Over the last few months I’ve had conversations with numerous people who used to work in either fundamentalist or evangelical ministries and just can’t afford to keep doing it. When you’re putting in a full week of work but eating from your own church’s food pantry because you can’t afford groceries that might be a problem.
There is a serious problem in American Christianity with “ministry” employees being underpaid, undervalued, and under-appreciated. Here are a few reasons why:
By the nature of being sacred instead of secular, many ministry employees are isolated from the rest of the job market. Being cut off from the rest of their colleagues makes them prone to believing the lies that they didn’t need to get accreditation or certification. As a result they have no relationships with those kinds of bodies and they don’t participate in continuing education with their secular counterparts.
As a result they simply have no idea what their skills might be worth in the rest of the world or how to build a set of credentials that makes them worth more.
2. Delayed Gratification.
“Treasures in heaven” is the cry of those who really don’t want to pay for good dental benefits on earth. Christian workers are told that somehow their efforts are more special and worthy of greater rewards. Lots of people work in school cafeterias but Jesus loves people who work in Christian school cafeterias just a little bit more. The celestial payout is going to be awesome! (So we’ll need you to go ahead and work for peanuts while you’re here.)
After all, it’s all about getting people saved! Who can put a price tag on that?
3. Shrinking Population.
Church attendance is in decline. That means fewer checks in the offering plate and less operating budget. Like any other business the first place any ministry is going to start cutting its expenses is not in buildings or salaries at the top. They’re going to start by seeing how much they can save by reducing the number of paid days off or requiring all employees to contribute some amount of time for free.
This is just suffering for Jesus.
4. Heavy Indoctrination.
Fundamentalist and Evangelicals have done well in playing the education game. Every year there is a crop of idealistic fresh faces that emerge from their high-schools and colleges having spent hundreds of hours in classrooms being taught that there is no higher calling than being grist to the ministry mill. With new cheap labor being manufactured every day there’s no incentive for raises for the people who have been here all along.
Jesus is the greatest coupon ever.
5. Total Prevarication.
If you ever work for a ministry that tells you that if you just serve the Lord with them for 30 years that there will be a pension at the end to take care of you in your old age I advise you to smile politely and then walk away quickly. There is no retirement. There. is. no. retirement. There is, however, a pink slip with your name on it sealed in an envelope that says “to be opened when the employee is 65.”
Unless you’re putting savings in your own IRA or stuffing it in your mattress then there will be no money.
So the formula goes like this:
Isolated employees + A Heavenly Mission + Declining Revenue + Renewable Workforce + Lies = Starvation Wages.
If you give people too much then how will they ever learn to trust God? The food pantry is open from 3-6 on Thursdays.