Ninety percent of pastors in debt report high stress in everyday life. BOBS is looking to change that.
Pastors in debt—it’s a taboo topic, yet a common reality. Rising seminary tuition costs, coupled with inadequate and stagnant compensation following graduation, have left many pastors crippled by debt with no discernable way out, says Billy Norden, an RCA pastor
“We’ve found that many pastors aren’t given the tools to manage personal finances,” says Norden, who is also working with the denomination to administer the Ministerial Excellence Fund, which offers financial support for pastors in debt. “When debt and ministry income become unmanageable, they don’t know where to turn.”
The RCA received a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. in 2016 to help address the economic challenges that pastors often face. The RCA’s Board of Benefits Services (BOBS) is now matching the portion of that grant earmarked for financial assistance for pastors, and they are relaunching the Ministerial Excellence Fund. BOBS plans to give away more than $300,000 this year to pastors to relieve and eliminate personal debt.
The Lilly Endowment, Inc. believes that financial burdens carried by pastoral leaders are significant barriers to effective, faithful, and fruitful ministry. BOBS agrees, which is why they have utilized this fund to help clergy become financially healthy, allowing both pastors and congregations to thrive.
But it is not just debt that is the problem. Norden says debt can make pastors feel like they cannot offer financial leadership in their ministries. That’s why BOBS is also offering financial planning and education to equip pastors to both flourish personally and be able to give financial leadership to the people they serve.
“This grant offers immediate debt relief with a holistic approach to help pastors become healthier in their personal finances,” says Norden. “As a result, pastors become better leaders in the church when it comes to generosity and stewardship. When pastors become financially healthy, the local church flourishes.”
In addition to relieving debt and educating pastors, BOBS wants to create a heathy dialogue within the church about money, clergy compensation, and generosity. Only then will the topic cease to be taboo, says Kelly Oliveira, executive director of BOBS. Therefore, she says the Ministerial Excellence Fund must have long-term sustainability.
“BOBS has had limited resources to assist active ministers who are experiencing financial need,” says Oliveira. “The grant has allowed us to provide assistance in ways that we have not been able to before. Our next challenge will be to figure out how we can sustain the Ministerial Excellence Fund in the future.”
“This is a pilot project,” explains Norden. “We believe that the grants we write this year will make a significant impact, but we are also working to make this sustainable in the long term. Donors may continue to give towards this effort, and we can match their funds with the remaining Lilly grant. With a sustained Ministerial Excellence Fund, we hope to create a culture where pastors can serve in their ministry setting long term, without finances dictating whether or not they can continue in that place.”
This grant is open to ordained ministers of Word and sacrament (including specialized ministers) and commissioned pastors in the RCA. The grant will cover a range of debt, including student loans, medical debt, and credit card debt. Grant amounts are based on need and criteria met, though in the past, average grants have been around $5,000.
“I’m thrilled that Billy has joined our team and is using his gifts to administer the Ministerial Excellence Fund,” says Oliveira. “The word about the Ministerial Excellence Fund is getting out. The applications for assistance are coming in. It’s exciting to be a part of a program that could have a powerful impact on ministers and their ministries.”
For information about the grants and to apply, visit www.rca.org/clergygrants. Questions? Contact Billy Norden at firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate, click here. The deadline to apply for the first round of grants is April 12, 2019.
1Grey Matter Research & Consulting, 2015. “Evangelical Pastor Study.” nae.net. July. nae.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/NAE-Grey-Matter-Pastor-Study-Report_July-2015.pdf.