God intends for everyone to THRIVE in their community. We see evidence of this throughout the New Testament and especially in the story of Jesus sending out his disciples into communities to preach and heal (Matthew 10). However, both Protestant and Catholic denominations are aware of obstacles which limit the ability of pastoral leaders to THRIVE as God intended, and the impact those obstacles have on the congregation’s health as a result.
In an effort to answer the question, “What obstacles are preventing the church from thriving as God intended?” our pilot research noted 3 major obstacles: the burden of carrying too much debt as a result of education loans or consumer debt, or mid-career pastoral leaders who don’t have emergency savings to meet unexpected family health care and other emergency expenses, and/or end of career pastors who could not adequately save for retirement or possibly did not receive adequate benefits from their employer. These obstacles are affirmed by Catholic and Protestant denominations and judicatory institutions as a unique systemic barrier impeding pastoral leadership and congregational health. This barrier is distinct from similar obstacles faced by many in our church families today largely in part because most pastoral leaders while required to be highly educated, will serve their entire careers in settings that typically pay low salaries. The fact that educational requirements for ordination carry the same debt load as other college Master Degrees, and compensation commensurate with education is not in sync, makes the pastoral leadership position different from the norm. Churches who compensate pastors with low salaries often can’t afford to offer employee benefits or if they do, they are generally modest making it nearly impossible for the pastor to save for emergencies or retirement. This barrier makes for a potentially unhealthy marriage between pastor and church because pastoral leaders are expected to provide leadership for financial management, administration, and fundraising in their churches. This barrier makes it difficult at best to provide financial leadership. Consider this: if a pastor has a constant and severe stomach ache, one that the pastor finds no remedy for relief, how can that pastor focus on her/his congregation's stomach ache? How does a pastor who is working to honor her/his call to Jesus the Christ walk in healthy ways with her/his congregation when part of the pastor's focus is on her/his own pain? Economic pressures often are cited as motivating factors for pastoral leaders who leave ministry.
We, in the Christian Church in Ohio, believe our pastors are gifted leaders who are called by God, but many of them are facing some challenges which they are trying to meet in a healthy way as they endeavor to live out their call. In an effort to address the financial obstacles which impact the health of our pastors and congregations, the Christian Church in Ohio in partnership with Lilly Endowment Inc., has created the THRIVE project to alleviate some of the economic challenges facing pastoral leaders. The THRIVE program addresses three major areas:
- THRIVE Grants: for Clergy Debt Relief, or Congregational Grants for Pastoral Compensation Support. Clergy may only receive one grant, either a Debt Relief Grant or a Congregational Compensation Support Grant.
- The Financial Literacy Academy will provide required educational resources in the Spring and Fall for 2018 and 2019 to strengthen understanding in the areas of: personal and congregational budgeting, fundraising, and clergy finances.
- Encouragement Groups, Cohort Groups, Advocacy Support and Personal Financial Planning will assist the implementation of financial plans for both clergy and congregations.
The grant’s goal is to impact 25% of the active Ohio Disciples Clergy with CCIO standing. The financial literacy program will include educational experiences for both clergy and congregations on personal and congregational financial management and will be open to all Ohio Disciples Clergy in CCIO standing. Over the next 2 years, twenty-two (22) Debt Relief Grants (for individual clergy) and thirty (30) Compensation Support Grants (for congregations) will be awarded. Clergy and congregations, and/or clergy whose spouse/life partner is also clergy, may only receive one grant per clergy family, either a debt relief or congregational compensation support grant.