The Church Parsonage Is Not A Benefit: Pastoral Redemptions

****The benefit of a church parsonage in 2017 is debatable. It is such a concern that I am republishing this article again since it fits within the Pastoral Concern series. Therefore, read and enjoy this article because it is thought provoking. Plus, it will provide the needed background for the next post. A post that will expand on this concept of pastoriums as I expose my faults from my experiences with a church parsonage.****

Many traditional and older churches have a parsonage or pastorium they offer to their pastors while they serve their church. The concept is that in addition to the salary provided it’s a “free” place to live and a benefit to the pastor. In some cases, it is a benefit, but in others, it’s not. For example, some churches wrongfully use the parsonage as a means to control the pastor or check-in to see if he or she is doing one’s job. A well-known Alabama pastor who used to work for the State Board of Missions shared with me that, “One Saturday I received a knock on the door and it was a committee from the church who had arrived to do a ‘surprise’ inspection.” For ministers whose lives are already like living in a fish bowl the parsonage only adds to the pastor’s stress and the church’s.

In contrast, some churches have a very healthy use of the homes they offer for their pastors. One parsonage I knew even had a Jacuzzi-hot tub. Despite such amenities, churches should reconsider their offers and demands that pastors live in a home owned by the church. Often this “benefit” to the pastor only helps the church long-term. In fact, it can put a pastor at a disadvantage later in life. For example:

  1. Lower Credit Rating
  • Payments in one’s life such as utilities, car notes, credit cards, etc. also impact one’s credit score. Also, some of a person’s credit rating is based on the housing payment made each month. Housing payments can include mortgage or a rental payment. As a result, pastors who do not make a house payment affect his or her credit score. Fortunately, one’s credit score is not solely determined by one’s housing payment, but churches need to know that requiring a pastor to stay in their parsonage has long-term financial consequences.

  1. No Equity
  • A church leader once told me, “We hope our pastor stays his whole ministry with us.” This quote is very idealistic because rarely does a pastor stay in one church their entire career. Fortunately, more and more pastors desire to plant their lives at one church, but it is still very likely one will move at least once during their ministry. Therefore, its important that pastors have the ability to invest in their own home. Such an investment allows them to maintain a higher credit score while building equity for the future.
  1. Buying a House Late in Life
  • Lastly, even if a pastor were to plant his or her entire lives at one church, the question remains, “Where do they live when they retire?” Remember, if the parsonage is a “benefit” for the current pastor then the retiring pastor must live somewhere. A retired pastor from the last church I pastored lived in parsonages his whole life. Sadly, when he retired at 65, he began his first house payment when he could have been building his credit, his equity, and possibly paying off the mortgage to his house in the year’s prior.

Many churches that use the parsonage as a “benefit” will have trouble with this article. While I understand the benefit, I do want to encourage churches to reconsider. That said, I think many well-meaning churches have never thought about the impact the parsonage can have on a pastor over the course of their life. Also, this article is not suggesting that pastors should get rich off the church, but churches should not see it as their job to “keep the pastor poor and humble.” Believe it or not I once actually had a deacon tell me that.

Also, the first time published this article I received a lot of good feedback. Most complaints centered on the idea that some churches cannot afford to pay a pastor enough for their own home. As a result, the parsonage is a need so some churches can afford to have a pastor. While this point is understood it does not mean it is right. Yes, ministers answer a call to shepherd God’s people, but it is not to say that a church should undercut their pastor financially. No, churches consider providing for their pastor both short-term while they work for a church, but also long-term after they are no longer the pastor.

Likewise, ministers should find other means of income beyond the church so that it is not a congregation’s burden alone to provide for their pastor. A minister may have to become bi-vocational, they may have to make some investments or other means of income. No matter the approach, having multiple streams of revenue relieves the pressure on a church while giving the pastor another avenue to meet people in the community. However, both the churches responsibility and a pastor’s ability for additional resources is a great topic to expand on in another post.

In closing, my hope is that churches will understand the burden of a parsonage than just seeing it as a “benefit.” In reality, the church benefits more than anyone, and it is at the pastor’s expense. Therefore, let’s think of ways to continue to do ministry, but provide more flexibility in this area. The world is watching, and I know it pays more attention to how churches treat their pastors than they realize. The parsonage would be a great first step in displaying that “you will know they are my disciples by the love that they show another.”

 

7 Replies to “The Church Parsonage Is Not A Benefit: Pastoral Redemptions”

  1. I’ve lived in two parsonages and one issue for me is when your job is over you have to move. If you are asked to step down, you have to move. The job is too closely tied to homelife and stability. It also may keep someone in a position of pastor long past their time if he cannot find a new pastorate or home.

  2. I generally agree with your line of thinking.. However, in a very small town, there is usually a very limited real estate market, and a pastor who purchases a home may have great difficulty selling it when the time comes to leave. Likewise, in these towns, there are very few homes to rent and not much to choose from. I know of two instances where churches ended up purchasing the pastor’s home from him when he was called to another place of service. Thankfully, when we lived in a pastorium in a small town, we did not have a problem with nosy church members snooping around. They were mostly very gracious.

    1. Ken, that is a great point and I’m glad you mentioned this nuance. It is important because smaller towns such as the one you describe actually bring up other issues that must be addressed. Things such as salaries, bi-vocational ministry, church sizes, and how they call pastors. All things I look forward to writing about in future posts.

  3. Mike, this is a well written article. It is very tough for those who live in a parsonage most of their ministry to retire and purchase their own home. Ken’s comments point out an important plus of the parsonage – the small town in which the real estate market is very limited and if a pastor did purchase it might be difficult to sell.

    One other point, many of our churches are very small and might not have enough budget to adequately provide an income for a pastor. Sometimes the small salary plus the parsonage makes the situation possible.

    Lee

    1. Thanks for reading Lee. I appreciate your comments. That said, I think that if a churches only option in calling a pastor is to put them up in a parsonage then it may be time to look at other options. I look forward to sharing some ideas next week.

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