…that can’t get any respect. I can’t think of the last time I heard a pastor say anything positive about the fact that he lived in the parsonage. Maybe never. I don’t see data on it but church-owned housing seems to have been declining for a long time. Younger pastors are aghast at the idea of being tied to the church by living in a house owned by the church.
Each of the churches I pastored had a parsonage and my family and I lived in it because that was the only option available. For the two rural churches I pastored the only way the pastor could live on the church field, where his members lived, was to move into the parsonage. My first church owned an old house with a huge front yard. They improved it and took care of it. It was located a couple of hundred yards from the church and it was not obvious that it was “the preacher’s house.” Thus, there wasn’t much of an issue with strangers stopping by or members being insensitive to the privacy of their pastor or his family. So far as I know, the current pastor (and this is over three decades past when we moved to another church) lives in the house.
My second church had a modern, new, large house. It was next to the church and the church was proud that they could have a house for their preacher and family that was generally better than houses in which most of the members lived. The house was the third generation parsonage, the church moving up to bigger and better housing each time. Once when on a mission trip in Africa, I took a copy of the church directory to show national Christians in the churches where I was preaching. They found the picture of the parsonage and were quite taken with what a huge mansion it was. Bad move by me to display that to people some of whom still lived in wattle and daub houses. Alas, the current pastor of this church refused to live in the house and the church made an arrangement for him to commute, sometimes staying in the house but mostly not. Local church autonomy at work here.
My small town church had a parsonage that was in poor shape because they did not expect to keep the house indefinitely. Why spend money on it? Before I came they made a commitment to sell it and pay me a cash housing allowance where I could buy my own house. The arrangement didn’t have deadlines but was rather open ended. Thankfully, one deacon took the lead in moving the church to pay me a cash allowance. The house was rented for a time and then sold.
In the meantime, my family and I had to live in it (we lived in the house about six years) and stuff needed to be done. Stuff got done. The transition to the housing allowance was smooth. I built a house in the community and didn’t have to move when I retired. And…brethren and sistren…I have equity which is the big issue about living in someone else’s house.
Sometimes churches have difficulty in seeing the matter of the parsonage from the perspective of their pastor. After all, it was likely a big advance for the church to have a parsonage where their pastor could live for free. The acquisition of a parsonage probably went along with the church going “full time.” It was a victory for the congregation, an occasion when they felt a sense of accomplishment. And their beloved pastor got to live in a free house.
Well, sort of free. The humble parson has to pay Social Security SECA taxes on the fair rental value of the house. He pays no mortgage, no taxes, no insurance on the house but the SECA taxes probably amount to several hundred dollars a quarter. The church can factor that into his cash compensation but probably doesn’t. I tried to educate every finance committee, every deacon board, and the congregation in general on the realities of living in that free house.
- It wasn’t exactly free because of the tax on the FRV
- It wasn’t free because it robbed me of accumulating equity in the house
- It triggered what was perhaps the biggest concern for the pastor and family: What would he do, where would they live, when he retired or left the ministry?
- There are costs associated with being next to the church building, lack of privacy and constant availability.
All that said, I didn’t have any huge problems living in the lowly parsonage. Church folks were considerate, helpful, and supportive. They were also understanding when it came time to get out of the parsonage business. Thank the Lord for all that. Others tell me their experiences are not quite so positive.
For established churches (churches that are old, mature, and have been through several generations of members), seems to me that it is more difficult to see the burden that the parsonage is to the pastor and his family. Many of the members may still think of how great it is for the pastor to have a “free” house in which to live because Brother Bubba was so happy to have a house back in the 1950s. Some effort to educate the church is always in order. I would make the point in leadership meetings that every one of the deacons was accumulating equity while in their own house, that I was not, and that I faced the largest expense (and probably the largest indebtedness) of my life when I retired.
If you don’t want to live in a church with a parsonage, then (a) don’t go there, or (b) insist on not living in it and receiving a cash allowance. Don’t get there and complain about it.
Most of the leaders understood this and were sympathetic and open to options to address it. It may be that the church doesn’t expect the pastor to stay indefinitely and a short term pastorate is what is best for all. You come. You stay in the house. You move on to a larger church and buy your own house. Unfortunately, we cannot all be large and megachurch pastors. Most SBC churches are quite small, actually.
If there is no option to the parsonage then the pastor should have some long term plan for housing. To spend decades living in parsonages and then expect some housing miracle when you retire is unrealistic. It’s the pastor’s fault if he is unprepared for this.
We’ve all got our stories. Let’s hear yours.
And, who calls you the “parson?” Why do you, then, live in a “parsonage.” You’re a pastor, right? Therefore, you live in a “pastorium.” Sounds better, anyway.