The Church Parsonage Is Not A Benefit


****The benefit of a church parsonage in 2017 is debatable. It is such a concern that I am republishing this article again since it fits within the Pastoral Concern series. Therefore, read and enjoy this article because it is thought provoking. Plus, it will provide the needed background for the next post. A post that will expand on this concept of pastoriums as I expose my faults from my experiences with a church parsonage.****

Many traditional and older churches have a parsonage or pastorium they offer to their pastors while they serve their church. The concept is that in addition to the salary provided it’s a “free” place to live and a benefit to the pastor. In some cases, it is a benefit, but in others, it’s not. For example, some churches wrongfully use the parsonage as a means to control the pastor or check-in to see if he or she is doing one’s job. A well-known Alabama pastor who used to work for the State Board of Missions shared with me that, “One Saturday I received a knock on the door and it was a committee from the church who had arrived to do a ‘surprise’ inspection.” For ministers whose lives are already like living in a fish bowl the parsonage only adds to the pastor’s stress and the church’s.

In contrast, some churches have a very healthy use of the homes they offer for their pastors. One parsonage I knew even had a Jacuzzi-hot tub. Despite such amenities, churches should reconsider their offers and demands that pastors live in a home owned by the church. Often this “benefit” to the pastor only helps the church long-term. In fact, it can put a pastor at a disadvantage later in life. For example:

  1. Lower Credit Rating
  • Payments in one’s life such as utilities, car notes, credit cards, etc. also impact one’s credit score. Also, some of a person’s credit rating is based on the housing payment made each month. Housing payments can include mortgage or a rental payment. As a result, pastors who do not make a house payment affect his or her credit score. Fortunately, one’s credit score is not solely determined by one’s housing payment, but churches need to know that requiring a pastor to stay in their parsonage has long-term financial consequences.

  1. No Equity
  • A church leader once told me, “We hope our pastor stays his whole ministry with us.” This quote is very idealistic because rarely does a pastor stay in one church their entire career. Fortunately, more and more pastors desire to plant their lives at one church, but it is still very likely one will move at least once during their ministry. Therefore, its important that pastors have the ability to invest in their own home. Such an investment allows them to maintain a higher credit score while building equity for the future.
  1. Buying a House Late in Life
  • Lastly, even if a pastor were to plant his or her entire lives at one church, the question remains, “Where do they live when they retire?” Remember, if the parsonage is a “benefit” for the current pastor then the retiring pastor must live somewhere. A retired pastor from the last church I pastored lived in parsonages his whole life. Sadly, when he retired at 65, he began his first house payment when he could have been building his credit, his equity, and possibly paying off the mortgage to his house in the year’s prior.

Many churches that use the parsonage as a “benefit” will have trouble with this article. While I understand the benefit, I do want to encourage churches to reconsider. That said, I think many well-meaning churches have never thought about the impact the parsonage can have on a pastor over the course of their life. Also, this article is not suggesting that pastors should get rich off the church, but churches should not see it as their job to “keep the pastor poor and humble.” Believe it or not I once actually had a deacon tell me that.

Also, the first time published this article I received a lot of good feedback. Most complaints centered on the idea that some churches cannot afford to pay a pastor enough for their own home. As a result, the parsonage is a need so some churches can afford to have a pastor. While this point is understood it does not mean it is right. Yes, ministers answer a call to shepherd God’s people, but it is not to say that a church should undercut their pastor financially. No, churches consider providing for their pastor both short-term while they work for a church, but also long-term after they are no longer the pastor.

Likewise, ministers should find other means of income beyond the church so that it is not a congregation’s burden alone to provide for their pastor. A minister may have to become bi-vocational, they may have to make some investments or other means of income. No matter the approach, having multiple streams of revenue relieves the pressure on a church while giving the pastor another avenue to meet people in the community. However, both the churches responsibility and a pastor’s ability for additional resources is a great topic to expand on in another post.

In closing, my hope is that churches will understand the burden of a parsonage than just seeing it as a “benefit.” In reality, the church benefits more than anyone, and it is at the pastor’s expense. Therefore, let’s think of ways to continue to do ministry, but provide more flexibility in this area. The world is watching, and I know it pays more attention to how churches treat their pastors than they realize. The parsonage would be a great first step in displaying that “you will know they are my disciples by the love that they show another.”