Recently I listened as several administrators debated whether they could extend the scheduled cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase to their pastors in view of shrinking tithe income. I know pastoral families desperately need this small increase just to keep up with inflation. I also understand the dilemma of not being able to distribute funds that have not come in.
Why have the funds not come in? Among the reasons cited were increased project giving, members reassigning tithe dollars to local use, tithe donated to independent ministries, too much administrative overhead, lack of stewardship education, members' apathy, and one more indication of end-times.
In the midst of this discussion, I realized there was a missing element. What about challenging pastors to raise their own COLA and, if they are successful, implementing a genuine pay raise as well? Since pastoral salaries in North America have 40.3 percent less purchasing power than in I960, 1 a genuine raise is sorely needed beyond annual COLAs.
Here are some ideas for pastors to "raise their own raise," along with the challenge, if we are successful, to return pastoral salaries to a level equitable to financial challenges confronting all Adventist clergy families.
Preach the distinctives
In your preaching, proclaim unmistakable doctrinal loyalty. This will build confidence in your own ministry among your members and will deny the charge of dissidents that our pulpits have lost the distinctive Adventist message. Don't repeatedly ride a theological hobbyhorse. Don't fail to climb aboard those deeper and challenging topics. Plan to preach our great truths systematically and then announce your plan widely. Advertising your plans will increase your attendance.
Don't assume that your members understand their privileges and responsibilities as financial partners with heaven in preaching to a dying world. Elevate the blessings of faithfulness and the limitless possibilities for those who are loyal. Include stewardship of time, talents, and health, as well as resources, but do not neglect God's specific commands regarding money. Preach an experiential, relational dynamic in which members realize that their hearts will always follow their funds.
Begin early in the year and return to the theme often. Never fear that you will talk too much about money if you stick with biblical themes. Schedule three or four sermons per year specifically on stewardship and weave the issue into other sermons as well.
Enlarge the vision
Help your members to see a world wide goal of preaching the gospel. Never neglect kingdom-building activities at home, but raise the sights of your people to the world beyond and their privilege of helping proclaim the message everywhere. Rekindle a sense of mission awareness and mission giving. Look outward more often and you will discover the needs at home will be met as well.
Expand the base
There are two proven ways to in crease income. Get the people you have giving more or get more people giving. Emphasize evangelism. Make your Sabbath services attractive to non-attenders and work to reclaim those who once participated. As your attendance increases, income to your local church and the world mission will increase. Recruit those who have not financially participated to begin giving and seek to add new members to your church regularly.
Spend your way to prosperity
Never retreat on aggressive planning when facing a financial challenge. That is the most important time to think creatively and to lay large plans. Commemorate historical events, plan special occasions, and raise money for special projects. My head elder once expressed concern that our objective of raising $35,000 to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of our church would cause a shortage of other in come. The fact was that more money came in that month for both tithe and local funds as well as our special project than any other month of the year except December, which is traditionally the month of greatest giving. A rising tide raises all ships, and when your members become enthusiastic about giving to a special need, their giving to all areas will increase.
Encourage consistency in giving. Train your members to give systematically rather than emotionally, but never neglect the ones who are motivated by the example of others. One of the most encouraging features I have utilized was to invite various members to tell of God's blessings in their lives as they were faithful in steward ship. Their example encouraged others. By the way, your personal testimony is vital.
Leaders must lead!
Announce your own intentions when challenging your congregation. In any fund-raising project, I always told my members the amount my family was donating beyond our regular giving and what percentage of my monthly or annual income that amount represented. Some were surprised to discover that their pastor's income was so modest, and our prioritization of our limited funds challenged them to think bigger!
I once had a member tell me he could never afford 10 percent plus offerings. When I asked what he could give, he suggested only four percent.
Rather than berating his disobedience, I suggested he start with that percentage and experiment by adding just one percent the next month. Then I challenged him to add another percentage the next month, etc., until he could no longer afford to give more. In a little more than a year he was giving nearly 20 percent. I encourage people to take God at His word. Experimental testing develops faith. In Malachi 3:10 God says, "Prove me now"! I tell my members to put God to the test, and if the experiment fails, then quit. One member challenged my thesis and said I should tell people to obey even if God does not prove the issue. My response is clear. If the Creator of the universe cannot be trusted on this matter, His word is insufficient for anything. Faith grows when we experiment and God proves Himself! "Real experience is a variety of careful experiments made with the mind freed from prejudice and uncontrolled by previously established opinions and habits." 2
Always work hard and never leave the impression that you don't earn your salary. Reject that old joke that "ministers work only one day per week" and never let your actions con tribute to its perpetuation. When ministers spend their days baby-sitting so their spouses can work ("moonlighting during daylight"), they lead their members to conclude that they are overpaid. Ministry is a holy and exclusive calling. We build confidence in the performance of all pastors by our example.
Also, avoid complaining about your situation. Nothing is more tiresome than pastors who constantly remark about their poverty. While pastors certainly need more income, if you can not survive on your pay, then get a different job before you disgrace heaven's calling by repeatedly vocalizing your distress. Remember, you are a messenger of the King!
Teach new members
Always include stewardship instruction in your baptismal preparation process. While you can assume that most new members will want to do God's will, do not take for granted that converts, without instruction, will know how to calculate tithe or under stand the difference between tithe and offerings. When you plan evangelistic meetings, make certain to include an entire sermon on the topic. Preach God's promises to those who are faithful. Preach biblical principles of how to re late all of our possessions to the Creator.
Encourage afterlife planning
Help your members understand the necessity of estate preparation. When properly prepared, wills or trusts can include the Lord's work after death. Help your members realize that if they fail to plan, they forfeit their right to determine what happens to their estate. Ask your conference trust services leaders to make a presentation in your church.
Treat others faithfully
If you hope to encourage better wages for pastors, make certain to model equity in your relations with others. Be fair to local church employees secretaries, janitors, security and vestry employees and be prompt in paying bills to vendors. Also, manage your personal finances in a responsible manner.
Track your progress
Carefully evaluate whether your efforts are gaining the desired results. Enlist your treasurer and finance committee to report regularly to the board on the progress your congregation makes. Set a measurable objective for tithe in crease and lay specific plans to accomplish your goal. Ask your members to report their feelings about the results.
Hold leaders accountable
When financial progress is made, encourage leadership to utilize increased resources to provide for worker families. Too often false empathy has led leaders to refuse to monitor unproductive workers. Laxness of administrative expectation encourages mediocrity. Support fair evaluation, responsible expenditure, and prioritization of funding at every level. Foster responsibility in your local church and ask your conference leaders to demonstrate that they are also interested in better meeting pastoral needs.
By working together, we can all raise our raise!
1 Comparing 1993 vs. 1960 NAD pastoral
salaries adjusted for inflation with the cost of
such basic expenses as home rental or
purchase, auto purchase, academy and college
education, and social security. From data supplied
by Roger L. Dudley.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publish
ing Association, 1948), p. 69.