In it for the long haul


We’ve been in our home for a year now. In actuality, it’s been almost two years, but that first year, this didn’t feel like our home. We were renting. Now we own our home (or at least part of it), and I feel settled.

I’m a nester. Not in the sense that I like to clean, but in the sense that I like to decorate and I don’t like to move. I love to hammer nails into the plaster. I’m the one who buys the paint entitled “late tomato red.” In our last home, my husband and I embellished our upstairs with the designs of the Ndebele tribe of South Africa.

I’m from the South, and I feel artistically alive when I travel along Rainbow Row in Charleston, the French Quarter in New Orleans, and the Mexican color of East Austin, and I want my home to reflect that vibrancy. I despise the white walls and beige carpet of rental property. (For this reason alone, I could never be Methodist. The denomination would surely defrock me after they saw what I had done to the parsonage.)

Our house does, in fact, still have the walls of an institution, except for the kitchen, which is a magnificent pumpkin. I’ve picked out the colors for the rest of the house, which I plan to transform, bit by bit. I’ve got time. We’re not going anywhere soon; at least we’re not planning on it. I’m an AP, and the average life span of Associates is only two to three years, but I hope to beat the odds because I love the church so much.

Ed White’s research demonstrates that long-term pastorates create healthier congregations. I would suggest that a pastor’s particular housing situation is a key factor in how long the pastor can stay.

(A note to non-churchy bloggers: There’s a popular myth out there that all pastors are living a grand and fabulous life, cashing in your sacrificial offerings to buy an array of Lexus vehicles. Um…that’s not usually the case. There is only a handful of Rick Warren’s out there. Most often, we can’t afford to buy a modest home in the same neighborhood in which our church is located.)

In our economy, especially if you’re under the age of forty, and even if you have school loans and credit card debt, you’ll want to buy a home. Maybe not at this moment, when the real estate bubble seems to be bursting, but when the market stabilizes, try to make the investment. Even though it seems crazy to go into more debt when you already have so much, if you can swing it, buying a home has tax benefits (for clergy) and it’s the best way to build your equity. If you do it now, you might even be able to retire someday.

If you need help to buy your home, and you’re looking into a loan or shared equity agreement with your congregation, please don’t enter into this contract lightly. The church (I hate to say it) can rip you off mightily. I don’t understand the motivation behind this. I think they’re just looking out for the good of the religious institution, but there are simply different business models out there–some favor the employee and some favor the church. While I was researching this topic, I was horrified to find out the contracts that different pastors had signed.

There are some basic things that you’ll want to look for and avoid (this list is particularly for the clergy’s side, there are many things that the church will also want to look at):

-If it’s a low-interest loan that the church or institution’s offering, check your bank. Sometimes you can get an even better rate at the bank, and then your housing won’t necessarily be tied up your place of employment.

-Find out where the money’s coming from. If it’s from the church, fine. If it’s a private loan from a member, don’t accept it. The pastor/parishioner/borrower/lender relationship is way too complicated. Even with the best intentions, it’s a setup that’s ripe for abuse.

-If you’re entering into a shared equity loan agreement, make sure that the ratio of money put into the home at the beginning (including the debt incurred) is the same ratio that you get out when you sell. In other words, if you’re taking out a $70,000 mortgage and the church is putting in a $70,000 downpayment, then when you sell the home, each party needs to make a 50% profit, or take a 50% loss.

-Make sure the loss is shared by both parties. I’ve talked to pastors who agreed to deals where they share the profits with the church, but the pastor absorbs all the loss. This is not acceptable.

-Allow for home improvements. As the pastor puts more money into the home, then the shared equity ratio should change. There are basic calculations for this.

I could go on and on, but you’re probably already asleep. If you’re not, and you want to hear more, just let me know in the comments.

It’s very tempting to sign away, trusting that the church has your best interest in mind, especially when you’re excited about starting a particular ministry. But, in the years to come, if you do sign a bad deal, your embarrassment will grow, your resentment will fester, and that’s not good for anyone. It’s definitely not good for the long-term pastorate.

photo by norbert africa, uploaded from flickr

7 thoughts on “In it for the long haul

  1. (A note to non-churchy bloggers: There’s a popular myth out there that all pastors are living a grand and fabulous life, cashing in your sacrificial offerings to buy an array of Lexus vehicles. Um…that’s not usually the case. There are only a handful of Rick Warren’s out there. Most often, we can’t afford to buy a modest home in the same neighborhood that our church is located.)

    Having served as a missionary and pastor, I can attest to this especially for ministers outside of the U.S. I’ve often wished the pastors with the lavish lifestyes would share a little of their wealth with others. I can’t tell you how many missionaries I personally know who had to leave the mission field because of a lack of funds (and they were sincere in wanting to help the less fortunate). The sad thing is, they really didn’t need very much but even that little they could not get…. all the while there are pastors and ministers wearing $5,000.00 suits and claiming GOD blessed them.

  2. aA (I can’t figure out how to leave a reply with Greek alpha fonts!),

    Hhhmmm, giving as each has need…. Now where have I heard that before?

    It would be very smart, indeed, if we had a more socialized system of payment for our pastors and missionaries, at least among each denomination. We could wipe away so many of the existing inequities that way.

  3. It is an interesting point you raise at the end of your article. The resentment that grows in regard to inequities in finances. I pastor a small church with a small staff and we often discuss how “the giving we do today” often ends up as the burning resentment of tomorrow. I find that we all face the same struggle.

    I’ve learned the hard way that we must be extremely careful what we give away because in our minds it will often become the most valued thing we had.

    Once given, we must release the gift (or contract or good intentions) and let God work out the inequities.

  4. O&IWW,

    Thank you for your reply. It’s a beautiful thought, “Once given, we must release the gift.”

    My concern is not for those who give the gift freely, but for those who find themselves and their families in grave financial jeapordy because they didn’t fully understand the implications of what they were signing.

    I hope and pray that God will use me–that God will use all of us who frankly and honestly speak out–to work out some of the inequities.

  5. Older and I Wish Wiser said:

    “Once given, we must release the gift (or contract or good intentions) and let God work out the inequities.”

    I understand the urge to wait for God on bread and butter economics of going into the ministry. It involves a risk that many of us are unwilling to face. After all in the Presbyterian church we consider the movement toward executing “Word and Sacrament” as a calling. Doesn’t that mean that we practice our calling, even if it means going against our own well being? It is my impression that in the words of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ words, Paul’s admonition on pay and the exhortations of James that God is not appeased by our inaction toward inequities. While I would love to wait to have God work out some of these inequities (not to mention that it would be easier professionally) it also appears that God is impatiently waiting on us to do the same.

    I do however agree deeply with the idea that we must release these resentments. Turning toward love and rejecting hate is bedrock to our achieving a healthy and Christ centered ministry.

  6. I think my last comment, “once given, release the gift…” may have been interpreted to mean that I was trying to give correction. In reality, I agree 100 percent with the article. We must be wise in our decisions, our finances and our giving.

    However, I find that there always seem to be things that I unwisely or hastily give. When this happens, my only recourse is to release the resentment as Brian said.

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