Brian Kluth knew money would be tight when he answered God’s call, walked away from his six-figure salary in 1999, and moved to Colorado Springs to serve as senior pastor of First Evangelical Free Church for $50,000 a year.

The congregation helped ease Kluth’s financial burdens by showering him and his family of five with open-handed generosity. Now Kluth is trying to duplicate this model in thousands of congregations across the country.

During his decade with the church, a doctor provided medical care, a lawyer offered estate planning services and one member provided funds for a car. Others provided weeks in vacation homes, use of a recreational vehicle, ski passes and ski rentals, airline points, gift cards for restaurants, child care, and tickets to Air Force Academy football games.

When Sandi, his wife of 28 years, was diagnosed with cancer, congregants stepped up to pay her medical bills, drive her to her chemotherapy appointments and comfort the Kluth family after her death.

“Great things happened to me while I was at First Evangelical Free Church,” says Kluth. “What they did locally, we’re now trying to do nationally.”

Kluth is the spokesman for the Bless Your Pastor campaign, launched this year by the National Association of Evangelicals and funded by a $1 million, three-year grant from the Lilly Endowment, which has long funded programs for pastors.

The campaign provides materials designed to help interested individuals, church boards, clergy and staff build congregations that care for those who care for them.

Information is available at BlessYourPastor.org. The association says it will send Amazon gift cards to the senior pastors of the first 1,000 congregations that take up a special offering for pastors.

“Bless Your Pastor is about people in the church sharing their time, talents and treasures to creatively bless their pastors and church staff members,” Kluth said.

Pastors hurting

In 2018, Louisiana televangelist Jesse Duplantis told supporters he needed a $54 million jet. In 2019, the Instagram account PreachersNSneakers started calling out megachurch pastors and worship leaders for wearing shoes that cost thousands of dollars.

But few pastors live so large.

According to a recent NAE survey of 4,400 pastors from 19 denominational groups, only 1% of American pastors serve congregations larger than 1,000 people. More than half of all American pastors serve churches of 100 people or less.

“The typical Christian assumes that if they put something in the collection plate, the pastor will be taken care of,” says Kluth. “But in fact, many pastors are hurting financially, and they suffer in silence.”

According to the association’s survey:

• 90 percent of pastors feel financial pressure.

• Nearly 60 percent of pastors receive no retirement or health care benefits.

• 50 percent work more than 50 hours per week for $50,000 in salary.

• The average church budget is $125,000 a year.

“The challenge is that pastors cannot talk about this,” says Kluth. “Many are humble, faithful, quiet servants who just cannot bring this up.

The Bless Your Pastor campaign launched in October to coincide with Pastor Appreciation Month, an initiative Focus on the Family has supported for a quarter-century.

Kluth encourages churches to bless pastors and staff any time of the year that works. For example, First Evangelical Free Church, a congregation of more than 300, continues its tradition of collecting an annual cash offering that is divided and given as Christmas gifts to the pastor and half-a-dozen staff members.

Kluth hopes the campaign will move people to exchange consumerist attitudes about church — “What can I get?” — for a more caring approach — “What can I give?”

“A thriving pastor leads to a thriving ministry,” he said in a recent interview.

Kluth acknowledges that First Evangelical Free Church “really excelled in a way that many churches don’t,” but he is hoping to reproduce their generosity..

“I believe it’s possible to see millions of acts of generosity and kindness that will bless pastors and church staffs across America in tens of thousands of churches.”

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