Breaking Pastors

The church I’m part of embarrasses me. Often.

I know I shouldn’t get embarrassed so easily but the simple truth is that I do. Almost every day I’m met by some act of kindness, big or small, some word of encouragement or thanks, some gift of generosity of time, material things or friendship.

Never am I more acutely embarrassed than when I’m talking to other pastors who are telling me the stories of the things they are going through. I blush when they ask how things are with our church. After the stories that get shared I’m often afraid to say how much I enjoy our local church and how much fun I have doing what I do here.

Don’t get me wrong. We have challenges. Finances are one of them. Getting everyone to show up at roughly the same time is one of them. And personal loss or suffering among us is ongoing.

But no one is actively seeking to have me turfed. (as far as I know – and frankly, that’s good enough for me.) No one complains about how high my lawn has grown (yes, I have a friend who woke up one morning to find a board member kneeling on his front lawn with a ruler measuring his grass prior to the night’s board meeting). Not everyone is crazy about me or how I do things but I learned way back in youth ministry that that’s why you have a multitude of leaders – so everyone finds someone to connect with. No one is suggesting that it’s time for a showdown and it’s either me or the choir that goes.

Here’s a number, a stat, that I read this week and verified with 3 different sources.

1,500 pastors quit every month in North America.


Every month.

Some of those are moral failures but most are not. This is a stat I’ve learned in the last week and between you and me I’m shocked and…well…not shocked.

One thing that’s breaking pastors is their personal finance.

Week to week the financial income and support of their family is entirely based on a group of people choosing to give a portion of their hard earned income on a weekly basis. We don’t sell anything, manufacture anything or process anything. Each week our offering has to cover all our expenses as a church family as well as a salary for the pastor and staff if they have it. If a third of most of those attending a worship service decided they couldn’t afford to give anything next week, very simply, we couldn’t get paid.

I’ve personally been let go by one church because they couldn’t afford to pay me. I will add that I know of many other churches that have laid off staff both in the past and in recent days. And I’ll even mention the first church staff experience I ever had where the pastor, my friend Charlie, would sometimes not get paid or only get paid a portion of what he was supposed to because, as the treasurer reminded him, “we have to pay our bills first.”

The future doesn’t look all that good finance-wise either. An elder at a church where I once worked brought me back a t-shirt from his trip to Florida. It read, “I’m A Pastor. The pay isn’t great but the retirement benefits are out of this world!” Funny. Hrmmmm. Generally, we’ve got no retirement. Nada. Not a penny saved towards that end or so little that it really won’t help. Most pastors in Canada make a salary that is below the national poverty line.
Hard not to break when you’ve got kids and the community you are in expects you to live a certain lifestyle – attend gatherings, invite to dinners, send kids to camps and events – and you make a half or third of what most make.

I’m not cleverly disguising a complaint here about how I’m compensated now. It really isn’t.

I’m not into disguising and frankly I’m not clever.

I’ve got a friend who realized one day, after a long and contentious relationship with the church board he worked with, that he made about one third the salaries of the men on the board. He realized that the lack of respect they displayed for him was entirely germane to their business world. They would never respect someone who came to work at their companies and asked or settled for such a meagre salary. From their perspective, he reasoned, only someone desperate, poorly skilled or lacking educational experience would work for that level of pay.

What do you think? Are you surprised that 1500 pastors quit every month? What are the factors that lead to this?

(to be continued)


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, God, Leadership, ministry, pastor, reality, religion. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Breaking Pastors

  1. Brian, you and I have discussed this often.. Many factors in it, but the biggest factor is God Himself. He is making it clear that we are transitioning into a reformation that is going to be more radical than Luther’s modern church transition. He is demanding community over religion, and relationship over causes… People become expendable when they do not fit the cause, or the money for the cause changes. Yes church as we once knew it cannot and for the most part will not, be the way for our future. The future churches and community will look more like yours, one’s that are making the transition to real authentic community, where the power of God and power of love takes precedence over the “blow and the show”. There will still be struggles in going the right way, but maturing believers all walking together in God’s nature will be a force that will bring forth tremendous harvest in tremendous ways…. CCC is on Father’s radar screen, and He is smiling!

    • brianmpei says:

      I’ve got to find the exact quote but I was reading some comments by a ‘Futurist’, not a believer, who said that from his research he believes the church in the north american future will look like a bungalow (not sure of the american equivalent) in the middle of the block – as opposed to both the traditional church building and the big box mega campus of today. If he’s right, I’ll have to find a new gig for my bread and butter!

  2. Nathan Rousu says:

    You picked an issue that hits a nerve with me.

    I am very fortunate to be a part of a community that provides support that is reflective of an average income within our community. Unfortunately, not all of my friends and family in ministry have the same experience.

    At our place the question is ‘how much can we afford to pay our staff.’ The question at many if not most other places is ‘how little can we pay our staff.’

    I believe that question of ‘how little’ clearly expresses several matters of the heart. “How little” expresses the value of the people for their leaders. In common terms, “Talk is cheap, show me the money.” Or to quote Jesus, “Where the treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Clearly if we’re not investing financially in our leaders, we’re not loving them and giving the necessary ‘heart’ for a healthy relationship. By withholding, we’re also making a statement about our own selfishness. And by withholding, I believe that we’re participating in an injustice towards those whom we should be showing “double honor.” (1 Tim 5:17-18) Is this the heart of Christ – lack of love, selfishness, injustice?

    Obviously this issue is connected to the whole issue of kingdom generosity and our giving. I believe there’s some serious issues there (in general) across the church, fueled by a lot of poor teaching that has empowered people to be more selfish with the management of their personal finances rather than more generous to the community around them.

    • brianmpei says:

      I’m grateful to be in a “how much” church Nathan but I’m sorry to say that I’ve been part of a system, historically, that has lived by this prayer, “God, you keep the pastor humble and we’ll keep him poor.” We’ve adopted a dysfunctional system. The other side of the coin, however, is the “shepherd” who has figured out how to fleece the flock. Most of these people end up on TV though rather than living and dying for average size churches across North America in the 100-300 range.

  3. Don Rousu says:

    Brian, you always write about such interesting things!

    It seems like I spend a lot of time these days with pastors, or former pastors, most quite a bit younger than I am, who are either broken, burned out, beat up, or disillusioned. Yesterday afternoon, I spent more than two hours with yet another.

    I’ve given up on single cause theories.

    Finances can certainly be a major issue, no doubt. However, I suspect a “salaried clergy class” may be rapidly becoming a thing of the past. I don’t expect it to ever completely disappear, but I do think it will become significantly less common. If the outcome is a greater manifestation of the priesthood of all believers, bring it on!

    I like to ask the members of my own staff, “Would you do this for the rest of your life, even if you didn’t get paid for it?” In my estimation, the ones who say “Yes” are the ones worthy of their hire! I will find every way I can to give them as much as I can. At our church, staff writes the budget and we submit it to the board of directors for their approval — which is never a problem! We enjoy trying to find the money to give each other raises! We believe that authority should be commensurate with responsibility — the more burdens you carry, the more weight you have in making decisions that affect you and the members of your team.

    It would take a book to comment on the multiple causes of pastoral breakdown. But there seems to be one overarching theme. There seem to be so few who realistically perceive that we are in a life and death battle, a conflict between two kingdoms, and sign up with the intent of giving their lives, losing their lives for the cause. As John Eldredge reminds us, “We were born in a war zone.” Why else would we be so surprised at low troop morality, dissension, desertion, deception, carnality, lack of supplies, and the disruption of our communication lines?

    For whatever it’s worth, I think the leaders who will make it are the ones who have the mind of Christ and clearly perceive what the issues are, and seeking after the wisdom of God, know what to do. If they die on the battlefield, they are still winners, and they know it!

  4. sweetlybroken says:

    Perhaps it’s the weight of the burdens they help to carry rather than the lack of weight in their wallet that press the life out of Pastors. I spent a lot of time as a youth hanging out with a Priest who carried with him all the hurts, all the horrors, all the loss that he encountered as part of his job. Even though he was generously compensated it still could not pay away all that he carried. As many times as he’d given it all to God to carry he had still shared people’s hearts and lives that left memories with him.
    Leadership in a Church is one of those gigs where you’re constantly surrounded by people but it’s surrounding rather than immersing as the balance of give/take never really levels out. There will always be more people who need of you than there will be people who want just you.
    There is no job that brings every aspect of humanity, good and bad, to one’s doorstep in such an intimate way as a leader of a Church.
    Perhaps for some money is just the tangible that can be pointed at when leaders have to admit that they can do no more than they have done.
    It’s a very sad number Brian.

  5. Nathan says:

    “…and I ask when, when, is the revolution?”

  6. There must be something in the air 🙂

    And now I better stop – as I’m supposed to be on vacation and reading about this is stressing me out 🙂

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