This week I have already logged 180 miles doing ministry. I legitimately could have doubled that had I the time. For example, today I am supposed to go to Tacoma for a denominational meeting. It is a meeting I love and am prepared for, but will not be able to attend because of time constraints—next week is Holy Week and I’m a little busy. So, if I were going to Tacoma again this week, that would up the mileage considerably.
Being in a car is not unusual for me or for any minister. It is a part of the work and travel is an ancient part of ministry. Jesus was always on the move as was the Apostle Paul. To a certain extent I enjoy travel, whether by car, ferry or plane. What has changed though in recent times is the cost of gasoline. When I first began doing ministry gasoline was about $1.19 a gallon. Yesterday I paid $4.05. Experts are indicating that by the summer it could be as high as $5.00 a gallon. If I take my 180 miles and assume 30 miles per gallon (which is a high estimate because much of the driving is stop-n-go traffic) I’ve spent $24 in gasoline this week. Average that out over a month and we have $96, and in a year, well, that is $1,300. This is money I do not get reimbursed for and which I do not get a tax deduction for because I already max out all my allowable deductions.
My church pays me well, so the money is not a problem. I am taken care of because i serve the greatest church in the world. Other churches solve some of the problem by giving the minister a gasoline allowance. That is probably a good idea. The point though, that I am drawing out is regardless of who is paying or how well pastors are compensated, the price of doing ministry is going up—and this price is being calculated at a personal level. I suspect there are many pastors who are not well compensated and who have no reimbursement plan from their church and the price of gas is killing them. Will they get a haircut this week, pay for their kid’s band trip, or go make hospital visits?
I suspect that as energy costs rise, we might see the following changes to ministry.
- More phone calls, less hospital/pastoral/how-are-you-doing visits. This is a practice I need to nurture a little more. Because I value the spiritual intimacy of face-to-face and the ministry of presence I’ve always been biased against the phone and in favor of in-person. Probably I need to get over that.
- Social media may become a tool for meetings and strategy planning. If I am feeling the pinch as pastor, chances are very good that some of my leadership feel the same way. I have some leaders who live very far away from the church building. That means to come have a planning meeting or even attend a ministry event or even worship requires a greater financial sacrifice that others who live closer. Social media might be a tool to bridge that gap. How would Skype work in a hospital room?
- Fewer meetings. I need to do a better job of how I use my time and resources. It is not very cost-effective (or time effective) to try and attend every meeting other people expect me to be at.
- A renewed emphasis upon lay ministry. Because the expense is getting higher, sharing that expense with dedicated laity—men and women who also serve—would help distribute the expense. It is true there are some things only the senior pastor can do, but there are many things which capable, God-called people are able to do just as effective, if not better, than a pastor. The problem of course is convincing pastors to move beyond this in theory and into practice.