Exposing 5 Top Preacher Myths
February 18, 2014
Preacher Myth #5: “You don’t pay taxes on your income, right?”
Answer: “Have you lost your frakkin’ mind? Of course I pay taxes. However, some ministers took an option often referred to as “opting out” on social security due to religious reasons. The key is you can only opt out of paying social security tax and it only counts for ministerial income. This means some preachers have ‘double-dipped’ over the years. They did not pay in social security taxes on their ‘preaching money’ but held a secular job on the side and used that to make sure they were able to still draw it.
How do I know this has happened? Please. I’ve had this conversation numerous times with people who have done it. Many of them regretted it because they found themselves retiring from their ‘secular job’ a bit too soon to draw full social security. If you’re interested in finding out how to do this craziness and you’re a minister, then go here and may God have mercy on your foolish soul.”
Preacher Myth #4: “You can get your student loans forgiven under those new fangled loan forgiveness programs like everybody else, right? I read somewhere if you work for a 501(c)3 (nonprofit organization) you can have them forgiven.”
Answer: Ahh, you’re thinking of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Things get a bit tricky here. You see, technically I do not work for a 501(c)3. While I receive a W-2, no taxes are withheld so I must pay ALL OF them on my own. (Yes, unlike people in “normal” jobs I don’t have an employer pay half my taxes. The full amount comes directly from me.) This means according to the IRS and PSLF folks I’m considered self-employed.
Even if I did happen to work for a religious 501(c)3 where I had taxes withheld from my check, religious workers are held under these guidelines:
“You must meet your employer’s definition of full-time. However, for Public Service Loan Forgiveness purposes, that definition must be at least an annual average of 30 hours per week. For purposes of the full-time requirement, your qualifying employment at a not-for-profit organization does not include time spent participating in religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing.“
Note the part I emphasized. This could mean that even if I taught a religious course full time at an institution it could be construed that I do not qualify for this type of loan forgiveness. It’s all on my head.
Preacher Myth #3: Preachers and Pastors should visit the sick without being asked.
Answer: Nope. I’ve been in ministry on and off for over twenty years. Some people want you to visit them and some do not. Preachers are NOT psychic (and you ought to be glad about that!) and don’t know who would like a visit and would not like a visit.
The easiest and best way is to let your pastor/preacher know you’d like a visit or have a close family member ask them to visit. Do not be surprised if your pastor is like me and says, “Hey, I don’t know them that well. Would you please come with me? Otherwise, it might feel awkward.”
Yeah, I said it. We’re human. We feel awkward visiting strangers just like the rest of you.
Preacher Myth #2: Preachers should not have doubts or questions about their faith. They should have it all lined out before they get into the pulpit.
Answer: This is a fairly common mistake. In fact, it’s a mistake made by many preachers and pastors. Too often, ministers have walked around in self-assured confidence believing every word they’ve spoken from behind the pulpit was the infallible, inspired word of God. Sorry, to burst any bubbles but preachers get it wrong.
Any good minister should always be growing and learning. Doubt and struggle play an important role in our lives as people of faith and we should always be willing to wrestle with it. Question and grow. That’s the way it works.
One caveat for all of my progressive friends. Please don’t let doubt become your deity. Don’t be willing to wrestle with doubt to the point you’ve forgotten to rest in Christ.
Now, no drum roll for number one. It’s the most obvious one.
Preacher Myth #1:
“Hey, you preachers only work one day a week, right? Oh, wait, two because of those mid-week services?”
Answer: “Do you want me to slap you upside your head?”
Seriously, I said that to a young man when I was in my mid-twenties when he told me he wanted to be a preacher for this very reason. He didn’t realize I was holding down a full-time job and working “part-time” at a local church as an associate pastor while helping my wife finish college. I think this boy was about 18 or 19 and he recoiled at the level of anger and frustration which poured out from me.
That memory still makes me smile.
Now, let’s get serious here. There have always been tremendous demands on a preacher’s time. I’ve seen this demand cause marriages to become cold and stale and/or fall flat apart…and this was before the common usage of the Internet we have today.
Let’s face it, we live in the information age. People who used to expect to get in touch with preachers at a reasonable hour are not afraid to text, call, tweet, IM, Facebook, or contact you in a half-dozen other ways any time day or night. Many expect you to respond immediately. I’ve seen people get downright mean because you didn’t notice their prayer request for that ingrown toenail they posted at 2AM.
So, here is my personal run down. I don’t know about all the preachers out there but I know I spend at least 20-30 hours a week studying for sermons. Now, this studying does include reading normal news and staying up on what’s going on in the world around me. Preachers need to be aware of what’s happening. Now, this may sound like a lot for someone who only preaches 20-30 minutes a week, right? (I generally speak two to three times a week in different contexts so it requires a bit more for me. I want to be able to switch gears well and personalize the message for each group.)
My rule of thumb is one hour of study for one minute of preaching. In a world where anyone can google what you’re preaching on, you must make sure you’ve done your studying and you have correct information. That’s right, no urban myths should be spouted from the pulpit as fact. So, aspiring preacher, don’t quote The Onion as if it were true. Please…don’t. I will hurt you.
It’s also important to get out into the world. Seriously, go out and meet people in general. I’m not talking about evangelism or anything of that nature. Just listen to people’s stories. Make new friends. You’ll find this is an essential part of preaching because, without it, your stories get stale and there is no new life breathed into them. Part of what I do is go out looking for God’s story in the world around me. Sometimes this story makes me happy and allows me to share something beautiful. Sometimes just the opposite happens. There are stories filled with pain and hurt which need to be shared as well. In the end, you may find yourself giving someone Christ or, if you’re really fortunate, find someone giving you a bit of Christ into your own life.
There is also a certain amount of visitation to be done. Continuing Education should occur often. Spiritual disciplines should be practiced. Meeting and getting to know folks in the community should occur. Plus, there is a level of counseling that occurs many don’t realize. You might be surprised at how often people who are not members of a congregation you serve seek you out and ask for guidance. Most of these folks aren’t connected to any church at all and you find yourself the only contact they have. This is a good thing and shouldn’t be avoided but it does take time.
There is also the schmoozing. Pastor/Preachers are expected to schmooze a certain amount in the community. Personally, I don’t mind it. I get to walk in there with my earrings in and clerical collar on. If they can handle that then I’m obviously in the right place. (And, more often than not, I’m in the right place)!
Oh, and please don’t let me get started about the committees, paperwork, planning, and staffing of a local church. You’ll just make me sad.
So, there you go. 5 myths about preaching and preachers your probably didn’t want to know. If you read this far, God bless you and say a prayer for me and all those others out there doing what they love.
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