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FIRST-PERSON: Is your pastor able to retire?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A few years ago my daughter Sandy and I decided to learn more about the stock market. We kept hearing about a well-publicized seminar on the subject that was coming to town. After thinking and praying about it for a few months we decided to sign up.

We hoped to learn how to invest small amounts of money in the stock market since neither of us had much money to invest. We received a tiny little silver bar worth a few dollars for signing up. We excitedly entered the conference room area. The next two days were a blur.

Initially we were given an incredibly fast and unhelpful presentation on how to invest in stocks. The rest of the time we were being sold a life-changing $30,000 training program that would give us the actual details on how to invest in the market. I kept thinking, “If you can make so much money investing in the stock market, why do you need to sell an expensive training program? Just go make more money and forget the seminars.”

At one point in the seminar Sandy and I looked at each other with a “knowing” look. Interpretation: This whole thing is a waste of time. We got up and left. After getting about 10 feet from the exit door we both started laughing. What a crazy seminar!

We did come away learning something very important about retirement plans from the textbook we were told to read:

There was a time when a worker would commit to working for one employer for a lifetime. In exchange the company would provide a retirement for the worker. This was called “defined benefit.” The amount of the retirement was based on the number of years worked and an average of his last three years’ income. Government employees and a limited number of union jobs are just about the only current workers who are part of a Defined Benefit program.

Several decades ago, a different retirement program was put in place for most Americans: “Defined Contribution.” This means that a company no longer provided a defined or promised retirement. Instead, a company would invest money into the employee’s retirement program based on how much money the employee invested in the program. If, for example, an employee invested 5 percent of his/her income in an employer-sponsored retirement account like a 403(b) or 401(k), the company would match it. If the employee invested zero percent of his/her income in a retirement account, the company would not contribute either. So, the burden rests on the employee, not the employer.

What does that have to do with pastors and church staff? Your pastor and staff only have whatever they have invested in their retirement account and what the church, as their employer, invests into the retirement account. There is no denominational pension plan for your pastor or staff person.

So, if your pastor serves for 30 years, the only retirement he has to live on is what he and you have invested in a retirement account. There is no long-term defined benefit.

As Baby Boomer pastors enter into their retirement years, many will live in severe poverty. Many will have Social Security except for those who chose to opt out back in the 1980s. Unless they personally invested in a retirement account — along with the church — they will have little to live on.

You may even get frustrated when your pastor doesn’t retire when he approaches age 70. Many pastors are fully aware that they can never afford to retire so they keep working long past their prime.

As Southern Baptists, we should be doing our part to take care of our own. And the good news is that we do offer a strong retirement plan option for our ministers to utilize with GuideStone Financial Resources. Their Church Retirement Plan, a defined contribution plan, was designed exclusively for pastors and other church staff members.

Additionally, GuideStone is committed to helping our ministers and staff prepare for retirement by offering services at no additional cost to pastors and employees, including assistance with minister’s housing allowance and investment decisions.

But it’s not enough just to give them access to a GuideStone retirement plan — we need to help them contribute as well.

Has your church been generous to your pastor and his wife? Has your church consistently invested in your pastor’s retirement with GuideStone? It is important to know that if your church doesn’t do so, your pastor may enter into retirement with little money to live on.

Jesus’ admonition comes to mind: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Be generous. Don’t be greedy. God will bless you and provide for the needs of the church as you provide for the needs of your pastor and staff.

    About the Author

  • Randy Bennett

    Randy L. Bennett is director of missions for the Kern County Southern Baptist Association in Bakersfield, Calif., and immediate past president of the California Southern Baptist Convention.

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