Monday, January 12, 2009

Pastors are Sometimes Unaware

Back during the presidential campaign, I commented on how the candidates answered a question posed to them by Saddleback pastor Rick Warren: "How do you define 'rich'?" I acknowledged at the time that the question of whether or not one considers one's self to be "rich" is a bit fluid, and that oftentimes, "rich" is defined simply as "anyone with more money than you have." Even so, I found some of answers given to that question to demonstrate a deep disconnect with the realities that most Americans experience, in terms of their own economic well-being.

The Jesus Creed blog brought this survey to my attention, which seems to demonstrate a related disconnect as pertains to pastors (I don't know if Rick Warren himself was a part of this survey, which seems to be limited to Southern Baptist churches, but note that Saddleback is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention). Basically, only 25% of the pastors (all senior pastors of their churches) responded that they believed that members of their own congregation held "a significant amount of personal debt."

Now, to give these pastors a bit of wiggle room, I see no indication that the word "significant" is actually defined. So, although it is easily demonstrated that Americans do in fact, have increasing levels of debt, if "significant" ends up being defined as some politicians defined "rich," one can say pretty much whatever one wants without fear of being proven wrong.

Even so, this survey is potentially a cause for concern, or perhaps (being a bit more optimistic) a wake-up call. While I would never advocate for pastors being given direct access to parishioners' financial data, if we expect pastors to be able to effectively lead those in their care through the highs and lows of life, it really is essential that they have a basic understanding of the kinds of struggles that everyday people face. And for an increasing number of us, that unfortunately does include the fact that we're spending more than we're taking in.

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