Pastors Face Financial Challenges, Denominational Studies Show

Many pastors face personal financial challenges that negatively impact their ministry, according to Craig Dykstra, a senior vice-president with the Lilly Endowment.

In announcing an initiative to study and address those financial challenges among pastors in Indiana, Dykstra explained:

“Pastors undertake their ministries out of a deep sense of calling. Most receive only modest salaries for their countless hours of service and rarely complain about their compensation. In normal times, pastors and their families are able to maintain modest lifestyles and serve their congregations well.

“Even before the recent economic turmoil, however, we noticed and were increasingly troubled by ways that financial hardships facing some pastors can weigh them down and create barriers that make it very difficult for them to lead their congregations effectively. The aim of this initiative is to help church leaders create programs to address these economic challenges, all in an effort to strengthen the vitality of congregations.”

Pastors face financial challengesIn 2008, the Lilly Endowment provided initial funding for several Indiana-based church denominational groups to conduct research to identify the specific circumstances that typically create the most difficult economic problems for clergy and their families.  They discovered that…

  • Many new pastors carry higher levels of educational debt into their first pastoral positions than they can possibly pay.
  • Many are very disturbed by their inability to save enough to provide for the
    education of their children.
  • Some pastors said it difficult for them to build up adequate retirement savings or recover from debt incurred by emergency or uninsured medical costs or other unexpected expenses.

Pastors admitted that these personal financial pressures had a negative impact on their church ministry by…

  • making it hard for them to contribute much financially to their own churches.
  • causing them to be reluctant to talk openly about financial matters.
  • keeping them from taking active roles in managing congregational finances or encourage members to give to the churches ministries.

And, these personal financial pressures were cited as a major motivating factor for pastors to leave the ministry.

In response to these findings, in 2009 the Lilly Endowment awarded $11 million in grants to sixteen Protestant regional denominational bodies to provide financial counseling and help to their pastors.

The Rev. Jeffrey White, associate state minster with Indiana Ministries of the Church of God (Anderson), a recipient of Endowment funds, explains what he learned during the research phase:

“This Endowment initiative allowed us to take a broad look at the needs of our pastors. As far as education financing went, we found both extremes: Some pastors are in pretty good shape, but others face significant debt. We were most surprised by the health care costs. We found out that half of our pastors’ wives work in order to provide health care for their families. Also, our pastors are not planning for retirement. These are the issues we will address with our funding.”

Each denominational body will use the money provided by the Endowment to establish a Ministerial Excellence Fund, which will be matched by donations from congregations and other sources. The denomination decides how it will administer the funds. Common uses include assistance to help new pastors pay down student educational loans, money to enable clergy and their families to address emergency expenses, and incentives to build up retirement savings.

I applaud the Lilly Endowment for making these grants available, and the church denominational groups for creating programs to address the financial challenges that pastors face.

What do you think about these research findings re: pastors and money?  Do you struggle with any of the same issues?  Is your denomination (if you’re a part of one) doing anything to help?

About the author

Rich Rich writes on personal finance from a pastor's perspective here at Money Wise Pastor. He loves In-N-Out Burger (and has the t-shirts to prove it), urban living, homeschooling, Gungor concerts, helping people succeed in life and work, camping, dreaming with his wife, and equipping his five children to become financially faithful and free. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Rev Benedict Ndlovu says:

    I have been serving as a Congregational Pastor in South Africa since 2002.At least the church is trying to give us all the support that we need as a family.However my fear is that there is no fund that is put aside for my retirement.Moreover l am not in a position to provide good education to my children.Please help.

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