“There are few decisions that a young pastor or pastoral couple make that are more important than the attitude toward money. One should as early as possible determine the top income one would ever want or strive to have. Of course there has to be a degree of flexibility in such a decision, but the question of money and the dangers it poses should be kept under the closest scrutiny. Otherwise the desire ineluctably grows, avarice feeds upon itself, and one ends up as the victim of an appetite that is in fact insatiable and consumes by worry, guilt, and discontent in the hours and days that were once consecrated to ministry. It is not simply a matter of desire and avarice. The habits of a way of life become entrenched without our knowing it, and soon we discover that we have acquired all kinds of “needs” that can only be fed by more money.”
– Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry
I came across this paragraph a few months back in a book that a friend recommended I read during my first year of ministry–Richard John Neuhaus’ Freedom for Ministry. The line in bold about one’s top income has haunted me ever since.
I’ve thought about the idea of setting a “top income” alot during the last few weeks–the time of the year when United Methodist pastors are up for appointment to different churches. In the itinerant model of ministry that the United Methodist Church (UMC) operates from, pastoral changes are ideally done so that the Church can best live out its mission: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
However, as I’ve talked to friends in my own conference and throughout the country, a common concern is that the salary of a pastor plays too large of a role in the process of determining what church one serves.
Finding a solution to this problem at a denominational level is very complicated, and I’ve yet to hear many compelling ideas. Yet, Neuhaus’ quote reminds me that each pastor has the ability to be a part of the solution now.
What if pastors stopped striving to be at one of the “best” churches that could pay one of the largest salaries in their conference?
What if a pastor determined their “top income” and told their Bishop and District Superintendent that they were willing to go anywhere above this number–even if it meant a drastic pay cut?
What if a pastor was appointed to a church with a larger salary than their “top income” and then gave all the extra money away?
What if we as pastors encouraged everyone in our church to determine their top income as well?
All of these things might just help to reform our denomination, free us from our slavery to money, and enhance our witness to the good news of Jesus in this world.
Have you thought about setting a “top income”?
Do you have any ideas on how to reduce the prominence of salary in appointments?
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