Concerning numbers for a majority of ministers

I remember a conversation between a local church elder and a Bible College President some decades ago. The elder suggested to the President that the curriculum should include money management, because a sufficient number of those serving in ministry were showing either bad financial judgement or a lack of understanding the implications of growing debt. The President responded that he understood the situation but there was simply no room in the curriculum to add such a course.

The same circumstances are in place now. Just over one year ago, the National Association of Evangelicals issued a press release reporting a majority of ministers serve with “significant personal financial challenges…are not familiar with resources to help them and do not confide in anyone outside their household.”1 Consider these statistics from the report:

  • 50% receive less than $50,000 in annual compensation
  • 30% have student debt averaging $36,000
  • 29% have $0 in personal savings
  • 92% are concerned about a lack of retirement savings
  • 60% are concerned about medical bills
  • 85% say the received no financial training from their seminary

Principles to Plant

A Blog is an insufficient source for in-depth financial information. What we can do is offer principals that are widely recognized as good financial planning. As a proper foundation is of paramount importance for a solid building, these principles are fundamental to the financial life of ministry personnel.

The first thing everyone should do is develop the proper attitude about money. For nearly fifty years, W.A. Criswell gave premarital counseling advice that the first 10% of earnings should be given to God.2 This advice is echoed by many financial advisors. We need to live in such a way that our lives reflect the belief that our financial resources, as well as our talents, belong to God. Having an attitude of stewardship rather than ownership places money, and the possessions money may provide, in the proper perspective.

The second principle to develop for a sound financial life is a respect for and commitment to the future. After giving the first ten percent to God, W.A. Criswell always recommended the next ten percent of be placed into savings.3 An appreciation for the future is difficult attitude to develop, potentially more difficult than the first. Young couples beginning life after college are thinking about their first home, car, insurance, spousal differences, college loan payments, and more. The future seems SO far away, and the needs of today SO pressing. Delaying an emphasis upon saving for the future makes it much more difficult when finally undertaken. Saving while young makes a smooth future much more attainable.

Skills to Sharpen

A professional athlete continually works on their skills to maintain them. If a tennis player ceases to practice their serve or backhand stroke, it will fail them in competition. The same is true of our financial skills. Ministry personnel need to be above reproach in their finances, and that requires repetitive use of financial skills.

Develop, revisit, and refine the family budget. Most do not relish the budgeting process, but it is important. The budget begins with the individual or family income, not with the total of expenses that must be met. A proper budget enables us to prioritize and control expenses. It allows us to prevent financial decisions that have the potential to cripple our reputation.

Controlling spending enables one to simultaneously eliminate debt and build an emergency fund. The goal for the emergency fund should be three months of income. That does not appear overnight, and too often families surrender early. Spending is something easily allowed to gradually grow out of control. It is a financial skill learning how to refuse our wants without becoming a discouragement to our spouse and children.

Being debt free requires practice. Eliminating debt must become a monthly, if not weekly, exercise. The family that passionately attacks debt and consistently saves for the future will be an example for others to follow. Refusing to spend like others (based upon credit) while young empowers decisions others only dream of later in life.

Examine your financial condition at least twice each year. Begin by determining your assets. Make a list of banking accounts, real estate, investments, and other assets of worth. Next, discover how indebted you are to others. Total your mortgages, car loans, student loans, total owed on credit cards, and any other borrowed funds. Subtract your debts from your assets. If you are in a negative net worth position, this process should be repeated monthly. This may not be the favorite activity you share with your spouse, but it is one of the more important.

These are not the only financial skills that are necessary, but they are a good beginning. There are sources of help; seek them and listen. In so doing, hopefully you will not be included in the disturbing numbers above.

1 Majority of Pastors Suffer in Silence Over Financial Challenges. April 26, 2016. National Association of Evangelicals.
2 Bryant, Jim. The Pastor and Personal Finances. April 22, 2014.
3 Bryant, ibid.