August 19, 2013

Joys of Home Ownership

A blog called Desperate Preacher lists real-life horror stories of living in a parsonage. I never experienced desperation when I inhabited church-owned manses,* which were in the United States and abroad. But, I do feel that if a ministry family has the option of buying, rather than living in a manse, they should consider it. Having your own place can reduce your ministry stress levels.

More Freedom of Choice. Ministry, by necessity, limits some choices for the ministry family. Home ownership is one area where you can have more control. You may make certain decisions about your home's appearance and maintenance, without waiting for a committee decision or for a volunteer handy man to have enough spare time.

You can change things to reflect the way you want to live. For the house I own, I picked lime green for my front door, and it suits me just fine.

Less Thoughtless Requests. Ministry requires a high level of willing sacrifice and loving accommodation. But, some church members ask too much. Unthinkingly, they treat the manse like a public service center, especially when it is close to the church building. Having your own home a short distance away from the church cuts down on the requests for unlocking services, restroom facilities and a place to hang out while waiting for a ride home.  

Even though I am an advocate of offering hospitality and showing mercy, I think church members would be alarmed if surprise visitors stopped by their homes to ask for the same things they routinely request from the residents of the manse.

More Privacy. Ministry families need a haven where they can be themselves without fear of offending. Instead, the occupants of some manses have an uneasy feeling of being a guest in someone else's home. For them, a house or condo could provide a relaxing place that they call "home."

Lower expectations. Ministers expect to be evaluated on their faithfulness to the truth of the Bible and their loving concern for the flock. However, the ministry family should not have the added stress of being judged on the way they do or do not dust the furniture.

When the house belongs to the church, its members may feel entitled to unannounced inspections of their community property to make sure it is run the way they want it to be run. In addition, if the church is directly paying the pastor's heating and air conditioning bills, it might pass judgment on the temperature setting in the manse. Personal home ownership helps those in ministry avoid such pressures.

More financial security. Pastors retire. Pastors change churches. If they have equity in a home they own, they are able to buy another house in a new location.  This money is especially good to have when going to a new church that does not own a manse.

More emotional stability. Unfortunately, pastors are sometimes fired. Losing a job and the support of fellow Christians is hard enough without the pressure to move away with no income or home equity. The minister who lives in a manse has no claims on it once he is let go.

A pastor's wife, who lives in a manse, finds herself in a similar situation if her husband dies suddenly. She does have a caring congregation, but she needs a home, too. 

When church circumstances allow a pastor to buy his own home, he should seriously consider it. If nothing else, home ownership might keep the man's woeful story off the desperate preacher list. 

* Manse is a fancy Presbyterian word for parsonage. In spite of the way the word sounds, the actual house is not usually a mansion.


  1. When we moved to our current church, the church owned a manse, next-door to the church. They graciously gave us the option of living in the manse or buying our own home. We chose to buy. I know not everyone gets a choice, but I am very thankful for a place to call our own.

  2. Point well taken.

    Since I live in a manse, and am happy about that fact, I will offer the flip side to these arguments. Here are some positive aspects of living in a manse:

    1) Living in a manse allows the pastor to accept a lower salary than he would be able to otherwise. For a small church without many financial resources, this allows them to hire a pastor.
    2) Every worldly possession that we own entails care and maintenance. I enjoy having the deacons help us with the maintenance of our home. In the past 2 1/2 years, nearly all the large appliances in our manse have broken. The deacons have cheerfully and promptly replaced each and every one of these appliances with an even higher-quality version. This includes: washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, and (most recently) our oven. Lesser items that were also quickly replaced or repaired: mailboxes and a broken window. This care reduces our stress load, and our finances have not been affected by these major appliance replacements.
    3) A deacon keeps up the grounds. I know my husband is thankful for this on a weekly basis -- he does not have to take the time out of his own schedule to mow the lawn or do the landscaping.
    4) It is good to be reliant on the body of Christ. None of us are independent from each other, but it is easy to forget that. Living in a manse reminds me that my husband and I are dependent on an imperfect body of believers, and that our daily bread truly comes from the Lord. If we weren't in this place of dependence, we might be more prone to imagine that our daily bread comes from our own hard work or clever foresight.
    5) Not owning a home gives us freedom to move on if and when the Lord would have us do so.
    6) Not owning a home gives us a level of financial freedom. Growing up, I saw the strain that mortgage payments put on my parent's finances. Although my parents now live on a different continent, they continue to pay for a home to just won't sell. I have heard many stories like these. Another man we know is accepting financial help from various churches in order to continue making the payments on his home -- he and his wife both work full time (opposite shifts), and are barely making ends meet. When I hear stories like these, I thank the Lord that my husband and I don't have the financial responsibility of owning a home.
    5) The church is very generous to us. They tell us to take long showers and to set the air conditioner or heat to whatever temperature we want. We are responsible in these areas, as we would be in any case, but it is nonetheless encouraging to have the warm support of the church.
    6) The church gives me freedom to redecorate as I see fit. That is a lot of fun!

    1. Lydia, Thanks for sharing your positive manse experience. I realize that not everyone has the choice or the financial means to buy a house.

      In our situation, we learned dependence on the Lord where there was no church-owned manse and no money to buy our own house. God provided monetary gifts from family and a low-income, growing equity mortgage from the state. We are thankful.

  3. Patsy, I make a point of looking at your door each time I drive by. Your whimsical color choice not only makes me smile but also encourages me to be truer to my creative side. Thank you. Dee V.

  4. I have to say that I love the post and the comment by Lydia Jane. Two great viewpoints of "ministry mansions." We live in a parsonage that has been well taken care of and updated with kitchen, bath remodels, new carpeting, painting, air conditioning, windows and, most recently, new gutters. I have absolutely no complaints about how well we've been treated in our parsonage, and certainly no nightmares here!

    However, I miss owning my own home, and my husband and I are considering and seriously praying about purchasing a house if the church would work with us to give us our housing allowance. One thing that owning helps is the attitude that we're a real part of the community in which we're living, not just waiting to move on to the next thing. Renting, which is basically parsonage-living, isn't very permanent in most situations. The resale (should we be called away) is a big concern, but God is sovereign. We're waiting on Him, willing to accept His will. Thanks for another timely post!

    1. I saw other articles that mentioned being more a part of the community like you mentioned, Uptown Frog. I also think if we are buying a house and keeping it up, people in the congregation who have mortgages and houses to maintain can identify more closely with us.

  5. The post and the comment by Lydia both have valid points. I think for me, living in a manse that is old, has had some problems, and is not a house I would choose if given the choice, it boils down to my heart attitude. We don't have a choice in our husband pastors a small rural church that couldn't afford a housing allowance large enough for us to afford to buy. The church did a lot of work on the house before we moved in, and though I'm extremely thankful (the first time I saw the house, pre-renovation, I wanted to cry),there's much room for improvement.

    It's a heart issue for me. I have to make myself stop thinking about our previous house, which was the closest thing to a "dream house" I may ever inhabit. I have to make myself stop thinking about the small closets, musty unfinished basement, and put the "wish list" (all the improvements I wish could be done) aside. I have to remind myself that our earthly comforts are just that...earthly, temporary, and pale in comparison to the eternal things. I have to remind myself that the Lord is in complete control of our lives, and I need to actively and continually put my trust in Him and Him alone. And actively and continually look to Him for my contentment!!!

    1. I think you are onto something when you mention heart attitude. Even if we have a house that we can improve the way we want, we can still be jealous of others who have a bigger and better house. We can begrudge using the house for ministry and have a bad attitude. The heart is important in so many things.

    2. I agree with heart attitude being the issue. A house can easily become an idol or distraction for us....well, for me anyway. Often I wonder if God chose a parsonage for our family because my "house-idol" kept me from serving Him and growing as I should. (Seriously, I could write a book on house-worship.) And, when contentment in my circumstances becomes a problem, as it often does, I try to remember that this is the house that God hand-picked for me. Or I read the Hiding Place or a Tree Grows in Brooklyn again..... ;)


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