Successful but Viewed Suspiciously

Years ago, I sat in a budget meeting at the church where I was raised.  The trustees had made us aware that we were in the midst of a budget shortfall due to an overestimation of tithe revenue.  Our projections were a bit high and no one had taken the declining economy into account so it was clear that many of the church’s budgets needed to be trimmed.

The cuts were generally met with resistance.  Although everybody understood the need for trimming the excess from our overall budget, no one actually wanted to give up their funding.  However, there was one area that the congregation was almost unanimous about trimming–salaries.  Within seconds of the trustees reading the staff salary budget, people began to grunt, gasp, and complain.  It was clear to me that many members of the congregation felt that the salary budget was too high.

Sensing the conflict, I made a point of asking how many people’s salaries came out of that budget. Many people had assumed that all of the money in the staff budget was going to our pastor, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case.  Sure enough, the trustees replied “9.”  Without saying the exact amount of money that was issued in the budget, I will say that it was less than $125,000.  Nonetheless, even if it was $135,000, that would have meant that the average salary paid out was $15,000–way too low for anyone to survive within the Philadelphia metropolitan area.  (I should know.  My stipend when I was at Temple was around $15,000.)

Later that night, I had a chance to reflect on what had occurred.  Why were the people so willing to try to cut our pastor’s salary?  He had been doing his job well.  The church had grown substantially under his leadership.  He had earned every bit of his wage.  At the same time, his wealth was evident.  Pastor and his family lived in a beautiful suburban home with a lot of land around it.  While they did not brag about their material possessions, they were not go out of their way to hide their luxury cars, watches, and designer clothes.

Pastor’s wealth created a lot of conversations around the church, but in actuality, it was none of the congregation’s business.  After all, the church did not pay him enough to maintain his lifestyle.  The majority of his money came from his secular career as a corporate lawyer.  (The first lady was an administrator for a social services agency.)  It is funny to me that so many people in the congregation seemed to conveniently forget that he had another job in spite of the many times that his sermons included stories about things that he experienced while at work.  Many people would occasionally justify not contributing to the church’s expenses by saying that their money would only end up going toward Pastor’s new car.

The real problem was that many people resented Pastor for being so successful.  He and the First Lady had worked hard to get to where they were in life.  They would often tell stories of their educational struggles and the financial difficulties that they had experienced when they first got married.  They always explained their material success as being “nothing but the grace of God,” but many in the congregation chose to see things differently.

Thankfully, my Pastor was pretty nonchalant about it.  He knew that this kind of rumbling is all a part of living the ministerial life.  Even though we would rather not admit it, we all know that there have been plenty of ministers who were guilty of fleecing their congregations.  As a result, those of us ministers who earn our wealth legitimately are still viewed suspiciously by people both within and outside of the church.  (Some of my classmates joke about becoming megachurch pastors who preach the prosperity gospel and charge to forgive sins in order to become millionaires quickly.  Since I am the lone minister in the bunch, I typically let it slide although it does trouble me that minister have such bad images in today’s society.)

In the end, the congregation realized that cutting the staffing budget was unreasonable.  Instead, the trustees were able to convince everyone to increase their tithes in order to overcome the budget shortfall.  I am not sure what happened after that because this was my last budget meeting before going to my current church.  Still, I know that my Pastor did not allow the constant rumblings about his material wealth to affect the power of his ministry.  He was able to maintain his focus in the face of these petty distractions.  Hopefully, I will be strong enough to do the same in the future.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Spencer

Spencer T. Clayton is a typical millennial who believed his mother when she told him that he was capable of accomplishing great things (and as a result has amassed a large amount of student loan debt). When he isn’t blogging, he is either out with friends, writing and performing music, or busy working as an Executive Pastor and Consultant while simultaneously pursuing a PhD in Public Affairs.

  4 comments for “Successful but Viewed Suspiciously

  1. Louis
    May 7, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Success – a things that is singularly rewarding and exhausting. People feel the need to justify why they are in the situations that they are in. “I’m broke because my boss doesn’t pay me enough.” – Go find another source of income then. “I don’t have time to work.” – Then you are being paid exactly what you’re worth then. Their financial lack is most likely not due to God saying “no”. It’s their behavior telling God that they are not ready. The sacrifice and struggle to become wealthy is not easy which is why there is only 1% that do it. The rest did not see what battles and tests needed to be overcome in order to live a life of prosperity. Furthermore, most people are not disciplined nor ambitious enough to do it. Instead of admitting that, we call good evil, thereby justifying ourselves. “I’m not paying tithes so that the pastor can have a nice car.” – That’s exactly why you won’t have one. I commend that pastor for his grace under that sort of fire. That shows that he has nothing to hide and is confident in who he is and what he’s done, as well as confidence in who God is and what He has done. I echo your sentiment as well, I pray that as I walk into my destiny that I will be able to have that grace under fire.

    • May 8, 2012 at 10:44 am

      very true. It’s sad how people sell themselves short and then become sour when someone else makes it. What I left out of this post was that the very people who were most suspicious of my Pastor were the ones who were complaining about their own lives the most. They really didn’t understand or acknowledge the struggles associated with going to law school, being a corporate lawyer, or being a social services administrator while raising three children. I personally feel that their eagerness to cut Pastor’s salary was rooted in their desire to force him to live under the same tight financial constraints that bound them. Ironically, cutting his salary wouldn’t have led to such an outcome because it was such a small portion of his overall income.

      • Louis
        May 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm

        Funny thing is Spencer, you may have left that out, but I already figured that was the case. “If I’m not happy, why should anybody else be?” People act in similar patterns. They want to cut the salaries of the (hardworking) staff thinking that it will put more money in their pocket. Cutting budgets does not save money – spending wisely does.

  2. Louis
    May 8, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Btw, I love that picture

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *