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Why banks see pastors as bad credit risks

Money

“Never loan money to poets, painters, and pastors.” the banker told me. He called it the “Three 'P' Rule.”

The first two on the list I understood, but the third I didn’t. Why would pastors be a credit risk for a bank loan? Here are a few mitigating answers. They don’t excuse irresponsible behavior; they explain it.

First, most pastor pay is pathetic. Paul is quite clear in 1 Timothy:

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“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

How many church compensation committees know this mandate? How many have considered its biblical implications? How many have implemented it? In one church a deacon, who helped set pastor pay, told me, “No pastor should make more than I did 20 years ago when I retired.” He was a schoolteacher and not alone in his opinion. The fact that pastor pay is pathetic doesn’t excuse poor money management—it makes it more difficult.

Second, most pastors are not taught about managing money. They are told not to be “lovers of filthy lucre,” and as a whole, financial riches do not motivate them. They’re called to love people, Christ, preaching, and teaching. They catch an erroneous idea that if money is called “filthy lucre” they must rise above it. But the Bible does not teach that. The use of money is an outward expression of the heart that has it. Consequently Christ said:

“If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?”

The implications are clear. God shouldn’t entrust a pastor who has been irresponsible with worldly wealth with something infinitely more valuable—true wealth—the souls of men and women. The wise handling of money issues is an indication as to how spiritual issues will be handled. Pastors need to be taught that.

The third reason is faulty thinking. Not all pastors fall prey to each malady, but they may have them in varying proportions. Here are the maladies:

  • Boundless optimism/idealism, untested by real world experience.
  • Fatal naïveté presented as passion—passion without knowledge is dangerous.
  • Misunderstanding the difference between “stepping out in faith” and presuming upon God.
  • Exaggerated confidence in our ability to know God’s will, without an opposing humility in our propensity to rationalize.

Not all pastors are bad credit risks. In fact most are as they should be: the most dependable people to have as a bank customer.

But it only takes one bad loan to sully the reputation of Christ for a whole community. The same could be said for churches and ministries that don’t pay their bills. They have the same negative impact. Recently I had a CEO tell me that the majority of his bad debt came from Christian ministries that never paid their bills. I wanted to weep. It made me want to ask for forgiveness, as Nehemiah did, for our nation and ministries, who have stumbled so badly.

What can we do to help? We can pray for forgiveness and repent, make certain our pastors receive double honor, pray for our pastors and ministries, and rebuke with love and gentleness when necessary.

Bill Newton
Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God World Publications' board of directors.

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