Call & Culture: Financial Needs of Clergy Families

Written by Rachel

Finances is not an easy subject for most people to discuss. You're either paid too much (a rarity perhaps!), paid to little, or don't feel comfortable comparing amongst peers. But like other careers, a clergy's income is particularly important so that they're able to continue
doing what God has called them to. It's also commonly a source of stress and concern to many clergy families, as this particular study discovered. Researchers Morris & Blanton* surveyed clergy couples to understand more about what stressors clergy and their families face, and discovered that many clergy couples consistently mentioned their concerns about how little ministry actually pays.

Now that's not to say that they were demanding better pay. In fact, they were quite hesitant
to mention it as they are aware that ministry is entered as a God-given calling and asking for a higher salary feels contrary to following that calling, not to mention being worried it would put an additional stress on the churches they loved and cared for. But the realities of a low income, and often a growing family, meant that they regularly found themselves worried about money and living expenses.

Surprisingly, these researchers also discovered an unusual gap between education and
pay: "Clergy rank in the top 10% of the population (American) in terms of education but
rank 325th out of 432 occupations in terms of salary."
So while clergy are some of the
most educated, it does not also follow that they are better paid because of their qualifications. In fact, they found that while the average hours many pastors are expected to work is 51 hours/week, they are also the most likely professionals to need to work 2 jobs to cover the costs of everyday living!

It goes without saying that answering a call to ministry is not about the money! As any clergy member would tell you it's a joy and a privilege, and often one that comes with many benefits for them and their families. And none of this is taken away, or any less significant, by the need for an income to cover the costs of living and doing ministry. I was recently discussing this matter with a clergy spouse and they mentioned that while they loved opening their
home for ministry, they didn't have enough money to cover the costs of their own family
plus ministry expenses, which meant in the end she had to choose between two difficult situations. 

The matter of income, I feel, has little to do with a calling to ministry, and more to do with
the cost of living within the culture you're called to. Clergy families do not wish to be rich,
they simply want to be able to follow God's calling for their lives, without having to choose between catering for a ministry meal or buying their children shoes. I'm reminded of Paul's instructions to the early church: "Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have
the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?...If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all
the more?
" (1 Corinthians 9: 4-6; 11-12).

This research has inspired many conversations about income, living expenses, what churches can afford, and what is realistic to the current culture and family needs. While
the stress of a low income is very real, there are also many ministry communities I know
who come up with creative, loving, and inventive ways to care for clergy and their families that work around this limited income and support them as they continue in the ministry God
has called them to.

I'm grateful for research like this, about the realities and stressors of ministry. It is a difficult subject to talk about, but one that has very real consequences. If you find that finances are a cause of stress for you, can I encourage you to talk to someone about it? In my experience many churches, friends, and family are often eager to help but are uncertain how to. If you're in ministry, what you're doing is so important - and I hope that through conversations like this, we can continue to find the best ways to support you where it might help the most. If we can ever pray for you or help you find resources, please contact us.

"The Influence of Work-Related Stressors on Clergy Husbands and Their Wives." Michael L Morris and Priscilla W Blanton, 1994. Journal: Family Relations.The full article can be accessed online through the Victoria State Library