… those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
— Cor 14:3
Our Stated Clerk, the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, has challenged us to be a “church focused on liberating those trapped by the winds of despair, while giving hope to those who need to hear a word from the Lord.” This will require strong ministerial leadership.
The Book of Order lays out the expectation that ministers of the Word and Sacrament will equip “the saints for the work of ministry … they shall preach and teach the faith of the church, so that the people are shaped by the pattern of the gospel and strengthened for witness and service.” (G-2.0501)
The Book of Order also makes clear that congregations are to support ministers so they can serve to the fullest. They must provide installed pastors with benefits through the church Benefits Plan, administered by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Pastors receive the full coverage of Pastor’s Participation — family medical coverage in the PPO, participation in the pension and a retirement savings plan, death and disability benefits, and access to Presbyterian CREDO and financial assistance, including debt relief.
However, ministers who are not installed have no such guarantee, and, too often, they don’t receive adequate support. Worrying about debt, possibly while trying to care for a family, can leave a minister with little energy for equipping the saints. Rev. Nelson recently suggested to a young woman that she consider seminary. Her response: “I may be called, but I’m tired of being in debt.”
It’s not surprising that research suggests that financial concerns are a big reason church servants leave ministry. The data provided by the Board of Pensions in Living by the Gospel indicates that ministers who have never been enrolled in the Benefits Plan are much more likely to drop out of ministry than those who have been in the plan.
To help build leadership for the future of the Church, the Board is creating structures with the goal of full coverage for all ministers. Last year, we introduced Pathways to Renewal, a dues incentive program for small congregations and emerging ministries, and increased our educational debt assistance. Financial education and assistance are being provided through Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations.
The Church depends on servant leaders to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, the heart of whose message is transformation. It’s a message full of hope, and the world needs that message today.
Grace and peace,
The Reverend Frank Clark Spencer