By John Hall
Nine years ago, Darrel and Kim Auvenshine helped found Southside City Church in Fort Worth. The congregation primarily serves the impoverished, the down and out and the homeless.
Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, Pastor Darrel pours his heart into the lives of others. He’s a networker, counselor, pastor and encourager. He’s the guide who continually points people to Christ, the man who seeks to meet everyone’s needs. Except his own.
Darrel and his wife always put others first, stretching their finances thin to improve the lives of others. Then the bivocational pastor lost his job outside the church shortly after his wife resigned her teaching position due to health issues. Medical bills piled up. The Auvenshines’ financial situation became so bleak that they moved into True Faith Community, the same housing the pastor often refers homeless individuals to.
“Our church serves the poor,” Darrel said. “That’s why we were planted. Admitting that we were in need was tough. What I had to do is what I encourage other people to do – live in community.”
An email from Texas Baptists arrived in Darrel’s inbox describing a new program made possible by a Lilly Endowment grant designed to help financially struggling ministers. Darrel immediately asked for more information.
Darrel’s situation isn’t unique. Ministers often put themselves last and that affects them and their families financially. According to an Evangelical Pastor Study conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals, 90 percent of pastors feel some level of financial stress in their family and church work. Seventy-six percent of pastors know others who left the ministry as a result of financial pressures. Nearly one-third of pastors work second jobs to make ends meet.
That’s compounded by the fact that about 60 percent of pastors do not receive health insurance or retirement funds from their respective churches.
“There are a lot of situations and reasons that a pastor can have financial challenges, and we are here to help them work through them” said Tammy Tijerina, grant specialist in the Texas Baptists Center for Ministerial Excellence. “We encourage pastors to visit our website to determine the best course of action for them and their families, whether applying for the grant, visiting with a pastoral financial advocate or attending a regional financial retreat with a member of their laity.”
“We want our pastors to know they are not alone. Our prayer is that the position and calling of the pastorate would be esteemed highly in love by the church. It is also our prayer that the church–pastor relationship would be one of love, support and unity.”
The convention grant program connects pastors with financial advisors where they discuss ways to cut expenses and increase income. A church leader and the pastor also attend a financial seminar that discusses the role of the church in meeting the needs of pastors.
“There was never a point where I felt like someone was looking down on me because I was struggling financially,” Darrel said. “There was never a point I felt like they were going to chastise me or make a spectacle of my need. There was such high integrity in the process. It brings a level of freedom that we need to be able to receive the blessing.”
The convention offers a matching grant that can range from $500-$5,000 for pastors if they can find matching funds from their church, family or other sources.
“All of a sudden, here’s $5,000 we weren’t counting on,” Darrel said. “We applied all $5,000 to high interest debt. It didn’t get us out of debt, but it moved us to a place where we can move into a spending and savings plan where in a few years we can be debt free.”
The sense that his family is moving in a positive financial direction is freeing, according to Darrel. It allows him to focus on ministry and his family without financial stress weighing on his mind.
“One of the things the program does is it empowers from the constant burden of how am I going to pay for this?” Darrel said. “It’s difficult to minister fully if I’m stressed financially.”
The Texas Baptists program has changed the way Darrel views God’s provision. Money is still tight for the couple, but they see God’s generosity all around them.
“One of the things God is teaching us and was initiated through this process is God’s provision for our family doesn’t always come in the form of a paycheck,” Darrel said. “We needed a car. There was a time where we needed transportation. Someone has given us use of a car. One time, someone gave us dozens of eggs that have provided for our family. There’s been times when someone gives groceries for families in need and Kim and I have been a family in need.”
“It’s really been a great journey for Kim and I,” Darrel said.
That report brings great joy to Tijerina and all connected to the program. The Lilly Endowment grant was developed based on the concept that healthy communities come from healthy churches and healthy churches are led by spiritually, emotionally and financially healthy pastors.
“For our grantees, our prayer is that after they complete the grant requirements, we see them more hopeful, more peaceful and closer to God – this can be easily observed in responses such as Darrel’s – to share his story to encourage us all in what God can do with one small step.”