Q: Our church treasurer and I, the church president, write to ask this question. Our giving will be a little down by the end of the year and our expenses will be up. We are a small church. Most of our expenses are building and staff related. Health costs, utilities and building repair are major places of increase. We have a pastor and a part-time secretary plus a little janitorial help. So when we look at costs versus income, an obvious place to look is to hold the line or reduce compensation of staff, including our pastor. He is a good pastor for us, so we struggle with what to do. We think we will take another step in the choices given by Concordia Health Plans toward a higher deductible and probably defer some building maintenance. It seems a given, almost a no-brainer, to do this. How can we best present this to our pastor so that it is taken in the best possible way?
A: Perhaps this is not as much of a no-brainer as you think (or hope). Issues of stewardship (or the giving patterns of the congrega-tion’s members) and of parish con-versation — how major and important issues are discussed in your midst — are important initial concerns.
Parish giving patterns and their effect on staff (especially) and on buildings needs to be addressed and discussed directly. Members need to have accurate information concerning the implications of their behavior. In fact, it is in their best interest that they know. Specific implications need to be identified, including all possible choices given the available monies. In short, the realities that you and your treasurer believe your congregation faces should be made known to everyone. Then provide opportunities for the members to discuss this.
I do not believe it should be a foregone conclusion that staff compensation should take the financial hit. Perhaps your members have other ideas. Perhaps some people will step up to the financial plate. Perhaps a study of stewardship and giving would help people come face to face with their giving patterns.
The point is that every congregation member has a stake in your parish, and thus every member has a stake in the direction these decisions take. Because compensation, utilities and building expenses are the largest line items does not mean that they automatically are the ones to be attacked.
Your pastor needs to be actively involved in these conversations. It really is not in anyone’s best interest that things are decided and then a way crafted to present this well. The issue is not smoothing over the issue once decided. The issue is involving everyone in the decision-making processes.
I encourage you to think in the directions of more creative solutions and not simply go after the tried-and-true cuts. For instance, why not challenge your congregation by increasing the compensation of your pastor, especially if this emerges as a creative solution from your congregational conversations? Why not take a leap? Challenge people to do the very best they can and even more, guided and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit! Do not balance the budget on the back of the worker!
Dr. Bruce M. Hartung is executive director of the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary,
St. Louis. He can be reached at bruce.hartung@ lcms.org.
Posted Aug. 26, 2004