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FEATURE

How Does a Minister Make Financial Decisions?

John Fikkert

Imagine a young minister with a family of six. He was just ordained two years ago and still has $20,000 in student loan debt from seminary. Due to an adequate call from his church, he has $500 surplus each month so that he could either pay down his student debt or make an additional retirement contribution. Which path should he choose?

Or picture a minister in his mid-fifties, and his children are mostly out of the home. With the help of his church he has built up a retirement fund over the years, but he is not sure if he is on track to be able to retire at a reasonable age. How should he figure out if he should be contributing more to his retirement?

One more scenario – this time a minister who just took a new call to an unfamiliar region of the country and is now trying to sort out the options for health insurance for his family. He wants to understand more about the advantages and disadvantages of Christian Sharing ministries.

Each of these examples reflects one of the three levels of financial support provided by the OPC's Committee on Ministerial Care (CMC). Established in 2017, one of the mandates given to CMC by the General Assembly was to provide or recommend "counsel and assistance in financial planning, including retirement planning and investment portfolio management."

The first level of financial support is the basic inquiry that can often be answered in a five-to-ten-minute phone call or by reference to resources on CMC's website. The minister with the health insurance question mentioned above fits with level one. Other examples include questions about the features of a Roth IRA or reviewing the advantages of participating in the OPC's 403(b) retirement plan.

The second level of financial support addresses our minister who has to make a decision between paying down student debt or saving extra for retirement. CMC has established a Voluntary Financial Planning Team (VFPT) of OPC members who have career experience in helping others with personal finance. As a volunteer, they do not charge for their services as they would for a client, but their expertise provides invaluable insight in an area where many ministers are less knowledgeable. Additional examples of VFPT's work include inquiries about life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance. VFPT can also help with important decisions such as converting from a pre-tax IRA to a Roth IRA, or transfers and rollovers from one type of retirement account to another. Sometimes it's as simple as assisting in developing a budget or finding a way out of a financial crisis.

The third level of support is the newest, and one that has everyone on our committee excited. Featured in the April New Horizons article, CMC established a partnership with a national Christian financial planning firm, Ronald Blue Trust, to develop full financial plans for ministers. Known as a Financial and Retirement Evaluation, or FARE for short, it offers a comprehensive road map for a minister that includes a clear look at his present financial situation and a plan for reaching retirement. The cost of this financial service is estimated at $1600, and CMC offers to pay for the service provided that the minister commits to completing the process with Ronald Blue in a timely fashion. Initially this service is only being offered to OP ministers aged 50 and older who are not retired. Eventually the goal will be to offer the service to younger ministers as well, since the earlier one has a roadmap, the easier it is to reach one's intended destination.

It may be that an OP member or website visitor reading this article wishes for a similar financial service for themselves. While the Committee on Ministerial Care cannot offer funds to those who are not ministers, we do encourage you to learn more about Ronald Blue Trust at https://www.ronblue.com. Our committee was pleased to learn that Ronald Blue tailors their services to more than just well-to-do clients. Their "Everyday Steward" division may be an excellent option for people of average means.

In sum, the Committee on Ministerial Care has put considerable thought into how to assist ministers as they make financial decisions. It is our prayer that our three levels of support will equip ministers with the financial help they need to be good stewards in the present day and to prepare wisely for the future.

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