Unemployment Lines Filling with…Pastors?


Reader Brian Auten passed along an Out of Ur post (“Will Preach for Food“) that riffs off a Wall Street Journal article (“Joblessness Hits the Pulpit“). I would highly encourage you to read both, but here’s the relevant stats:

Unemployed pastors in 2005: 2,000
Unemployed pastors in 2007: 3,000
Unemployed pastors in 2009: 5,000

Thirty percent of church attendees report reducing their giving since November 2009.

The articles also note that it is megachurches enacting the majority of layoffs.Jobless men, keep going...

While the articles are eye-opening, if you truly want to witness a train wreck, read the comments to the Out of Ur post.

This seemingly innocuous Ur comment was the one that most grabbed me and illustrates everything wrong with American Christian thinking:

Nobody goes into ministry for the money, to be sure, but we have families and college tuitions to pay for just like everyone else, plus many of us have debt from seminaries. A worker is worth his wages. We don’t need much, but fair pay shouldn’t even be a question. Posted by: Mike at May 22, 2010.

Anyone other than me note the extreme concession to status quo in that comment?

This is why the Church in America is failing. We are not asking the hard questions. Instead, we simply relent to the system.

A few questions that immediately spring to mind:

Why do Christians burden their families with outrageous education expenses?

Why aren’t Christians developing church-grown alternatives to higher education?

In what ways does the traditional paid pastoral staff hamper the “laity” from doing the mission of the Church? How is that problem magnified in megachurches?

What percentage of these jobless pastors have stayed on as “laity” at their former congregations? How are those congregations meeting the many needs of the pastors they cut loose?

In what ways does our cultural mindset on traditional employment hamper our ability to be a vital Church?

At what point does Acts 4:32-35 enter into this equation?

When did we stop trying? When did we get to the point that we let society/culture dictate the way we Christians live? Where are the genuine leaders? Where is the dialog on alternatives to status quo?

And isn’t anyone else troubled by this?

At the most granular level, the way we live is broken, yet we keep trying desperately to not only prop it up but also fool ourselves into thinking this is the way it has to be.

All I can say is “Maranatha.”

17 thoughts on “Unemployment Lines Filling with…Pastors?

  1. “Why aren’t Christians developing church-grown alternatives to higher education?”

    Isn’t it the institutions of higher education that have developed the alternative? Our schools seem to buy into every worldly notion about education, right down to the notion that it takes exactly four years to pop out a professional. But this is not the original model for raising up leadership in the church. I would point back to an earlier post you wrote, in which you said, “Go to every nation and make disciples. Every other mission is a distraction.” (Apologies if I have paraphrased you.)

    Schools are great; I loved every minute of my higher education. But aren’t we are a bit backward if we perceive that the high cost of education puts the church of Christ in a bind?

    • Joel,

      Turning out an educated person IS part of discipleship, thus the Church should be involved. And I don’t believe that is simply limited to knowledge of spiritual things.

      • Well, I suppose this raises the question: what do you mean by “an educated person?” (And what does “turning out” mean in the context of discipleship?) But I suspect that the spirit of what you’re saying is rather like saying that the human body should be involved in breathing.

        Teaching and learning are intrinsic to discipleship. Tuition, lecture halls and GPA’s are not. If the latter items are beyond reach, the former items oughtn’t be impeded. But of course, maybe that’s what you said in the first place 🙂

  2. Normandie


    I think all Christians, not just pastors, must face the question of whether to live by the world’s standards or the Lord’s, especially when it comes to money, because we have been so seduced into worldly thinking.

    Who is our master? And whom do we serve?

    Excellent post, as usual.

  3. Diane R

    Our congregation has plunged from 1250 to 250 in ten years. We just hired a full time senior pastor (we also have a full-time assistnt pastor and a part time music director). Our full-time pastor will have a salary of $80,000 a year. Our church is currently almost a half-a million dollars in debt. Go figure, but this isn’t unusual where I live in suburban Southern California.

  4. I thought it was a given that (a) some people in the ministry should not be; and (b) some people not in the ministry should be. I’ve met people who seem to set up ministries on the flimsiest of reeds. Then you have those too busy earning a living to give themselves to God’s calling on their lives.

    How much money is funneled away from pastoral salaries and local church ministry and into parachurch ministries and Christian entertainment? Not to mention other uses for “disposable income.”

    Many countries, but not all, require full-time missionaries to have four-year college degrees to work in country. Some mission work requires college education. Do you want to be a medical missionary? You can’t without college.

    You can set up alternatives to college education. But what if your alternatives cannot acquire accreditation? See previous paragraph.

    Many children, once addled with TV and video games and celebrity culture, do not want to learn or work trades. They want to go to college and get office jobs, or they want to be high-paid artists and athletes. Fact is, their parents want the same for them, minus the bad habits.

    • Poet,

      By the time my kid hits 18, a year of college at a C-level school will cost $50,000. Who can afford that? And is that sheepskin REALLY worth $200,000? Something has to give.

      • Dan, you may think of me as an idealist, or perhaps contrarian but I think you should stop thinking about the mean, the average, when it comes to your own son. Yes, it is tragic what so many people face in college. But alternatives to the norm already exist. I’ve read about them. Plenty of people won’t take advantage of these alternatives because they think they shouldn’t have to do something different. So they either rack up a lot of debt, or they don’t go to college.

        • I asked a local university student how much a semester cost now. When I looked into it a few years back, it didn’t look so bad. Well, they just upped the tuition over a thousand dollars for one semester. Ouch!

          • Poet,

            That’s the trend, and it happens almost every other year in most colleges. It cost me $23,000 a year to go Carnegie Mellon University in 1981; I can only imagine what that is up to now. By the time my son is ready for college—well, it may be heart-attack inducing to see what colleges will be charging.

        • Poet,

          My son will most likely be looking at engineering, at least his present course is that way. That almost necessitates a private college education, which equals huge costs.

  5. Excellent post, I missed the Journal article you reference but I am reading it now. It strikes me that we have a problem when a severe recession is seen primarily through the lens of the impact it has on giving at church instead of the impact it has on families. I wonder how many of these laid-off pastors are still ministering to the local body now that they aren’t getting paid to do so?

  6. Malana Johansen

    I fear for our Christian schools…churches are casting them out to rent to charter schools because there is money there. Families can’t afford tuition but the churches don’t step up. ACSI is predicting that one third of our Christian schools will close this year.

  7. As someone who recently left the pulpit ministry, I have found that money problems can bring out the worst in parties on all sides. Unfortunately there are no unemployment benefits for pastors, something that is unfortunate.

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