A Conversation with the Rev. Zack Jackson
The Rev. Zack Jackson, Pastor, Open Table UCC in Pottstown, PA, a participant in the Ministers’ Financial Vitality Initiative, shares his financial journey and explores the realities of money and sustaining ministry.
I was introduced to the concept of debt pretty early in life. From an early age I was told, “Don't worry about it, get into a good college, and worry about your grades. Take out the loans, it'll all work itself out in the end.”
That kind of wisdom made sense for a certain generation when schools didn't cost quite as much, and where you can work a summer job and then pay for your semester. Today, of course, you need to work for a decade to pay for your semester. What I didn't understand was how shackling debt can be. My wife and I came into our marriage with a good amount of credit card debt. There are times when we need to use the credit card to pay for groceries, because we're taking jobs that are paying well below what our peers are getting paid, yet we are still living in the same economy.
Yes, my wife and I both participate in the MFVI program. We connected with a financial advisor who took a long, long look at our overall financial picture and our bank statements. The advisor helped us figure out which debt was most pressing to pay off first. He had us tackle our debt by interest rates, focusing on consumer debt first, while those giant albatrosses (student loan debt) just continued to circle around.
One of the things I appreciate about the MFVI program is how much it trusts the clergy, and how much we are treated like adults. A lot of the debt programs that I've experienced treat you like a child or like a bad boy who should not have made those choices. I’ve felt respected with MFVI. You get out of it what you put into the program. I appreciate the trainings. They have been diverse in topic. Certainly, the incentive money has enabled us to pay off our debts and move forward into this new chapter of our lives. It's also been helpful to connect with colleagues and walk with them through the program.
It's huge, nobody talks about it. We all assume that we're the only ones struggling. In reality, so many of my colleagues are struggling one way or the other. Those who work full-time have been forced to pick up part-time work. They might be driving an Uber or doing things on the side to make ends meet, especially those with children. It’s been a big conversation that we need to bring out of the darkness.
Yes, we're running on grants. Our main funding comes from the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, on which we've been able to function for the past year and a half. We’ve also been able to grow and imagine what the church could be.
Ten years ago, the Conference had a beautiful missional forethought—that when churches close and they give money to the conference, they are giving money to sustain that congregation in the spirit in which it was given in the first place. That was the way the first year of our church was funded. We also applied for the New and Renewed Churches Grant through the national church; we received a grant from Neighbors in Need; and we’re looking into other Pension Boards’ grant programs.
If you are feeling shackled down by debt and you’re not able to live into your fullness, I would encourage you to take advantage of the programs that the Pension Boards is providing. There are quite a few of them— not just MFVI— that are really helpful for moving clergy towards financial independence.
Rev. Zack Jackson is one of the pastors of Open Table UCC in Pottstown, PA. He believes in the power of the scientific method and is constantly in awe of the reality that we find ourselves in. He is a follower of Jesus and a big fan of the Bible that documents humanity’s beautifully flawed history with God. He enjoys podcasting, baseball, guitar, old video games, and exploring new wilds with his beautiful family.