Business Relationships with Parishioners = Yikes

It’s not uncommon for congregations to be business partners with their kevin osmond artparishioners and/or paid staff members:

  • The church that hires members to serve as administrators, sextons, choir directors, educators.
  • The church that loans money to their pastor to cover a home downpayment.
  • The church that hires a church member’s firm to paint the sanctuary, re-roof, pave the parking lot, fix the boiler.

If everything goes perfectly well:  the church staffer is excellent, the pastor pays her money back, the paving company does a stellar job – then all is well.  But what if:

  • The organist – who is also a church member – is not working out.  It could be anything from addiction issues to tardiness issues to doesn’t-play-well-with-others issues.  Maybe he just isn’t a strong organist?
  • The pastor is in arrears in terms of paying back the loan.  Some parishioners want to forgive the loan out right and others want the pastor to keep up with the payments.
  • The paving job was botched and now it will be even more expensive to pave and correct the previous company’s work.

Now what?

We can all be adults here and talk seriously about Making Changes.  But too often feelings are hurt.  Blame is declared.  And people leave their church – either physically or emotionally, often causing congregational mayhem on the way out.

There are pros and cons to hiring members as staff or as business partners.  But mostly there are cons.  (I know these are fighting words for those who happily serve their own congregations and are compensated for it.)

There are pros and cons to serving as a bank for church staff.  But mostly there are cons.  (Yes, most pastors do not have 20% down payment for a home when they move into a new community.  But neither do other people.)

Very few congregations do this well.  If a church member is on staff, they lose their pastor to some extent.  Their pastor becomes their boss.

What are your congregations’ experiences and best practices on this issue?  The healthiest I’ve seen:

  • Parishioners working for other congregations in their community. They might be active in their own congregations and so they know Church World, but share their knowledge with a church that is not their own.
  • Parishioners working very PT for their own churches so that their primary salary is not from their congregation.
  • Pastors borrowing money from banks rather than the church coffers.

What healthy processes have you experienced?

Image source.

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3 responses to “Business Relationships with Parishioners = Yikes

  1. Jan, 9 times out of 10, when I see the title of your post the hairs on the back of my head start standing up… For real!! This post was no different.

    I. just. don’t. understand. the. payoff. when. it. comes. to. lack. of. healthy. boundaries. in. the. church. When this lack of healthy boundaries pertains to the dual status of employment and membership… Lord have mercy. On that whole church system and many sub-systems within. Yes?

    I have been blessed to work in a few situations in which an employee was also a member, and it was wonderful. I have been cursed to work in a few situations in which the same occurred, and it was disastrous.

    IF a church employee is also a church member:
    A. Best case scenario is that he or she was an employee prior to joining the church, and a *COVENANT* (legal and moral) was signed about expected behavior, what takes priority if/when conflict occurs, etc.

    B. If this didn’t occur, next best scenario is that churches take six weeks to create a covenant like this. It’s almost never too late to establish norms around this dual role and function… that is, until a church is knee-deep in staff conflict or whatever the problem is.

    I think COMs could be a great help in starting this type of conversation in personnel committees, church staffs, etc. I would like to see this best practice being practiced at the presbytery level, yet like you recognize the risk involved in such a venture.

    This is why I so dearly appreciate your posts. And why the hairs on the back of my head inevitably stand up when I do so. Thank you so much for getting to the meta, Jan.

  2. As a 30+ hour/ week church educator, this is a difficult issue for me. I serve a healthy church on a healthy staff, and for the past 13 years have maintained my membership at another church 75 miles away. I pledge there a few times a year, but I don’t really think of it as a church home. My husband is a member at the church where I serve. My kids were baptized there. It will be the place that has been the cradle of their faith… But I am just not sure how I would feel about joining (although I was told that it was against policy at the time I was hired, My pastor would be supportive of me joining if I wished to.) I think musicians and educators have unique challenges in this respect– on our staff, only one of the four non-clergy program staff is a member.

  3. I am aware of a congregation in back in the high interest rate days of 1980 did not loan the pastor money but did help him get a much lower rate.

    The chair of the finance committee went to the bank with the pastor elect. The loan officer quoted a rate. The chair of the finance committee asked how much lower the rate would be if the church made a deposit in the bank? The officer asked how much. The finance chair wrote a number down and slid it across the table without the pastor seeing the number. In a very short time the officer presented the pastor with a MUCH lower rate.

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