Top Ten Money Tips for Youth Ministers
“The best way to get rich while serving a grand purpose is to become a youth minister.” - Said no one ever
Let’s face it, if you’re a new youth minister the benefits are great. Purpose, built in community, flexible job schedule, and endless opportunities for creativity. Sounds like a dream job, right? The statistics say otherwise. According to payscale.com, the median income for a youth pastor in America is $36,278. Josh Griffin, prominent youth minister and blogger, found that the average youth minister has been at the same church for just under four years. Changing jobs ever few years and making $36k sounds like everyones dream job, right? Probably not.
But it’s not about money, right? Didn’t Jesus say a bunch of stuff about trusting God for sustenance and how money is the root of all evil and stuff? Unfortunately I usually hear this from people in other professions. Because you know, Jesus really only meant that stuff for people who are paid ministers. Not bankers, teachers, and business owners. God wrote Proverbs about wise financial management for them. They get a pass on the trusting God part.
I absolutely believe that God has provided throughout my life. I also believe that I can make wise financial decisions in the midst of trusting God.
Seven years ago I began my first full time youth ministry job with passion, a vision for serving teens in our community, and over $80,000 in debt. Cecily and I were blessed to discover Dave Ramsey and the concept of a debt free life at the same time which led to us crushing our debt in two and a half years. This financial journey and my seven years in youth ministry has given me some insight I wish I had at the beginning of my youth ministry career. I believe that these tips, in addition to trusting God and relying on the Christian community, can bring you joy, balance, and security for longevity in youth ministry.
Top Ten Money Tips for Youth Ministers
“Every discipline has its corresponding freedom.” Richard Foster makes this statement in his book Celebration of Discipline. Unfortunately, Youth Ministers don’t have a reputation for discipline. I see this as a serious issue plaguing our profession. From a financial perspective, some discipline can result in longevity in your work. This directly corresponds to depth of relationships. Think about being able to invest seven, ten, or twenty years in a church community as a youth minister rather than four. That’s a game changer.
Give. One key takeaway from our Dave Ramsey journey was the idea that what you do with a little, you’ll do with a lot. Start small. If you don’t have enough money to tip well at a restaurant, you don’t have enough money to eat out. If you can’t buy the homeless guy outside Starbucks a drink, maybe you shouldn’t be buying your own. Do you give to your church? If not, you should. Hopefully you believe your church is doing some amazing things even beyond your work as a youth minister. If you can’t feel good about supporting your own church community, maybe you shouldn’t be there.
Save. Start your Roth IRA today. Yesterday, actually. The data for investing early in life and how it compounds over time is remarkable. If you set aside $5,500 per year in your Roth IRA beginning at age twenty five until the day you retire at sixty-five, you WILL be a millionaire. I’d love to see an entire generation of millionaire youth ministers. Think of the big way you could support your church’s ministry to teens as a sixty-five year old millionaire. Even better if you’ve been doing it all along (see tip #2). Don’t think you can come up with $5,500 per year? See tip #5 and #6. Don’t know what a Roth IRA is? Skip to #10.
Cut the crap (Netflix, cable, Ipsy subscription) and get on a budget. Think about how much money slips away without noticing it. That AAA subscription, Netflix, cable, coffee of the month, Ipsy, Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox, big cell phone plan, etc. etc. etc. There’s no shortage of opportunities to slowly drain away your money. The only way to avoid this is to sit down each pay period and create a written budget. That’s the easy part. Then you need to follow it. That’s the hard part. But look back to tip #1 if you need inspiration.
Double up on the work. A 2016 Neilson Company audience report found that the average adult spends 4 ½ hours per day watching TV or movies. That equates to 31.5 hours per week. That’s a ridiculous amount of time spent roasting your brain with ads talking you into spending money you should be putting into your Roth IRA. It is also a lot of time which could be spent bringing in some additional income. Youth ministry is flexible, but also time consuming. 50 hours a week is no surprise in our field. That still leaves a lot of hours open for a second job if you’ll cut out the media consumption. Find an early morning coffee shop gig. Sure, hitting the 6-9am shift at Starbucks four days a week may be tiring. But if you look back at tip #1 and can get into bed by 10pm, that’s seven and half hours of sleep. More than enough to prep you to handle a few hours serving Gibraltars and mentoring teens.
Don’t spend your money on your students. This is a tough one to accept and to implement. Many youth ministers receive little to no operating budget for their youth ministries. Fewer receive personal spending allowances for meals, travel, or conferences. In the midst of our passion to serve teens well, youth ministers often pull from our own pocket to buy a student’s lunch, pay for coffee, or pick up snacks for the lock in (please stop with the lock ins. If we band together, we can create a movement!). This is bad. It seems good. But it’s really bad. If you only make $36k per year, it’s likely that you’re struggling to buy coffee for your wife. I guarantee that taking your wife on a coffee date once a week will make you more effective and give you a longer life span in ministry than paying for a teen’s drink. If you cannot find security in your role, you will die. You’ll give up. You’ll find something else. Or, worst case scenario, you’ll become a preaching minister! This connects with tip #7.
Ask for what you need. If you don’t have a budget or need a bigger one, you’ve got to ask for it. More importantly, you have to envision it. Don’t tell your elders that you need money to pay for lunches with teens. Share your heart. Why do you need to go to lunch with students in the first place? What can one simple lunch/coffee/event do in the life of a student? If you’re like me, you’re in youth ministry because your life has been changed by a mentor and you want to share that experience with others. Share your vision for relationship building with elders. If it's real and well thought out, they’ll be asking you what you need to make it happen. That’s the time you can ask for more funding. Caveat: if the elders say no to your budget request, no big deal. Revert back to tip #6. Stick with it. But be creative, finding ways to spend time with students for free. Hikes, trail runs, photo scavenger hunts, intergenerational coffee dates at the home of elderly members of the congregation. I know, the coffee will be bad, but it will be free and your student will have a more meaningful experience hearing about how coffee was rationed during WWII.
Interview the church too. Most youth ministers are desperate for a job. I understand this, but would prefer that you work at Starbucks for a year or two before entering into a bad situation. Thus, remember that you are interviewing a church too when applying for a job. Ask them how they care for their ministers. If you’re being offered that $36k figure, ask about other benefits. Do they offer insurance and retirement? A sabbatical? Willingness to let you work a second job? Would they commit to a significant salary increase upon completion of your Masters degree? Working for a church is similar to entering into a marriage. The most fulfilling ones last a lifetime. You’d want to know a lot about someone before marrying them and you should go through the job interview process with the same discernment process.
Find a financial mentor. Most youth ministers know about mentorship. But often this is limited to spiritual or professional areas, not personal finance. Find someone in your congregation or community who has done well. No, I don’t mean the richest family at church. I mean the person who has real wealth: financial security, joy in their home/marriage/career, and the heart of a teacher. Sit with them and share about your goals in the financial area of life and ask for their wisdom. What would they do if they were in your situation? Don’t know where to start? Shoot me an email. I’d love to take time to talk with you, hear your goals, and share some of my big mistakes and successes.
Work with a financial advisor. In 2016, Harris Poll conducted a survey of 2,646 adults with an oversample of 620 millennials. 68% said they did not have a trusted advisor who offered comprehensive lifetime financial planning. At first glance, many may think that the low wage of youth ministers would mean there’s not much purpose in working with a financial planner. This is defeatist mentality. We all need support from people who know what they’re doing. A financial advisor with the heart of a teacher can walk through your goals and help you create a plan for the future. A good one won’t care how much money you make or how much they’ll make off working with you. If you don’t have one and don’t know where to start, reach out to mine. We’ve worked with Lana Stewart out of Denver for the past five years. She’s amazing and will take time to talk on the phone with you, hear your goals/dreams/plans, and help you move in the right direction regardless of whether you’re investing $500 per year or $50k per year. She also loves Jesus, which is cool. Lana Stewart9360 Station StSuite 475 Lone Tree, CO 80124 303-790-7412 email@example.com