By Randal Scott
I just have to get this off my chest! Having been involved in Baptist churches all my life, including working for Baptist Youth Ministries and my own local church in Dunedin, I can no longer be silent about an issue of injustice that goes on in our family of churches.
I need to begin with a disclaimer: I am not bitter and twisted as a result of working for BYM and Caversham Baptist Church!
On the whole, I was well looked after during the 13 years I served the Baptist Churches of Otago and Southland. I didn’t finish on a particularly good note – I resigned due to my ongoing struggle with depression – but I found the local association executive members to be compassionate and sympathetic during the final months of my time with them.
The elders at Caversham Baptist were even more supportive. I was given the space and time I needed to decide on the best course of action for me and my family. I was paid a couple of week’s sick leave the church wasn’t obliged to pay and we were blessed by the generosity of people at Cavy on numerous occasions. The National BYM Board was also very generous in paying me sick leave when I resigned as National Manager, unexpectedly, at the start of last year. My experience, as a servant and employee of Baptist churches, has been a mostly good one.
The same cannot be said for others. I’ve heard some shocking stories over the years: A person who served as church secretary being given a chocolate fish after 15 years of service; a youth pastor, from another denomination, being given $15 after driving across Auckland to speak at a Baptist church; and a church giving an itinerant preacher, who lived totally by faith, a “gift” that didn’t even come close to covering his travel expenses.
Why are Baptists so tight with their money?
I can’t help comparing these examples with the way I’m looked after by secular groups I serve. At the end of the summer I was given a meal voucher as a thank you gift for coaching my own son’s cricket team! I also serve on an education board where I’m frequently thanked for my contribution by word and, my personal favourite, with food. Both of my current employers (I’m no longer paid to work in Christian ministry) pay me what I’m entitled to and then some.
So why are Baptists so tight with their money?
Jesus talked a lot about money and challenged us by saying the measure we used for others would be used by God in his dealings with us (Luke 6:38). I’m all for using the financial resources we have responsibly, and I’m not trying to advocate for the kind of wanton spending we occasionally see in government departments and some well-known Pentecostal churches, but it’s possible to develop a culture of generosity without being extravagant. People need to feel valued and it’s not that difficult to do!
Through the work of tranzsend and the Self Denial Appeal especially, New Zealand Baptist churches have developed a healthy culture of giving generously to causes overseas. Now I think we need to be just as generous on the home front; pastoral ministry is hard enough without feeling undervalued by being underpaid.
I realise some churches, and some of our national ministries, are unable to pay full salary and expense entitlements but those arrangements should be reviewed annually to ensure employees are being paid as justly and fairly as possible. There aren’t many things that sap the life out of people as much as a lack of financial recognition. It eats away inside of you, especially when some of the wealthiest people in the church control the finances.
I want to belong to a family of churches known for their generosity. I want to belong to a family of churches who value people over money. I want to belong to a family of churches who challenge the dominant consumer mentality of New Zealanders by living on less and giving away more.
I want to belong to a family of churches who pay their workers fairly, regardless of gender or marital status. I want to belong to a family of churches who take excellent care of their staff, both paid and volunteer. I want to belong to a family of churches who develop new ways of sharing their financial resources in order to maximise their impact and influence. I want to belong to a family of churches who are generously blessed by God because we have chosen to generously bless others.
So, my fellow Baptists, let’s stop being so tight with our money!