Health care, retirement often concern pastors at smaller churches

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Billy Carter

People entering the ministry often leave many things behind, especially if their paths lead them to small churches.

While pastors of large congregations make salaries well above the average person, pastors of small congregations receive comparatively little, with many receiving no benefits such as health insurance. Such is the case of a local evangelist, the Rev. Billy Carter, who was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and has no health insurance.

In an effort to support Carter, several churches are joining together to help with his medical expenses. The fundraiser will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Church of God in Chaffee, Mo. Singing will take place from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by a potluck dinner. According to Bishop Tom Morris, one of the organizers of the event, 100 percent of the donations will go toward covering Carter's medical expenses.

"I always think it is amazing when different Christian groups put aside their differences and join together in Christian love like this to help a fellow soldier," said the Rev. Ken Strong, senior pastor at Father's Arms Fellowship in Scott City.

According to Strong, churches in the Caruthersville, Portageville and Sikeston areas are participating in the benefit.

While health care benefits are a major concern for those in the ministry, so is the lack of retirement benefits.

Curtis Sharp, executive officer for Denominational and Public Relations at GuideStone Financial Resources, said the purpose of his organization "is to provide assistance to ministers and their widows who are in need of financial support."

Sharp said that was the guiding principle in starting Mission Dignity, which helps about 2,000 people nationwide every year with funding for housing, food and medication.

GuideStone also helps those in the ministry with financial planning.

'Years of hard work'

Bethany Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau is a financial supporter of Mission Dignity.

"Many of these men and their families sacrifice the American dream to live modestly and serve small congregations that cannot afford large salaries for their preachers," said Dr. Shawn Wasson, senior pastor at Bethany Baptist.

"I feel strongly that we should show them our appreciation for their years of hard work and self-sacrifice by giving money so that they can live the remainder of their lives with dignity."

The Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ has clergy minimum compensation guidelines that take into account years of experience and membership of congregation. The minimum package is a cash base, housing and Social Security. Other benefits are suggested, such as health insurance, dental insurance, retirement annuity, life and disability insurance, group life insurance, long-term care insurance, workers' compensation and liability insurance.

The Rev. Daniel Mebane Johnson, pastor of Evangelical United Church of Christ in Cape Girardeau, said he doesn't receive the whole package and that his compensation consists of a salary, mileage reimbursement and health benefits, including dental. He is also allocated an allowance for professional meetings and continuing education.

The Missouri Southern Baptist Convention has a similar policy. A 2010 study conducted by the Southern Baptist Convention said the average compensation for a full-time senior pastor in Missouri was $52,318, with a total compensation package of $62,158. Some churches include a living expense allowance in their compensation packages while other churches provide a parsonage for the pastor and family.

Salaries are much different when just examining Southeast Missouri and taking into account small, rural churches with part-time ministers.

Bill Jetton, director of missions for the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association, said 15 of the 33 Cape Girardeau Baptist Association Southern Baptist Churches are pastored by bivocational ministers.

"This ratio of 45 percent is not uncommon in the Southern Baptist Convention," Jetton said.

According to Jetton, the average total income for the 15 churches is below $20,000.

'A juggling act'

Rick Crump is one bivocational minister in Cape Girardeau. He serves as pastor for Red Star Baptist Church along with working full time as an IV therapy technician at Saint Francis Medical Center.

"It's always a juggling act, but God works it out," Crump said.

Crump said many churches are now moving toward hiring bivocational pastors for financial reasons. He said the salary is not the main point of contention but rather the health care benefits.

Crump said the ministry needs organizations such as GuideStone.

"Pastors need to retire, and many have no retirement at the end of their career," he said.

The Rev. Irvin Brooks of Burfordville Baptist Church also knows the struggle many ministers face due to minimal retirement funds and a lack of health care benefits. However, he said there are other ways those in the ministry can be supported.

"I've had people drop off a quarter of beef, half a hog and gift certificates," Brooks said.

He also said that over one period of time, he received an anonymous gift of $100 in his mailbox once a month. He recalled that while serving at a previous church, he suffered a serious knee injury. During his recovery, his church as well as a neighboring church brought food and helped financially until his workers' compensation began.

"God always provides," Brooks said.


Pertinent Address:

Highway 77 S, Chaffee, MO

1400 Main St., Scott City, MO

33 S. Ellis St. Cape Girardeau, MO

1301 N. Main St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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