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Working for "Peanuts"

A pastor recalls his financial struggles as a young pastor living on a low salary.
Working for "Peanuts"
Image: tommaso79

The other day, I was listening to Thom Rainer’s recent podcast on “what to do if your church does not pay you adequately.” In it, Rainer’s cohost, Jonathan Howe, prompts him to tell a story about his early years in ministry, highlighting his financial struggles as a young pastor in Florida who received a low salary from his church.

"The compensation … that I was receiving for a family of five—and I know it was in the mid-to-late ’80s, so put that in perspective—but the full-time pay was $21,000 a year," says Rainer.

"That's peanuts, man," Howe replies.

"Even back then, that was peanuts,” says Rainer. “So I really, really was struggling. ... I had to actually sign out food from the food pantry."

In fact, things were so bad for Rainer and his family that his wife was “considering selling her plasma” just to make ends meet. “We sold everything we could sell in order to have enough funds just to support our family,” Rainer says, “even to the point of selling our high school class rings.” And when the mayor paid them a visit in their home, they had to sit on the floor; they had sold their furniture.

In Today’s Dollars

What we should note is that Rainer's income of $21,000 for a family of five in the mid- to late-1980s was certainly “peanuts,” yet he was still above the poverty threshold. During those years, the poverty threshold for a family of five was between $12,450 and $14,140.

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