WHY this GATHERING?
For the last decade, researchers and leaders from various Christian institutions have been working hard to understand and address the economic challenges that pose barriers to the flourishing of congregational pastors, which can ultimately impair the health of Christian congregations across the American landscape.
Together, dedicated leaders and scholars from 73 seminaries, 38 regional and national denominational agencies with projects funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., plus 9 organizations with grants to provide resources for the work, have lent their expertise and wisdom to this undertaking, and they are making progress.
They are studying how the economics of ministry in America are dramatically changing. They have delved into issues such as inadequate personal/congregational financial literacy; on-the-ground economic realities of pastoral life including high educational debt, low pay, and shrinking church budgets; underdeveloped theological understandings of faith and money; and the shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding conversations about money in the church.
Their discoveries have been surprising and sobering:
- Denominational and congregational support are rarely mentioned as significant sources of financial support for seminary students.
- Inadequate retirement savings is a pervasive and urgent issue.
- Salary/compensation for clergy has historically (and appropriately) been modest; however, in aggregate, clergy compensation has diminished in recent decades compared to other identifiable occupations.
- Financial stress is felt/reported most acutely among pastoral leaders who are women, people of color and/or who serve in small congregations. They tend to receive lower salaries, fewer benefits, and have greater educational debt.
- While pastoral leaders tend to express job satisfaction, a significant percentage have seriously considered leaving the ministry because of financial challenges/stress.
These leaders are making progress, taking steps forward both individually and collaboratively. They have produced research and other documents on their learnings and are working to share their findings broadly with all types of Christian institutions. They are fostering a movement of support for church leaders who are stepping up to address the economics of ministry.
WHY does this GATHERING MATTER?
Because the economics of ministry are woven through systems that include institutions, practices, expectations and assumptions, an adequate response can only be developed from multiple angles through various disciplines and sectors. We hope this gathering will galvanize a national movement comprised of multiple organizations working together, sharing their expertise, experience and plans for the future. Seminaries, local congregations, denominational programs, and even business and civic leaders are working together to understand what is happening and how to address the challenges. For example:
- Seminaries are exploring how educational debt encumbers future pastors and what kind of financial and vocational training those future leaders need in order to become effective pastors.
- Congregational lay leaders are coming to terms with the economic crises that many of their pastors face but are reluctant to discuss.
- Denominational leaders who provide support for pastors are seeking ways to educate, empower, and relieve the burdens that many can’t escape without help.
- Business and civic leaders are developing a growing awareness of the financial challenges that hamper their faith communities and leaders.
- Sustained work by the seminary initiative seems to be paying off: this year, for the first time, student borrowing decreased.
- All are searching for ways to remove the shame and ease the reluctance to talk about money and faith.
- And all are finding hope and inspiration in the stories of pastors and congregations that are thriving in faith, spirit and practice.
WHAT are the GOALS OF THE EVENT?
To nurture and resource this movement, those gathered will share, connect and collaborate:
- Share what they have learned about the economic challenges facing pastoral leaders
- Build stronger connections with others addressing these issues.
- Collaborate on next steps for supporting the broad missional movement that is unfolding.
“A welcome quote from Chris or John about the summit”
— John Wimmer