I’ll never forget that phone call.
I was sitting in my study, working on Sunday’s sermon when the phone rang. It was my wife. She had driven with another lady in our church to go to a Women’s Bible Study and had decided to stop at the bank to get $20 from the ATM.
For the very first time in our lives (before or since), we were overdrawn.
I had never experienced that feeling before – sickness and dread and fear all mingled together. To this day, I’m not sure what was worse – hearing the fear in her voice as she struggled to hold back the tears or the feeling of fear in my own heart as I was totally blindsided by the news.
How could this have happened?
After four years of Bible college and four years of seminary, I became the lead pastor of a small, six-year-old, church plant in September 2007. Even though the church was struggling in many ways, they wanted to do the best they could to help provide for us financially. They offered us a starting salary of $48,000/year along with full health coverage for our family.
The best part was, they said, that our salary would be “tax-free” because I was a pastor. We were so excited! We decided to buy a house based on that information. We set our budget based on that information. In fact, we planned a lot of things based on that information.
However, when I got my first monthly paycheck, instead of receiving $4,000, I received $3,388. Something called SECA had taken 15.3% of my expected salary away.
We were devastated.
Less than one month into pastoral ministry, our plans, our budget, and our house payment were all in serious jeopardy . . . and there was nothing we could do about it.
This is why I decided to write How to Not be a Broke Pastor and Structuring Pastoral Compensation. The first is written to and for pastors. The second is written to and for churches. If either I or our church had read these books ten years ago, the situation I just described would have never happened.
However, the old saying is true - you don't know what you don't know. I didn't know enough to ask the right question so that I could understand how my pastoral compensation would actually work. Our church didn't know enough to understand that what they had seen elsewhere wouldn't apply to me.
We were both flying blind . . . and that was the problem.