It happened again. Another news story highlighting a pastor’s moral failure makes the headlines. This time, it’s an alleged cryptocurrency fraud scam from an online “pastor” in Colorado. It’s no wonder that since the early 2000s, when the Catholic Priest sex scan hit, the public’s trust in the clergy has declined steadily, if not dramatically. A recent Gallup poll shows that in the last five years, the ethics rating for clergy dropped from 40% (not a great starting point) to a dismal 32%. The poll shows that nurses, veterinarians, engineers, dentists, medical doctors, pharmacists, police officers, college teachers, psychiatrists, and chiropractors all rank above clergy. It seems that in post-Christian America, even the politically divisive profession of police officers has a credibility and trust rating above pastors. And while millennials now make up the largest demographic returning to church in the post-pandemic world, less than a quarter have a favorable view of clergy ethics.
Despite the headlines, the truth is that most doctors are not on the take from big pharma and prescribing unnecessary medicine to buy a larger house. The majority of police officers are far more concerned about serving and protecting citizens than targeting minorities. And the vast majority of pastors are not charlatans preying on the weak for personal gratification and gain. Pastors want to fulfill the great commission and reach the very people who hold a low opinion of them and their profession — making it essential to remain above reproach (Titus 1:6-9), and financial accountability is a crucial contributor.
Nothing makes a headline like the hypocrisy of a Christian leader embezzling money. It conjures up images of under-resourced people giving out of their lack and supporting the lifestyle of a wealthy pastor. An abuse of power like this is so egregious it needs to be made public. But that is different from the story of most in ministry; theirs is a story of sacrifice and commitment to sharing the Gospel. In an age when trust in the clergy is low, here are three ways to build and maintain financial trust within the ministry.
- Compensation: How much to pay a pastor is always a touchy subject. Paul’s first letter to Timothy makes it clear in chapter 5, verses 17-18, “Elders who are leading well should be admired and valued. Double up on the honor shown them; care for them well—especially those constantly and consistently teaching the word and preaching. For the Scripture agrees, “Don’t muzzle the ox while it is treading out your grain,” and, “The worker deserves his wages.” Pastors are worthy of their salary. Of course, there are limits to everything. In a healthy church, compensation is between 45%-55% of the total operating budget, and they have the appropriate number of staff based on the congregation size. Church leaders must keep these numbers in check when determining the pastor’s compensation.
- Accountability: In most churches, the Senior or Lead Pastor is responsible for all financial decisions; however, they should never be the sole person making the financial decisions. Churches must establish a form of governance that includes policies, processes, and procedures for managing the church’s finances. Spread out the financial oversight to a team of non-related people. For example, build a team of bookkeepers to handle the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. And always turn the books over to a CPA (preferably one that doesn’t know the pastor or go to the church) annually for a review or audit. Willingly submitting to a structure of policies and procedures demonstrates high accountability.
- Reporting: Transparency is essential when building trust. Provide reports showing how donations compare to the budget at least every month. Provide periodic updates on spending, especially if non-budgeted expenses arise. Create annual reports that show donations, spending, attendance, and growth trends, celebrate successes, and cast a vision for the future. Providing reports establishes a culture of transparency in the area of finances.
It’s unacceptable for trust in a pastor’s ethics to rank so low. Pastors must step up and overwhelm their congregation and community with integrity and accountability that cannot be ignored, even in the face of headlines designed to erode their credibility. It can start with simple steps like appropriate compensation, high accountability, and transparency through reporting.short url: