By Liz Andrasi Deere
Pastors today face a multitude of challenges. They navigate a changing world while remaining faithful to proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. They care for congregants and their neighborhoods and the concerns of the globe in glad times and in times full of grief. They manage day-to-day issues that arise and somewhere in the midst of all of this, they find time for study and teaching.
When a pastor answers the call to serve a congregation, she expects these things; she prepares for them. Research has found another critical element though—one that many pastors wrestle with silently: money.
Bo Prosser is the director of the Ministerial Excellence Initiative (MEI) of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “What we know is that economic stress is the main obstacle to effective pastoral leadership,” Prosser said.
Pastors not only oversee and manage church finances; but many also struggle under the weight of personal debt and fear for a future devoid of savings. It is a stress many do not speak of and, in silence, shame builds as situations spiral. To help with this reality, MEI provides funding for personal debt relief and retirement for qualifying pastoral leaders.
Because every pastor has a different financial situation and history, the MEI strives to offer a dynamic education which allows grant recipients to apply what they learn to their unique contexts.
Timothy Peoples is an alumnus of the program. He is the senior minister at Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., and, in addition to carrying the concerns of the community, he also carried $103,000 in student loans.
“Debt causes a lot of stress. But to know that there is an initiative out there so that I can be able to put money toward those student loans or be able to help in other ways is amazing,” Peoples explained. MEI provided him tools to manage money and alleviated some of his stress.
Peoples said the most meaningful part of the experience was, “To be with a group of people who say, ‘this is something that helped me’ or ‘this is how you don’t get to this place I’m in.’ But who also say, ‘You’re not in this alone. Together we’re going to make this through. We’re going to journey with each other. We’re going to talk with each other. We’re going to continue to give tools and options.’”
Each MEI grant recipient must select a trusted congregational advocate to attend training sessions alongside them, providing further support and ongoing conversation. They travel to Atlanta for two seminars. The first focuses on personal finance and the second on congregational finances.
“We spend a lot of time on the theology of stewardship in our training, approaching everything with grace and generosity. We model that for our congregational leaders so that when they go back home, they will model the same thing,” Prosser explained.
Each grant recipient receives $10,000 at the outset of the first two-day seminar. Eight thousand of that goes toward immediate debt relief, and the remaining $2,000 goes into a retirement account with CBF Church Benefits.
Rather than just mail each recipient a check, the gift comes wrapped in liturgy. The trusted congregational advocate is given the opportunity to craft a blessing for his or her minister. “It is a meaningful, powerful moment when somebody hands you a check with no strings attached,” Prosser said. “It has just been amazing to see the grace that comes from that.”
He recounts stories of ministers taking vacations for the first time in 20 years, paid for in cash; others have bought cars in cash. One particular pastor received health benefits for the first time because a congregational advocate hadn’t known the church should provide this benefit before attending the MEI seminar.
The impact of the grant, and the range of resources and events available to all of CBF through MEI are profound. Ministers are finding relief and freedom to lead with renewed hope and vigor.
Pastors face many obstacles in their work today. Thanks to the MEI, debt and fear for the future don’t have to be part of the landscape.
Are you struggling financially, or looking for resources to better support your congregation or pastoral leadership? Learn how to apply for an MEI grant or read more about the breadth of resources and events MEI offers across CBF at www.cbf.net/mei
Would you like to help support the MEI?
As part of our commitment to the Lilly Endowment, CBF must raise $1 million to make the grant sustainable; we want these vital resources available to pastors and congregations for many years to come. Please contact Bo Prosser at firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel led to contribute to this effort.