By John Greening
A concerned daughter recently conveyed a sad story to me regarding her dearly loved dad. He had served faithfully for years as a pastor on a limited salary, and the churches he had pastored had not made provisions for his retirement. To make ends meet, he found himself continuing to pastor beyond a reasonable age, despite failing health and strength. When he could serve no longer, he had little in savings to provide for himself and his wife in their later years. Instead of being able to leave the pastorate with the good care of churches’ financial retirement planning, he felt alone as he faced his needy circumstances. Unfortunately, I have heard that story repeated far too many times.
My heart goes out to the pastors and wives of our fellowship who find themselves in a similar financial predicament in their retirement years. Many of these couples have meager incomes. Some must look for additional income. Seldom does a pastor’s salary and benefits package include a coordinated provision for a retirement plan. Churches often find it difficult to know how to set up individual retirement plans due to the complexities of regulations and stewardship requirements. Many pastors continue to live in a parsonage, without the church having an intentional plan to build homeowner equity. Some pastors have chosen to not participate in Social Security, so they do not have that source of income either.
Historically, our fellowship has avoided the complexities and dilemmas of a centralized controlling polity. Each church makes its own decisions independently from any other church. While this structure has its strengths, an overlooked area that remains to be addressed is the inevitability of pastors’ retirement.
With the conclusion of my tenure as national representative just around the corner, I would like to complete a few final initiatives. One of them is to investigate the possibility of helping churches provide for pastors’ retirement needs. A pension approach is not a viable option, as it would violate the autonomy of the local church and put the association at financial risk.
A voluntary retirement plan, however, is a feasible course of action. The association could offer a voluntary retirement plan with the help of a trusted financial management group into which churches could contribute for their pastors and other staff members. The plan would allow churches to thoughtfully honor their staff members by helping them prepare for the future. By doing so, churches could more easily facilitate pastoral transitions into retirement.
Each church would be able to decide the extent of its participation and contributions. The plan would be transferrable should a pastor relocate to another ministry.
To gauge the interest in a retirement plan like this, we ask that you take part in an online survey. The information gained will help us form a wise strategy for offering this benefit to the faithful servants laboring in our churches.
When I accepted the position of national representative 22 years ago, I learned that the Council of Eighteen thoughtfully provided a pension plan for the Resource Center staff. Though the plan has been modified over the years, it is a valuable benefit for the employees.
I encourage the churches of our association to take the matter of retirement into serious consideration when they are putting together staff salary and benefits packages. By doing so, churches are exercising respect, compassion, and forethought that will result in a win-win arrangement. It is interesting to note that most mission agencies include a designated amount for retirement when establishing the support levels that their missionaries must raise. That example provides a good model to follow. With our association, this type of plan would not be mandated, only recommended. It just makes good business sense! Please take a few minutes to complete the short survey at www.GARBC.org/RetirementSurvey.
John Greening is national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.