This blog post has been on my heart and mind for several years. I often have started writing it, but then refrained from posting for fear of offending others. Yet, in light of the fact that I have posted many controversial things on my blog, I am sure that by now you know this is just my style. What I am about to say is not easy. I do not want to sound ungrateful or bitter. But, I think it needs to be said. So here goes:
Since I was 18, I have intentionally been studying for the ministry. I have loved it and I have struggled with it. I have met wonderful people along the way, shared in some good laughs, and recognized moments of profound truth about myself and the world around me. I studied to be a pastor because I felt a sense of calling. The job would not be worth it if you didn’t feel that same sense of love for Christ and His Bride.
Nevertheless, over the years, I have begun to see a recurring pattern. It is sad, but it is a reality: churches like to take advantage of their pastors. Churches often take their pastor’s time for granted. They believe the role of the pastor is to be on call 24/7 regardless of whether or not that will influence her own life and her own family. After all, the church is her life and her family. Churches often don’t realize the unnecessary and extreme demands they place on their ministers. If someone asked them to spend extra hours at work without pay, they likely would say no. If someone asked them to sacrifice everything they have (including their own soul) for the sake of the company, they would probably be most offended. If someone got frustrated at them for describing nursing as work, they probably would think the person was being hypo-sensitive. Yet, for some reason we expect pastors to put up with these same types of attitudes.
Often churches don’t account for the fact that pastors can face burn out and depression, and they often don’t put proper safeguarding techniques in a pastor’s way which enable them to have a long tenure. In fact, it is a proven statistic that the majority of pastors do not last more than 5 years, and often by the time they have left the ministry, they are severely wounded to the point of likely never wanting to enter the ministry again. I have written many a blog post on the issue of self-care before, but there is one area I have not touched, that I think needs to be addressed: financially taking advantage of a pastor.
I have seven years of higher education. I have spent enough money in my university and seminary education to buy a house. I often like to joke to others “I have as much education as a doctor, however, I will never get the same amount of money or the same amount of respect.” Although this is said in jest, there is always an element of truth to even the most sarcastic of comments.
I am not in ministry for the money. Heavens, no! You would have to be absolutely insane (or Joel Osteen) if your first and foremost priority was getting respect and prestige from a ministerial calling. Even so, there is no denying that we live in a world in which finances often are crucial to daily life. Yet, these are the scenes we experience the most often:
Joe is 25 and has just graduated from seminary. He has about $15,000 in student loans to pay off and he is looking for a church. He believes God has called him to full time ministry so he looks everywhere. Yet, he is unsuccessful in his search. Many churches are more than willing to take him on, but they aren’t willing to reach into their pockets and pay him anything.
Sally is 23 and in her second year of seminary. She has to do an internship as part of her MDiv Requirements. She notices that a church is hiring a youth worker. She gets in contact with them to ask if she call fill this spot while also doing her internship. The church suddenly moves from being willing to give a salary to saying that because she is an intern they won’t be paying her anything, but would be more than happy for her to come and learn what it means to be a youth pastor.
Richard is 28. Previously he was an engineer, but he has recently felt the Lord calling him into ministry. He has sacrificed everything to heed God’s call for him to work at a church. A church takes him on offering to pay him a small wage, but in the end is not able to follow through. When Richard raises the fact that he also needs to support his family, he is told that he should simply have more faith and trust God.
These scenarios may sound strange, but they are exactly what the majority of seminary students are up against. Churches believe that we should work for them for free because it is “the Lord’s work.” They demand a lot of hours out of us (not giving us much opportunity to find a second job), and when we raise the issue that we are having difficulty putting bread on the table they guilt us by saying that this is what God has called us to do, so why complain.
Don’t get me wrong. I know many churches are dwindling in attendance and many do not have the financial means to provide for their interns. However, I also believe that many churches do. Since I wanted to get a wide range of experience, I have worked in 7 different churches for my field ed and internship placements over the past 7 years. Out of those 7, only one of them truly showed any signs of generosity. Whenever I tried to apply for a paid internship, I was told that the church couldn’t pay me because they didn’t have resources. I am very aware of the fact that some of these churches were quite well off. I am also aware of the fact that after being told they couldn’t even give their intern enough to cover the cost of the academic credit, three of those churches ended up sponsoring refugee families to the tune of large figures such as $90,000.
I believe in being generous. I believe that we are called to serve the “least of these” and provide for those who have less than we do. Yet, I also believe that generosity needs to start at home. People who are studying for the ministry already do not have a lot of money as Bible Colleges and theological seminaries are often more expensive than traditional forms of secular schools (which are also expensive). When I was an intern working for free, I also had Toronto housing prices to contend with, needed food, needed to buy gas for my car, and still wanted to hang out with friends at times. There were many moments in which I had less than $50 to my name and wondered how I could afford my groceries. Yes, this was an excellent example of trusting in the Lord who certainly did provide for my every need, however, I also feel it was a bit unfair.
You see, Christian organizations often promote what is known as “faith work” or tent-making. They have found their basis in the life of St. Paul who did both Christian and secular work (which supposedly funding his Christian work). But over the years, I have developed a bit of resistance to this notion. I mean, who else do you know of who has 7 years of education who is working for free? Have you ever heard someone say “I am raising funds to work at Apple. I believe God has called me to work there, but I need to support myself” or “God has called me to be a doctor so now I work at North York General Hospital for free”? Chances are you never have and you never will. That’s because this type of mentality is absolutely ludicrous in any other context except Christian ministry.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have learned something from each organization and church I have ever been involved with as an intern. For the most part, everyone has treated me very kindly and in some cases I truly realize why the organization did not have the resources to pay me. And like I said, a pastor should not become greedy or too preoccupied with worldly wealth. Still, I think that churches should try a bit harder to allocate funding for their interns. I think churches need to realize the intense pressures a young seminary student is under and to try to provide. It’s great for us to look outside our own church and support other causes, but our primary motivation should be those who are right in front of us who need our support. After all, if God has put them before us, there must be a reason.
So, please. Next time you offer an internship program and then realize that you can’t afford one, please think twice. Please remember that pastors are people, too and that we live in a world where working for free is likely not a reality.