EDITORIAL – Preacher Retirement Plan

By Cecil Willis

Much headway has been made in the past generation or so in regard to the financial support of gospel preachers. There was one nine month period in the life of W. W. Otey when, while be devoted full-time to evangelistic work, the brethren paid him the grand total of $30. Brother Otey said this amount did not even pay for the feed his horse consumed during this nine-month stretch. Many of our older preachers (and some not so old!) relate stories about being paid for gospel meetings with vegetables, chickens, or a ham.

However, most preachers today are reasonably well supported. Most brethren have been taught their duty toward those who give themselves fervently to the preaching of the gospel. Churches that are able to do so usually furnish a reasonably adequate salary to sustain any man they secure to assist them in gospel work. Within the last 25 years or so, many of the churches have begun to furnish the preacher a house as a part of his salary, or at least to provide a separate housing allowance.

A sizable number of the churches have begun either to pay half or all of the preacher’s social security tax. Preachers are considered by Internal Revenue Service as self-employed persons, and thus pay a considerable higher social security tax rate than ordinary employees. In fact, employers pay an equal amount of social security tax to that paid by employees. The preacher in many cases ends up paying virtually both the employer’s and the employee’s share of the social security tax. This social security tax for self-employed persons soon will amount to about $1000 per year. I believe the rate this year will be about $800, depending on ones income. This means that the average preacher soon will be paying about $75 per month social security tax. It is my opinion that more churches are going to have to begin either paying this social security tax as a salary supplement, or at least share in the paying of it, as other employers do.

But virtually nothing has been done about considering some kind of a preacher retirement program. Unfortunately, preachers also grow old. A large segment of American industry has some kind of employee retirement program. Hence, a large share of brethren themselves are now covered by some kind of retirement program, in addition to social security, which would provide only a subsistence living level at best.

About two years ago a group of brethren were appointed by John C. Stevens, Abilene Christian College President, to study out some kind of feasible retirement program which might could be recommended to any church interested in assisting men who have given their lives to gospel preaching. Fourteen men worked many months in order to recommend some general guidelines to be considered before entering into such a program. Their recommendations have been printed in a four-page brochure (which also was printed in the October 3, 1972 Firm Foundation). I have one hundred of these brochures and will be glad to send one to any preacher or church interested in investigating the various types of preacher retirement programs available.

As the President says, “let me make one thing very clear.” I do not have anything to sell! I am not in any manner connected with any company selling retirement programs. In fact, the brochure that I have proposed to mail out to anyone requesting it (as long as they last) does not recommend any particular company or retirement programs. It simply enumerates some questions that a preacher or church should consider before entering into any type of preacher retirement program. The Internal Revenue Service has a good deal to say about which retirement programs will qualify for tax exemption.

This brochure contains a good deal of information that I think would be helpful to brethren. Just as churches have been taught to discharge their obligations to a man while he works with them, it appears to me that churches ought to feel some responsibility to see that a man has enough to sustain him after his fruitful and useful years are gone. He should not have to resort to public welfare.

A few years ago I knew a brother who had preached the gospel seventy years. He had saved a little money (about $20,000, which he had earned by secular labor after he was seventy years old) and owned a home. He thought he had enough to care for himself. However, a prolonged sickness consumed all his savings. His home then was sold and his sickness also consumed all the proceeds from the sale of his home. It appeared that this brother was going to become public welfare case. I thought for him to have to resort to public charity, after seventy years of gospel service, was a disgrace for the church. I therefore asked three churches to provide this brother with a small amount monthly so that his needs might be supplied, which they joyfully did until his death.

More recently I read where a preacher who had preached for one congregation for thirty-five years was fired, and no provision whatsoever was made to see that his physical needs, now that he is seventy years old, will be supplied. Brethren would not tolerate such dealings as this in the business field.

How should the needs of an aged preacher be supplied? Are brethren willing to pay him enough now so that he might lay aside $100 or S150 a month in order that he might own a home and have enough to live on when he is forced to “retire” by physical debility? Most churches I know would think a man scandalously over-paid if they found out he was putting $100 a month into a savings account in order to provide for himself in old age.

Are churches willing to assume monthly payment responsibilities toward men who have devoted their lives to gospel preaching, but who have never worked for these congregations? I doubt it, except in rare cases. It therefore appears that it would be best if some arrangement could be worked out whereby an adequate amount is set aside monthly or annually in order to provide an aged preacher with some income after his physical health will no longer permit him to do the work of an evangelist. I suspect that a lot of brethren who themselves have such a retirement program paid, in whole or in part, by their employer will loudly denounce even the thought of a preacher retirement plan.

But be that as it may, if you are interested in reading one of these informative brochures, please write me. The brochures are free. Nobody is going to come to see you to try to sell you anything. No specific companies are recommended. This little brochure simply provides some gathered information that should be helpful to any preacher or church interested in studying the matter of providing some income for a gospel preacher during his old age.

March 1, 1973