Should pastors take up trades in these hard times?

Church leaders say there it is unwise to depend solely on tithes and offerings, which have dwindled in the last few months

Pastor Peter Musyoka Mathyakani (Left) of The New Apostolic Church

Television images of Peter Musyoka hawking boiled eggs and smokies on the streets of Mwingi Town early this month brought into sharp focus the issue of whether pastors should venture into business to supplement the income they get from church work.

The 38-year-old pastor, who is based at Mathyakani New Apostolic Church, said he resorted to hawking after his congregants stopped giving offerings and tithes when the government banned public gatherings, including church services, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The offerings were his main sources of income.

Before the ban was announced in mid-March, the father of six went home with Sh1,000 from offerings that included a sack of vegetables every Sunday. Now, on a good day, his hawking business makes a profit of Sh350, which is hardly enough to meet his family’s needs.  

Musyoka is not alone. Many other pastors, especially those with small congregations, are also grappling with financial difficulties at this time. However, church leaders interviewed by the SHEPHERD say nothing stops pastors from working with their hands to supplement their church work income.

Bishop Kepha Omae of Redeemed Gospel Churches says while it is scriptural for pastors to receive tithes and offerings for their upkeep, it is illogical to depend solely on this because apart from being preachers, they are also husbands and fathers.

“The onus is on us to feed, clothe and educate our families whether we are getting financial assistance from a church or not,” he states.

Regarding fulltime ministry, he says every believer is called to it. “God doesn’t want us to give Him half ministry but full service in every sphere of our lives including our careers. For pastors, I would advocate (the apostle) Paul’s model where he preached the gospel and occasionally worked with his hands to make tents.”

Bishop Kepha Omae

Omae says many American preachers understand that model. For example, Morris Cerullo runs the Morris Cerullo World Evangelism ministry, writes books, and owns a television station as well as residential buildings for rent, while TD Jakes, bishop of The Potter’s House mega-church, is also the CEO of TDJ Enterprises, a for-profit company started in 1995 that promotes his books, digital properties, music, plays, movies, conferences and festivals.

Omae says the pandemic is teaching gospel ministers to think outside the proverbial box because there’s nothing as frustrating and shameful as a pastor who is considered a bother.

“When church members realise you depend on what they give you, or when you keep asking them for financial assistance, they lose respect for you. Yes, they should give towards the work of the Church as the Bible instructs but that should not mean that you can’t survive without the offerings. That is what the biblical Paul saw happening and it led him to advise preachers to learn from him.”

Omae also says established church organisations may require pastors to work fulltime and so pay them a salary because of the workload. Still, such ministers should remember that employment comes with a time frame.

Bishop Jonah Obonyo of Cathedral of Praise Ministries (Copmi) says gospel ministers with ministries that are not connected to mainstream or established evangelical churches (which usually have salary packages for pastors) will no doubt struggle to cope with the current situation.

“They should do something with their hands and if married, even start businesses for their wives. Then when the ministry demands grow and a properly structured way of taking care of pastors is established, they can concentrate fully on the ministry,” he says.

Like Omae, he says gospel ministers should not depend on church members’ offerings because that lowers respect levels. “Once they know you can make it in life without their input, they’ll respect, honour and listen to your message with open hearts,” says Obonyo, who however does not do anything besides church work.

He explains: “I’ve tried my hand at business more than once but they have all flopped. God called me into ministry only and has faithfully provided for my daily needs. There are people called for ministry only and I could say they may be one out of ten. They are on heaven’s payslip and can never lack. I’m not boasting or belittling pastors who are in business besides their preaching responsibilities because people are called differently.”

He advises that when a divine calling doesn’t come with financial provision, the worker should also do something else instead of struggling in ministry to the point of getting depressed.

Pastor Martin Mwirigi of Nairobi Grace Chapel has been in business for many years while also running a church.

“I started out as a printer before venturing into car sales. Later I became a broker for land and building materials before buying two PSVs to ply the Nairobi-Kibwezi route. Then I bought a lorry and later an excavator,” he says.

But in 2015 he left it all behind to concentrate on his pastoral calling. “Even Paul did not make tents throughout. There was a time when he stopped because of the demands of his ministry, which then began to take care of his needs. That notwithstanding, even with a heavy workload, a minister can still run a business unless the Lord gives a clear direction not to. Better still, if your wife is jobless, start a business for her,” he advises.

In Copmi, Bishop Obonyo works with several pastors who are also in business. He says if any of them wants to transition into fulltime ministry like him, they should first hear from God because a preacher should not become a burden to a ministry and vice-versa.

Pastor Martin applauds Musyoka for starting a hawking business and prays that it will grow. “You cannot say you are a fulltime minister by sitting in a church office and waiting for people to pray for or preach to. Your children cannot eat ‘halleluiah’ and ‘amen.’ They need food on the table besides other necessities,” he says.

Early this month, Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit was quoted in the Daily Nation encouraging church leaders to find something to cushion them from the current hard economic times.

“I’ve urged the clergy to find other means of survival even as we pray that things get back to normal,” he said from his Narok County home where he had retreated to farm.

For Kenya Assemblies of God Secretary General Bishop Charles Owuor, the Covid-19 pandemic has offered gospel ministers vital lessons that will hopefully be relevant for decades to come, but he urges caution in decision-making during crises.

“Decisions made in times of crisis may not hold and could end up discouraging someone who has been truly called to ministry if his expectations are not met,” says Owuor, who is also a pastor in Kisumu County.

While he agrees that the pastoral calling does not hinder one from engaging in business, he encourages able Kenyans to help pastors in need for now.

How churches are helping needy shepherds

A number of churches have spelt out practical steps they are taking to cushion needy pastors from the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Kenya Assemblies of God has identified more than 1,100 so far – almost one-third of all the pastors in the organisation – and is giving them a monthly stipend for three months.

“We started giving them financial help at the end of April in addition to donating foodstuff. We are optimistic that by June end the pandemic will be over but if not, we will see what to do,” KAG Secretary General Bishop Charles Owuor told the SHEPHERD in a phone interview on May 11.

And in a Daily Nation interview on May 3, Bishop Philip Kitoto, the KAG General Superintendent, clarified that the pastors receiving support are located mainly in semi-arid areas (such as Turkana and West Pokot counties) and informal settlements all over the country.

In an effort to further ease the burden on its clergy, KAG has also struck off interest amounts on loans taken.

“Most KAG pastors are members of their denominations’ saccos. To mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on members who have taken loans, we have decided there will be no interest charged on loans for the next three months, and interest will move from 12 per cent to six per cent after the pandemic,” Kitoto said. 

The Redeemed Gospel Church has no structure in place yet. “We have not yet decided how best to go about that. What we are offering right now is needs-based assistance. We don’t want to open a door we may not be able to shut,” said Bishop Kepha Omae.

Bishop Jonah Obonyo revealed that needy pastors working with the Cathedral of Praise Ministries, especially in places affected by floods, were already benefitting from food donations. The needy pastors constitute between 10 and 15 per cent of the Church’s 100-plus pastors.

“We have encouraged church members to stand with their pastors in good and bad times. Now every local congregation is coming up with various ways of helping their pastors put food on the table so they do not become a burden to the head office, which also has other pressing needs,” Obonyo said.

In late April, the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK) launched a process to identify and assist needy pastors in Nairobi County. Speaking to the SHEPHERD in April, Bishop Peter Njao, who heads EAK Nairobi County – which has more than 4,000 member churches comprising about 1.6 million congregants – said the same process would take place in all the counties where EAK has a presence.