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I hate when pastor scandals break in the news. We’ve come to expect these headlines will involve sexual sin or destructive pride, but occasionally a story breaks of a pastor who was money-hungry. These financial scandals grieve me on two levels; the damage this causes to all who are involved and the shadow this casts on other pastors. Most pastors are far from being money-hungry. A staggering majority are incredibly faithful to their families and churches, but many of them simply cannot pay their bills. 

A few years ago I noticed more pastor friends starting side hustles. As I asked them for context they weren’t bored or unfulfilled, but there simply wasn’t enough in their paycheck to sustain their growing families. I believe most pastors aren’t starting side hustles to leave ministry; they’re starting side hustles to stay in ministry.

This was our story, too. I was given the gift of three book contracts with traditional publishers. Getting paid to write books gave our family of six just enough to stay above zero. But behind the scenes we were clawing out of college and adoption debt while trying to get ahead of the financial curve. This left us living paycheck to paycheck. Our story is pretty normal. I’ve come to believe 80% of pastors make 80% of the finances they need to sustain their families.

It’s weird for pastors to talk about money. There’s an age old stigma. If we speak up about needing more money to sustain our family it feels selfish. We feel like a raise would be stealing dollars from serving our community. We fear expressing our needs will come across as ungrateful for what God has given us. We feel like we can surely cut one more expense in our family to “make it work”.

There are three forms of income pastors usually live from; church salary, fundraising and business. Our family has lived off a mix of these three for several years now. These three forms are all provision from God, but each form comes with very different challenges for pastors. Choosing to live from a church salary, fundraising or business is not more spiritual for a pastor, but it is usually more seasonal. Different seasons of life require different financial concoctions. While churches get off the ground of go through transitional seasons it might make more sense to fundraise or find business opportunities. It might also make sense to do this long-term.

Many pastors are using the word “CoVocational” to describe a braiding together of time, energy and finances to live the life God designed for them. I am encouraged by the increasing freedom pastors are beginning to feel around creative financial provision! But we have a lot of work to do. We must release the destructive stigma of pastors not being allowed to talk about money.

Here are a few things to keep in mind…

  • Pastors will have to get increasingly creative to braid their vocations together.
  • Many pastors are one emergency away from leaving their post for a better-paying opportunity.
  • Many pastors “age out of ministry salaries”. They make enough in early days of marriage, but the challenges compound with the increased financial burden of growing families.
  • This financial pressure atop the usual strain of ministry leads many pastors to increased risk of burnout.
  • We must remove shame pastors feel for getting financially creative or leaving their post to provide sustainable income for their families.

If you’re a pastor considering financial issues here are a few next steps…

  • Have an honest conversation with your spouse about finances. Are your current finances sustainable? What needs to change?
  • Work hard to get out of debt! This increases your freedom and options in life and ministry. Debt holds us back in so many ways.
  • Have an honest, proactive conversation with your boss or elder team about your family’s finances. Do this now, before you feel like it’s an emergency.
  • Create a list of potential ways your family’s financial sustainability can grow. Seek wisdom from God and a few wise friends about which options might be a good fit for you.