As a pastor, I had given up on ever having financial health or stability for our family. I had heard jaded opinions about pastors’ salaries, seen churches struggle to meet budgets, and wanted to serve people regardless of the church budget, so I told myself, “having rocky finances is just the sacrifice of ministry.” Despite my basic financial understanding, I just couldn’t put out what seemed like constant fires around money. Feeling strongly called to serve and having a young family with health issues, I felt like the situation was impossible to fix.
Then a few years ago, I saw an announcement about the newly developed Covenant Financial Leadership Initiative in partnership with Lilly. I thought wistfully about what it would be like to receive those grant funds. But, looking at the haphazard nature of our family’s finances, I put aside that idea with a sigh. The first step would be to participate in a JumpStart retreat, which would involve travel costs and childcare. So I never signed up. My wife, Kristen, and I were interested in financial coaching, but we couldn’t even get to that first step.
Then less than a year ago I saw an announcement about JumpStart being held as a virtual retreat. Suddenly it seemed possible for us to participate. In that format, we could make it work—no costs to travel, no extra childcare. Kristen and I felt ready to face our (bleak?) financial situation together. So we registered.
The work began as we went over the pre-retreat materials. It was not that the paperwork was hard, but it was a vulnerable exercise. Facing the truth on paper led to conversations and prayers about our situation. By the time we entered into the retreat weekend, we were in it together even more than when we signed up.
Despite the danger of the “another Zoom-call” attitude, we felt connected to everyone on the retreat, even via screens. The variety of financial situations represented in our group helped us see beyond our own four walls. Listening, sharing, and learning opened our perspective and gave us glimmers of optimism. We also became aware of Christ’s presence with us in a new and healing way.
After the retreat, we were ready to get into our specific details with a financial coach—even though we still anticipated doom and gloom. Our coach, Steve, was a Covenanter with financial experience who volunteered his time to help ministry families like ours. His clear, practical insights guided us; he listened to our worries, our fears, and my sense of failure. He spoke truth into our situation with grace and encouragement. It was the hope and insight he shared for our finances that inspired us to create a financial plan for the first time. And he was there for support when inevitably our new resolve was immediately tested by life. Committed to not grabbing for the credit cards, an emergency root canal and following crown challenged us to seek God’s help, rather than do it alone, and Steve was there to encourage us to stay the course.
A month or two after the retreat, Marti Burger reached out to us. Marti serves as director of vocational innovation for Develop Leaders, and she invited us to consider applying for a consumer aid grant, based on where we might be now with our new plan and financial steps. The consumer aid grant is a partnership with the Lilly Foundation and offers up to $10,000 to eliminate consumer or education debt for pastors. As part of the grant, recipients agree to a “pay-it-forward” payment for a portion of the total grant awarded, to help continue the fund for other pastors and families. We assumed that we could never contribute back, and so had put aside the grant idea. But at this point, we realized that through God’s grace, these grant funds would have a real impact. In the midst of our grant application process, Marti’s team discovered further ways to apply those funds to change our situation beyond even what we had assessed for ourselves.
The gift of JumpStart, the follow-up coaching, and the consumer aid grant became the clear hand of God’s healing and renewal in our family. Although our resolve to pursue financial health is tested regularly, we cling to the truth of Christ and the guidance we have received.
I would encourage anyone in ministry to take the time to meet God in your finances, and let his love work in the midst of it all—he has not abandoned you in your work for him.
About the Author
Olaf van de Klashorst is pastor of Mt. Bethel Covenant Church in Summerfield, North Carolina.