No Small Calling: Livin’ In A Parsonage, Part 2

After posting your resume various places and daily asking God to lead you to the right place of ministry, you receive a call. It’s from Bob, head of the search committee at First Baptist No-Place-You’ve-Ever-Heard-Of. In your conversation, you learn that the church has about 50 people and the town has about 1500. The compensation package won’t be large, but it does include a parsonage.  How does this detail–the inclusion of a parsonage–affect your investigation into God’s leading?

I know some people where a parsonage would be a deal-breaker, but simply refusing to consider a church that offers a parsonage is a mistake. There are reasons to be cautious and to keep your eyes open, but having a home provided to your family can be a great blessing as well, as long as you are moving into a healthy situation.

So how does a pastor recognize what situations to avoid? How does he establish and maintain a healthy situation long-term? Here are three things to consider before you take the position and three guidelines for once you move in.

Three considerations to make before taking the position:

1 – Consider the practical advantages of a parsonage

A church offering a parsonage puts themselves in a much better position to provide an adequate living for you and your family. Removing mortgage payments, property taxes, and home insurance from your budget makes a huge difference. My teaching salary before we moved was well over $10,000 higher than my current salary, but the money on which we live is roughly the same. A church without a parsonage may have to come up with as much as $20,000 more per year to provide the same standard of living.

Small towns often have cheap real estate (although that’s not always true), so the reality could be that your mortgage payment will be small. The problem is that prices are low because demand is low. Knowing when it is time to move forward to another place is once of the most difficult things to discern in ministry. Pastors with a parsonage are free to hear God’s voice without distraction from the financial snares of a house that won’t sell.

Time is also a factor. When the church provides the house, there is no delay on getting moved in once the call comes. Churches usually also provide for repairs and maintenance, which relieves the pastor of both time and money spent on the house.

2 – See the house early in the process

It is important to come and look at the house the first time you visit the town (which should be well before you come in view of a call). Both pastor and wife should imagine living in that home, thinking about filling it out with your family and possessions. Can you imagine yourself calling this home?

Look carefully at the condition of the home; it is a reflection on how the church will treat you and how they steward their resources. A poorly maintained home betrays an attitude that gives little value to the pastor and his family. A home that has been lovingly updated and made ready shows love and anticipation.

3 – Consider the location

The ideal is for the parsonage to be close to the church (within reasonably comfortable walking distance or a few minutes’ drive), but not on the church grounds. Many of the horror stories passed around by pastors when it comes to parsonages are stories of terrible breaches of privacy. A church member is more likely to feel entitled to unlimited access, to come knocking at any time, or even just walk right in, if the home shares the church parking lot.

Although most people in town will know where the pastor lives regardless of the location, your home is less likely to be treated as an extension of the church office if you live in a neighborhood. Sharing a fence with others, then, means fewer interactions with passing panhandlers and more interaction with actual neighbors. Your home is also less visible to critical and judgmental eyes, watching your coming and going, who is visiting and for how long, or even how late or early the lights come on.

Again, even a home on the church grounds is not an automatic deal-breaker, either. I know people who have had no substantial issues even living in a home on church grounds. But being aware of potential issues helps you to better manage expectations and your home life once you make the move.

Three guidelines once you move into your new home:

1 – Establish expectations and boundaries

A pastor leaves the parsonage, walking across the parking lot early Sunday morning to prepare for worship. His wife begins to get ready for church by getting into the shower. She comes out of the shower (in a robe, thankfully) only to find a deacon walking in the front door. He had keys, and, well, he was trying to get an early start on setting up for his Sunday school class that met in the pastor’s kitchen.

This true story is an extreme example of crossed boundaries. Some churches treat the parsonage as an extension of the church building, assuming it to be accessible for church functions, for drop-ins at any time of day, and so on. This culture creates a situation where the pastor has “office hours” even when he’s at home, and where the wife and family are under constant pressure to keep the home perfectly tidy and ready for whoever might drop in. Church members in these churches will feel entitled to oversee the property, either explicitly or implicitly setting restrictions on what the pastor’s family can do to make the house a home, such as paint, decorate, landscape, and keep pets.

Once you have moved in, it is important to establish the parsonage as a separate space for you and your family. It is advisable to work from the church office during regular office hours, rather than from your home, giving people an opportunity to speak to you at appropriate times. If you sense that boundaries are an issue, it may also be wise to avoid using your home as a meeting place for official church gatherings, like small group Bible studies, as well.

2 – Communication is paramount

Good communication can help you set boundaries in a way that does not create awkward situations or unnecessary offense. If people are intruding in inappropriate ways, effective, polite communication can usually solve the issue. Communicate any major changes you plan to make to the property, such as painting, installing permanent fixtures, or cutting down trees or shrubs.  Be willing to compromise if there is push-back, but firmly and graciously mark out the parsonage as a private home for you and your family.

Communication is also important when it comes to the condition of the house. Accidents happen, and you’ll probably break something before long.  Be quick to communicate the problem and how you expect to take care of it. Be sure to tell the appropriate people about problems that need repair, clearly indicating what is urgent and what can wait. Tell the people who have the responsibility to fix the issue, but do not complain to anyone else.

3 – Use your home as a tool for ministry

We as Christians recognize that we are all just stewards of our possessions, and the fact of church ownership just reinforces that truth for a pastor living in a parsonage. It is a good idea to pray a consecration prayer over your home when you move in, offering it to the Lord for his purposes.

The way you open your home to others should serve as an example for the congregation for how to be hospitable, which is, in fact, a biblical requirement for pastors (see Titus 1:8). If you are too careful to guard your home as a private refuge, you can go to the other extreme of never letting anyone in. People should not feel entitled to your home, but they should feel welcome–both church members and people in the community.

There are many aspects of pastoring in a small town that might take some getting used to, and living in a parsonage is one of them. But like many other peculiarities of small town church life, a parsonage can often be a great blessing. Evaluate the situation as best you can in the search process, then receive the opportunity with thanksgiving as you fulfill God’s call to reach and shepherd the people of your community.

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