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.