It was a beautiful spring, Sunday morning. Pastor Steve and his family were settling into the church parsonage, and Steve was excited with anticipation as he prepared to preach his first sermon to his new church family. The parsonage was right next door to the church, and so there was no need to rush. His wife had just brewed a fresh brewed pot of coffee, and had poured Steve his morning cup. Their two boys were still yawning as they made their way to breakfast. Then, without even knocking, and without warning, Janice came walking through the front door. You can imagine the stunned surprised look that came over Steve’s face. Why is this lady walking into their house uninvited? So Steve did what any person would do once they picked their jaw up from the floor. He asked Janet why she just walked into the house without even knocking. “The church owns this parsonage, and I have given a lot to the church, and so it’s our house. I don’t need to knock to go into our house.

Fortunately, most pastors don’t have situations quite like this when living in the parsonage. Although, many find this not to be too far off. It’s not so much the action, but the mindset that is common

Parsonages can have their advantages, but they also have their disadvantages. Just as pastors owning their own home can have advantages and disadvantages.

Some advantages to having a parsonage include a faster transition for an incoming pastor. The average tenure for a pastor is less than 5 years, and so constantly having to wait for a pastor to sell his current house, and then find a new house, can be challenging. Also, a church owned property is tax exempt, which means no property taxes for the pastor. Further, the maintenance costs associated with owning a house are placed on the church, and thus freeing the pastor from this burden

Now for a few disadvantages to owning a parsonage. The maintenance to maintain the property can be a costly expense for the church. Especially if running a tight budget, or even a deficit. Conflict can also arise. After all, whose home is it? The churches or the pastor’s? If a pastor would like to make the parsonage their home, do they need to get improvements approved? Who is going to pay for it? I have seen pastors pour thousands of dollars of their own money into improving the parsonage, only to have none of the equity when they leave. And what about having boundaries? Everyone likes their privacy, and even if people are aware of this need, having a pastor “on campus” can make it difficult to not infringe upon the pastor, and his family’s privacy. The parsonage becomes everyone’s house. And lastly, incoming pastors may simply prefer to own their own home. If a pastor is living in a parsonage, he is not building up equity that will be vital come retirement years.

Now what about the pastor owning his own home? A few of the disadvantages might include the church having to pay the pastor a higher salary. In fact, between having to pay property taxes and maintenance costs, the salary a pastor is paid is often too low. They constantly need to cut corners and place necessary repairs on hold. Also, a pastor can own his own home, but any equity can easily be lost if the market is down during the transition time. And if a pastor is not one to stay for 10+ years, paying for realtor fees and closing fees can quickly eat away at the equity. The rate of return on the house may not be justified when including all the costs.

Lastly, here a few advantages to a pastor owning his own home. If a pastor serves at the church for an extended period of time, equity can build up and set a pastor up nicely for housing after retirement. Further, owning their own home can serve as an “escape” from the drama that comes with shepherding a church. People have issues, and it’s not healthy if a pastor is exposed to it 24/7. Plus, a pastor can decorate and renovate their home to their liking. There is no need for approval from the entire congregation to change the color of the living room walls.

An important thing all churches need to take into consideration is, what happens when a pastor retires? Where is he, and his family, going to live? Have they, or the church, been able to set aside money specifically for housing – let alone retirement? It’s good to look after our pastors and their families today, but we also need to look after their tomorrow. They pour their heart into loving upon the church body and the community, and serving God to the best of their ability. They sacrifice much. But do we look after them like we should? Don’t get me wrong, some churches do, but many do not. We know this because we see pastors on a regular basis, searching for answers as they approach retirement. Unfortunately, the answers they get, are not what they were hoping for.

A couple final notes regarding housing for pastors. If a pastor is living in a parsonage, the church can designate a housing allowance if the pastor is paying for utilities, repairs, furnishings or other eligible expenses. Further, pastors may be able to use money from a 403(B) for housing expenses without incurring any tax liability. To find out more about this tax break, we encourage you to talk to an accountant who is familiar with clergy tax laws.

Mark Etting

Author Mark Etting

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