For Lorenzo Small Sr. and his wife, Alexis, life was good — very good. He held a series of professional positions in corporate America, she had a career in sales, and they had a wonderful son. Even so, the couple began questioning how they were spending their time, energy, and money. To what end?
God was calling, more and more urgently. Soon, the Smalls moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where they expanded their family by two "loving and rambunctious" boys, and Mr. Small enrolled at Union Presbyterian Seminary to begin a second career as a pastor. His passion for ministry only grew with his formal theological training, leading him to part-time ministry while attending Union.
Today, the Reverend Small is pastor of First United Presbyterian Church, a historic African American church established by freed slaves in the heart of Charlotte. It is a missional church that, like any church in an urban area, faces the challenge of heeding God's call to serve community while being a faithful steward of its resources.
Mrs. Small is Community Relations Manager for a math intervention program for students at high-poverty elementary schools, a ministry in many respects.
The shift to serving urban ministries required the Smalls to economize. Although they moved from a house to a condominium and drastically cut their expenses, the family had accumulated debt during their transition. Research* — and common sense — suggests debt is an obstacle to vibrant ministry.
When Rev. Small heard he could qualify for a grant of up to $10,000 for personal debt reduction from the Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations program, offered by the Board of Pensions, he asked the session of his church to support his desire to be a part of the program. To do that, key congregational leaders would need to participate in an in-person training session and approve the church making a financial contribution to the program.
"We all agreed wholeheartedly," said Elder Jerome Walker, a member of First United's Financial Oversight Committee and moderator of the Personnel Committee. "Having a debt-free pastor would allow Rev. Small to better devote his whole self to ministry, without concerns about his finances." Add to that, First United has a strong commitment to leadership development.
"We definitely benefited from the training session," said Mr. Walker. "Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations is an outstanding and quite comprehensive program."
Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations is funded in part by a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment. The Board of Pensions, participating churches, and other churches throughout the PC(USA) also fund the program.
To fulfill his part of the program covenant, Rev. Small completed the online learning series (Terms of Call and Personal Finance) and took part, with session members, in the in-person training session for congregational leaders. He also participated in individual financial counseling with a representative of Ernst & Young Employee Financial Services, the Board of Pensions' partner in providing pastors with guidance in developing personalized financial plans.
Rev. Small is particularly enthusiastic about working with his Ernst & Young financial counselor. "Because it's personalized, the financial planning piece is truly valuable," he said.
The day the email arrived telling Rev. Small he was approved to receive a grant from the Ministerial Excellence Fund, he shredded his Home Depot card. "I take seriously our financial health," he said, "and [the grant] was a blessing, to my family and my ministry. A weight has been lifted."
*a 2015 study by the National Association of Evangelicals of more than 4,000 pastors in 19 denominations
Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations helped the Reverend Elizabeth “Libby” Moses make a plan for financial sustainability, allowing her to focus on her call without the distraction of debt.