Once in awhile I share a conversation with a pastor 30-50 years older than me (though it's been a few years). With a little digging I can find a story about a struggle to provide the basics of life for their families. Salaries were small. Health insurance didn't exist. A pension? Unthinkable. Inevitably, I'll find a story about how a pastor was compensated with food. A pig here, several chickens there, 6-months supply of venison there. I'm glad I do not have to live like that.
I consider life's needs as I approach my next ministry chapter. I will no longer be compensated sometime in April, and I'll have to find a way to contribute to the household without piling thousands of dollars in the family coffers (that go out as quickly as they come in). I may have a few supply preaching opportunities. I'll clip more coupons and more closely watch the grocery budget. Exercises in leisure time will be dances in frugality. We've done this before and we can do it again. This chapter of ministry does not begin with worry.
I'm thinking about the two and three chapters ahead. I think back to earlier chapters, recalling my colleagues and friends retreat from challenging their congregations for fear of losing their health insurance, not receive a much-needed raise, or be forced into retirement sooner than they imagined. Maybe leadership decisions are not directly related to home balance sheets on a day to day basis, but the decisions where a pastor might overlook a ministry issue for self-preservation accumulate. Congregations also collect these behaviors in the name of self-preservation--not wanting to offend Jane and John Pewsitter for fear of losing their offering.
I never wish for a day I will be paid in pigs. I'm thankful for the church contributing so that I can make a good living. But I don't want to compromise a calling or a decision because my daughter needs a treatment or my wife needs glasses. Congregations do not want to limit their leadership in order to meet a budget, but the make their own compromises. With self-preservation in the backdrop, I wonder what will be the title of my next chapter in ministry. I ponder finding a "non-ministry" job that can help my family thrive while leading a ministry during the after work hours.
The church will never be void of politics, power struggles or leadership failures if pastors find their incomes in places besides the congregations they serve. As the dreams of God cascade through my mind about the justice, kindness and humble connections with God and neighbor, I wonder if I should put more energy into fulfilling my call rather than keeping my call. Congregations and pastors are spiraling downward in a whirlpool of self-preservation. Ministry should not suffer because of that spiral.
This is one reason that I am thankful for the struggling economy; would I even be thinking about self-preservation issues without it? Would I be thinking about boundless mercy of God or the benefits of comfortable living?