Not at all sure what came into your mind when headlines started about ‘ministers expenses’, but I guess I was not alone in having various thoughts about our kind of ‘ministers expenses’. After all, it is almost guaranteed to be one of those emotive issues – even if many find it difficult to have a sensible conversation about them. I often ask questions about such things and have heard enough replies from Ministers and deacons to realise it’s a subject, which evokes strong feeling.
Of course, one thing where we’re at the other end of the scale from the present headlines is in the area of who determines the rules! In the church, it is not unusual for it to be such a challenge for a Minister to be paid expenses for anything (everyone seems to have an opinion and the easiest route is to pay nothing) they give up. Add into this the present financial crisis and even if it’s not an obviously direct issue for a particular local church, it seems to be reason enough to avoid the issue. One of the big problems when deacons talk about ‘what should we do’ is individuals voice their opinion on the basis of their own experience (invariably people seem to feel hard done by and, therefore, 'why should the Minister.....' This can work well for a Minister if she has a group of deacons who have expenses paid a la Westminster, but hardly positive if half are out of employment, or non wage earners. Having said that, the two Churches I've worked for have been good models and I have no personal complaints in this area (OK, one or two!)
My own feeling is that regional and national bodies should be able to set models of good practice. Some of you will be able to imagine my annoyance when being interviewed to become an Area Superintendent I heard no book allowance was paid by BUGB. ‘How, therefore, can we encourage Churches to pay a book allowance for their Minister then, I asked?’ (HM supported Churches now insist it’s part of the package). There seemed to be a culture, which suggested Regional Ministers, as we’re now called, don’t read, or needn’t keep abreast of current thinking, etc. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to make a good case when we become a Regional Association for book allowances. (I subscribe to Rowland Croucher’s ‘a leader is a reader’ school of thought).
Having nailed my colours to the mast in terms of books, I’m not quite as daft as to expect every Minister to learn best in such a way (I don’t understand why not, but that’s the way it is and I’m always amazed at actually how little most Minister’s do actually read – maybe cos they don’t get a book allowance!) However, when people start talking about the Church buying equipment or software, or paying for a Conference, or travelling somewhere it can be an even bigger issue.
Ministers expenses? – in the context of the credit crunch, it would be easy to cut them, but when it comes to development and growth of our Minister’s I would suggest it is the best value for money investment any Church can make.