Monday, February 2, 2009

Pastoral Advocate

The pastor needs an advocate ...

We have advocates for everything & everyone else around, but the pastor gets left out. Students have advocates to speak for them. Those accused of crimes may have a public defender: that is even a Constitutional guarantee. Teachers have folks who speak to educational issues from their unique perspective to the legislatures. Companies have lobbyists. Even the lowly snail darter has entire groups of people falling all over themselves to advocate on its behalf.

But the pastor gets left out.

I can't speak for all traditions in this regard since some traditions are placed in areas of ministry. Baptists & others, however, are not. The pastor is put in a situation where he is conflicted at every turn. If he pushes for too much money, he is seen as "greedy." If he is too lenient on the money issue, the church will be more than happy to pay him pennies. If he asks a contract, the church might view it as too "legal-like" & say he is not relying on God. But if he doesn't, both he & the church may find disagreements on things that really should have been worked out initially.

Think about it: the pastor has to negotiate his salary package, vacation, benefits, retirement arrangements, insurance benefits, educational allowances, travel expenses, & a host of other money issues. These sort of things are primary to a servant of God being able to serve his congregation, his community & his family. Sadly, these things are not taught in seminary. Even if these things were taught, the issues are complex & require more than a casual understanding.

Another problem is that most faith groups are neither trained nor versed in these issues either. The laws change yearly. The complexities are real. What was a great solution one year is the absolute worst thing that should be done this year.

The end result of these problems can be devastating for both the church & the pastor. All too often the seasoned pastor doesn't realize that his "salary package" is not even what a first year teacher would make. Or that a simple restructuring of the package could save the pastor thousands in taxes.

But the church, too, suffers. I know of one situation where a long time pastor retired & the church was shocked at the cost of getting a new pastor. The salary they were paying was really good --- for 1978, but not for 2008.

I see a real need for a
Pastoral Advocate. The Advocate would negotiate for the pastor & would be able to structure a package that is current with IRS guidelines. Vacations, expenses, office hours, etc., would all be included in a contract with the congregation in order to protect everyone. The pastor is not put in an adversarial position with the very people he will be ministering, & the people will be able to honestly negotiate with a third party or the good of the church.

This idea has been floating around in my head for several years now but I have yet to act on it. I advise clients, both churches & pastors, on some fine points but actually doing the whole process --- not yet. A few tax folks have expressed an interest. One attorney who happens to be the wife of a rabbi said she would like to work with me on it, but honestly I don't know if there is enough interest. Need, yes. Would churches & pastors use this sort of service? I dunno.

What think ye?

1 comment:

Dirk said...


I think this is a very good idea. I would encourage you to go ahead & do it. Since you already have another livelihood, if demand was low, that would be OK - your family wouldn't suffer for it. I think over time, your client load would rise, but even if not, if you advocate for just a handful of pastors, I think your efforts would be more than worth it. The problem you pointed out of a lack of training is major. This sometimes leads to disaster for some churches because they simply don't know & keep up with the constant law changes.

I urge you to seriously consider doing it. It looks like you already have some good quality people to help you. I think the time is right.