, with which he professes to be fully content. But I found the reasoning for denying the raise (some raise was given, but the size was cut significantly) utterly shameful.

  7. jmucciolo

    As far as salaries go, without saying that it is wrong to have a full time paid pastor, which is what some people mistakenly hear when I talk about this, is this really what the Scripture has in mind for Elders, as far as the standard? Were prospective elders expected to quit their jobs and be fully supported by the Church? I just don’t know that our current standard should be the norm, from a sola scriptura type of stand point. Hope I’m not overstepping the bounds of the conversation here, I know this can turn into a sensitive subject.

  8. mark Post author

    Well, I don’t know about “elders” since that is an ambiguous term in Presbyterian discourse with a lot of debates about how to tranlate the relevant terms and relate OT and NT. But *ministers* like Apollos and Paul (1 Cor. 3, 9) were expected to normally make their living from their church, not from a side job. Paul would never have stood out as exceptional if this was not the case.


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