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Minister Survey assesses financial security, financial stress

Added as a Board of Pensions Call to Health challenge

by Melody K. Smith | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — A majority of pastors of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations feel financially secure, but those who are paid less are less satisfied, results of a 2013 survey of PC(USA) pastors showed.

A landmark PC(USA) Minister Survey currently in the field follows up on this finding six years later with all PC(USA) ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

“One of the things the Minister Survey does is explore the financial health of PC(USA) ministers, including possible links between finances and other aspects of their ministry,” says Dr. Susan Barnett, coordinator of PC(USA) Research Services, which is conducting the survey.

The Board of Pensions is offering 50 points in its health-promotion “Call to Health” program that lowers health insurance deductibles for ministers enrolled in health insurance through the Board who complete the survey. To receive Call to Health credit for participation, ministers must enroll in the survey as a Call to Health “challenge” by Friday, Nov. 15, and complete the survey and track it on Call to Health by Monday, Nov. 18.

PC(USA) ministers — whether retired or not, whether pastors or in other kinds of ministry, whether Benefits Plan members involved in Call to Health or not — may click here to begin the survey.

Very preliminary Minister Survey results underline the findings of the 2013 survey, showing that most PC(USA) ministers still feel financially secure.

In addition to allowing researchers and church leaders to explore any links between financial security and minister satisfaction, the survey will also help answer other, related questions:

  • How much debt are ministers carrying, and how has that affected their lives?
  • How much are financial concerns driving ministers’ searches for new calls and keeping retirement-age ministers working for pay?
  • How is financial health related to ministers’ physical health and mental health, as well as to the health of their ministries?

“The preliminary results are encouraging,” says Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director for Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation and part of a cross-agency data team that has looked at pastoral leadership issues. “I’m pleased to see that many of those who have completed the survey so far feel financially secure. That sends a message to the next generation that they can respond to the call of God to prepare and be supported and serve in ministry. Mentoring, preparing, calling and supporting current and future ministers is central to a secure future for the PC(USA).”

This first-ever survey of all PC(USA) ministers of the Word and Sacrament is not simply an intellectual exercise, since information that it generates may help shape denominational policies and programs, according to Dr. Perry Chang, PC(USA) research analyst. For example: information from the survey could help the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Board of Pensions redesign their programs to relieve ministers’ economic stress.

“We have been assisting ministers with student loan debt for years, but the results from this survey will give us a clearer, more up-to-date view of the extent and shape of ministers’ student loan burden,” says Laura Bryan, who directs the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s financial aid program. “The results may give ideas for tweaking our program.”

“The Board has always supported ministers in need, who are in the Benefits Plan,” adds Rev. Raymond Bonwell, corporate secretary for the Board of Pensions. “Informed by data, the Board has also developed new ways to incentivize employers to offer the Benefits Plan to more ministers, including smaller congregations without a recently installed pastor, any congregation who expands ministerial headcount, and to church planters. Data also informed the design of the successful grant program  Healthy Pastors, Healthy Congregations, and grants for retirees for hearing aids. Results from the survey may illuminate opportunities for other ways to support ministers.”

Responses to the Minister Survey will be accepted through early November 2019. Ministers may click here to get started.

“We expect this survey to generate data that may inform PC(USA) policy and practices in a range of areas,” says Barnett. “Exploring minister financial health to help denominational programs that aim to relieve financial stress on ministers and congregations is clearly one of the most important of these areas.”

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