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FIRST-PERSON: A God-sized vision for the financial health of retired pastors

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DALLAS (BP) – Vision is a remarkable thing. God plants a desire in the heart of a servant. The Lord nurtures it, and at the right time, the servant brings the vision out, sharing it with others who embrace the vision and help live it out.

Visions are often born of necessity — in the case of GuideStone, it was the necessity of caring for retired Southern Baptist pastors in financial need that captured William Lunsford’s heart.

Dr. William Lunsford was the pastor of Edgefield Baptist Church in Nashville. One Monday morning in 1916, he spoke to the local pastors’ meeting. He noted how the government was providing pensions and care for the injured and dying soldiers returning from World War I’s battlefields. Even the great industries of the early 20th Century began providing pensions to their older employees.

Even some other denominations had begun to provide financial support for their pastors. Lunsford noted, however, that no similar program existed for Southern Baptists.

God gave Lunsford a vision, and Lunsford brought it to his colleagues. Two years later, the entire Southern Baptist Convention embraced Lunsford’s vision and the Board of Ministerial Relief and Annuities was birthed, known today as GuideStone.

As I joined GuideStone as president-elect last year, I was reminded how a God-given vision stands the test of time.

Alton Reed, our fourth president, gave our fifth president, Darold Morgan, important advice: “There will come a day when you will have to explain the vast assets of the Annuity Board (GuideStone’s name from 1968 until 2004) … bigness will be one of the most difficult problems you will face as the Annuity Board president. Bigness has a peculiar penchant to arrogance or insensitivity. This must never be allowed to occur at the Annuity Board. There must always be a shepherd’s heart at the very center of our plans, hopes and dreams.”

The shepherd’s heart continues to be the center of GuideStone. While we have sophisticated investments and a retirement plan designed for Southern Baptist churches and church staff, we also never forget those who, as our first president, William Lunsford, said, “grow old in the work.” Its modern embodiment is Mission:Dignity.

Last year, more than 10,000 donors joined together to assist more than 2,500 retired pastors or pastor widows – pastor widows comprise two-thirds of those we serve – through Mission:Dignity. A record year, more than $11 million was raised, including our largest #GivingTuesday offering (more than $1.2 million) and our largest Mission:Dignity Sunday offering (more than $1.4 million).

God’s Word commands: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17 NKJV). Through Mission:Dignity, we seek to provide that double honor – a well-earned and well-deserved benefit provided via God’s people to meet their needs.

Consider a pastor who served in out-of-the-way places. Maybe a small urban congregation, or a rural church at the crossroads of two rural byways. He served faithfully, his wife by his side. The churches never could pay well. Maybe they took odd jobs in the community to supplement their pay.

Now, age and infirmity mean they can no longer work. Having lived in church-owned parsonages, they have no home of their own nor the equity to use to provide for their housing. Perhaps they made the mistake of opting out of Social Security and now find themselves with little to no savings and no income.

God has not forgotten their service, and He uses the gifts of Southern Baptists like you and me and the churches we attend to help provide for these faithful pastors and their wives and widows.

Since 2008, Mission:Dignity has been fully funded by the gifts of individuals, foundations, Sunday school classes and local churches; no Cooperative Program money supports Mission:Dignity. One hundred percent of gifts go to support a retired pastor or his widow in financial need. Administrative costs are funded through an endowment established many years ago.

As a former state convention executive director, I know the many things Southern Baptists do to advance the message of the Gospel – missions, camps, theological education, curriculum development, disaster recovery and much more. Every one of them is important.

Through Mission:Dignity, Southern Baptists partner to focus on the messenger of the Gospel.

If you and your church are already part of Mission:Dignity, thank you.

If you’re not, would you consider making 2021 the year you start? You can learn more at MissionDignity.org. And if you know a retired Southern Baptist pastor and wife or his widow who is in financial need, would you refer them to us by filling out the “Refer someone in need” form on our website?

A retirement-aged Southern Baptist pastor, his widow and their family will be blessed because of your support. 

    About the Author

  • Hance Dilbeck

    Hance Dilbeck is president of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Read All by Hance Dilbeck ›