"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
June 29, 2007

Show Me The Money

Money is a sensitive topic at the best of times and as I have often found out, especially sensitive for people in Christian ministry. On the surface of it, church work doesn’t seem to pay well (despite some very lucrative jobs in a small segment of churches). Moreover, most people I know who take on […]

Money is a sensitive topic at the best of times and as I have often found out, especially sensitive for people in Christian ministry. On the surface of it, church work doesn’t seem to pay well (despite some very lucrative jobs in a small segment of churches). Moreover, most people I know who take on that kind of work have gone through at least a season of financial hardship, if not lived with it most of their lives.

Certainly for me the question of money and ministry has been a tough lesson to learn. Put simply, I might well have not been able to do any of this, the church work, the chaplaincy, the study, the preaching and teaching, none of it without the financial support of my spouse. Moreover, (and it’s a point I don’t want to labour), I’ve never been the beneficiary of even the modest “denominational minimum” of support, stipend or allowance for this stuff. No car or book allowances, no pension, no fees paid (even full foreign PhD fees in the UK) and often times no stipend or preaching fees either. In practical terms, ministry to me has always meant deep and empty pockets.

I decided, perhaps unwisely, to enter the conversation over on John Smulo’s ironically titled post, Missional Lucre. Here’s what I wrote in the comments,

Is there a crisis? Seems to me the ones that are struggling are those trying to plant programmatic churches and expecting generous and fully costed lifestyles.

The direction this thing has been taking me for a while now is one where I just don’t see a future for “missional practitioners” (what *does* that mean) are necessarily fully-funded by their host church. Interestingly though, quite a few people I know seem to be supported by existing denominational or missionary structures.

Of course, there are formative expeiences at work here. I’ve served in four churches and none of them ever bothered to meet the denominational support levels. That made me honestly wonder – “why should they?” Moreover, I’ve seen lots of ministers go onto much more comfortable lifestyles as a result of being “in the ministry” Certainly that is true of every student from my year at theological college.

My advise for “missional practitioners” would be this – get a job, sell stuff, be entreprenureal, don’t depend on a dream of a church paying your way, have the humility to seek patronage, and so on.


Following on from Sonja and Rich’s comments – a few years back now I did a stint as a young adults pastor in a leafy suburban church. My main “task” coming in was the struggling evening service. Within 18 months not only had the attendances grown, but the weekely giving was exceeding that of the morning service – all coming from under 35s, many of whom had unspectacular incomes, especially when compared the luxury car driving morning congregation.

If we look carefully, an awful lot of people have *more* disposable income in their early to mid 20s, before major commitments, kids and mortgages kick in that their nice car, nice house older peers. The point about electronic gadgets is very well made.

Moreover, we all to easily risk not appreciating how much passion there is to support new ideas in mission amongst financially well-off Christians.

In those two comments I was certainly making some points about the way I see paid ministry, but also speaking from practical experience and, in particular experiences that have both hurt me and my family and caused a great deal of soul-searching. So it was somewhat surprising that John opted not to interact with the substance of those comments, or my experiences, but instead just label me (twice) as insensitive.

As it happens I can be pretty insensitive at times – but I suspect the issue here is something else. John was saying that people in innovative ministries often struggle to get funding and that was something I was agreeing with. John was asking for ideas in getting funding and I was speaking to that from personal experience as well.

But the deeper issue is really what the crisis is in the funding of ministry. I recall a conversation with a minister where they were complaining to me about the cashflow situation. Whilst their day to day grievances seemed legitimate, it was obvious that this minister was making no allowance for the fact that the weekly rental on their massive house in a post neighbourhood would, in reall terms have cost 600-700 pounds a week and that many parents in the area did lie awake at night worrying about getting a place in the church school that his two kids had walked straight into. A few years earlier I recall a pastor whining because the church had offered $150 less than he wanted for a new washing machine. Whilst I normally loathe such pettiness in churches, I started to wonder – why should the church pay for your washing machine anyway? I then ran in through how much he would have had to earn, in a “normal” job to live in the nice leafy house he was in, with a new car in the drive and everything else. It was obvious that amount was far in excess of what he would have earnt in his pre-ministry career.

To me the fact that some folks are struggling to make ends meet is a harsh reality. But, if there is a crisis it is in the way we do think about the funding of ministry and in particular the expectation that ministers will be fully funded by someone else. As I mentioned, it was some tough experiences that started me on this journey, but I’m coming to deeply question the whole model of subsidised ministry. Not that no-one should be funded, but the more naive assumption that someone must. I realise that such a view problematises a lot of approaches to church, church planting and theological education. It’s pretty obvious that kind of adjust can and would be painful.

My search for a creative/emerging/missional model of church is one that has a place for missionaries,theologians, pastors and the like – but no automatic assumption that people will be funded for what they do. I wish we could be more radical than just having no paid ministry – I wish we could always let the funding follow the calling and work – subsidise those that are culturally engaged,rather than paying people to try to become culturally engaged.

In the end I’m not that worried about being called insensitive – I’ve been called a lot worse. But it does worry me a little that I might have struggled to make what, to me, is becoming one of the most important points of ecclesiological change for me.

[tags] Ministry, Stipend [/tags]

Tagged ,
John Smulo 17 years ago


Seems fair to include this part of my comment response:

“I have to admit, the first time I read through your comment this morning it seemed very insensitive and out of touch with at least the people I’m around who are losing everything…….”

But also:

“I’m sure you didn’t mean this comment to be insensitive, but there really is a lot of people out there, myself included, who are going through hell trying to find *any* kind of work that pays the bills while following after dreams they feel God has placed on their hearts.”

This is a bit more nuanced than simply calling you “insensitive” twice as you’ve said.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

John, thanks, I think you’ve made your point. If it is that important, then sure, what you said was “a bit” more nuanced – a bit, but not much.

However, it does feel a little disappointing that your comment here is just another pass at making the insensitivity claim (in whatever “nuanced” form seems acceptable) and is not an engagement with the broader substance of what I said both in my comments on your blog and in the more extensive thoughts in this blogpost. My goal is not to minimise the suffering people go through, but to work constructively towards a creative, healthy mission-oriented church. I’m sorry you’ve chosen not to speak to that.

In both places I’ve spoken to my own, personal struggle with this issue. In terms of biography, I’ve blogged a number of times about how the twists of my life over the past decade (theology, location, ministry, study) have left me in a position where I both question conventional programmatic approaches to church and also find it very, very hard to locate myself within “normal” employment channels either in society or ecclesia. Moreover, I’ve witnessed the struggles that others I both care about and respect have been through starting new ministries.

All of which does make me passionate about both the practical things that can be done (I’ve elaborated some and just sent a slew of emails to gather information for more writing on this) and the tangible dysfunctions that can be addressed.

John Smulo 17 years ago


I’m sorry to disappoint you in not engaging further with the substance of your thoughts. I’m going to be guilty of this again here.

I’m simply overwhelmed with these issues on a personal level right now, and have to confess I’m having a difficult time interacting with this intellectually–as much as I wish I could do so more appropriately right now. Please understand my lack of interaction with your thoughts has to do with this rather than any sense that your thoughts aren’t worth interacting with in their own right. They obviously are.

Thank you for sharing some of your personal struggle with this too.

brodie 17 years ago

Fernando & John – prehaps you guys need to sort this out via email rather than in a comment section?
Having read both your posts you’re both in many ways saying the same things, rasing the same issues, but doing so in your different styles and with your own personal histories than means it reads and feels different and in the fine detail there may indeed be “real” differances.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Brodie – I’m not sure. Maybe you are right. I certainly feel that being able to disagree publicly is a pretty important thing. A big part of that is being able to move from personal liens int he sand to practical conversation and co-operation.

Paul 17 years ago

Money is one of the hardest things for christians to talk about as it ultimately reflects my priorities – where i spend my cash = what is the most important in my life and i don’t like people suggesting how i spend that on them. It must then be hard for people who are trying to do church to talk about the issue as well without putting on the guilt or sounding all whiney…

As a giver i am learning to wrestle with that hard knot in me about what i do with my income but i think you are right Fernando in that expectations on either side can be a real killer – what about the biggest one of all that God will magic the money out of somewhere? It’s easy for me as a giver to let God somehow do that without me and i expect it’s easy as some one in a church environment to expect God to somehow provide to validate their ministry. How realistic is that expectation? What do we do if God doesn’t leave a pile of cash on the door step? What does that mean for our faith, our ministry and our giving?

My hope for any future emerging church conversation is to find health ways to engage in different models of giving/funding although i don’t think it will stop money, which we need for life, to go away anytime soon…

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