Planning for a Minister's Retirement

Douglas L. Watson

“Oh no! He’s talking about retirement again—funds, investments ... blah, blah, blah ... finance, hocus pocus, blah, blah, blah....” Before your eyes glaze over, read on. “I’m a minister, not a financier. Why should I be distracted from the work of ministry?” Don’t turn that page; read on.

“We have a retirement allowance in our pastor’s salary package. He can take care of his retirement however he wants. That’s his business.” Elders and sessions, don’t tune out; read on.

Find out why churches and their ministers should plan for their minister’s retirement, how the church at large can help, the good it can do for the church, and the relief from distraction it provides. So read on.[1]

Biblical Underpinnings

In the Old Testament, there are three principles that bear on the matter of retirement planning for the church’s ministers. One, the church was to provide for the present and future support and care of God’s ministers, as seen in the priests and Levites. Israel’s tithe supported them during the years of their active service (Num. 18:21, 24, 25–28). But by God’s direction, during their retirement (Num. 8:23–26), the Old Testament church was still to support them for the rest of their lives (Num. 18:31; Deut. 14:27; 18:1–8). They had no inheritance in Israel; God was their portion. He provided for them through his people—even the places of their permanent homes in the cities set apart for them.

Two, the Old Testament church was also to provide for the present and future support of the needy among God’s people. This included those beyond the years of regular service, including God’s Old Testament ministers who could not make adequate provision for the future during their ministry (Deut. 14:28–29).

Three, good stewardship to prepare for future needs is to be practiced (Prov. 6:6–11; 10:5; 24:27).

In the New Testament, the same principles appear. One, the church is still to provide for the present and future care of her ministers and their families (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:1–16). The New Testament teaches that ministers laboring in the sphere of the church have the right to wages from the church (Matt. 10:10; 1 Tim. 5:17–18; 1 Cor. 9:3–14). Two, the church is still to provide for the care of the needy. We see this in precept (Jas 2:14-16; 1 John 3:17) and example (Acts 2:44–45; 11:28–30; Rom. 15:25–27). Isn’t this why the Lord gave deacons to the church (Acts 6:1–6)? Surely, God’s needy ministers, who are to be considered worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17), are numbered among them, along with their widows (1 Tim 5:5, 9–10). Three, preparation for future needs is still to be practiced (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12–28).

The church must provide for her ministers, the needy ones included. The Word of God calls for preparation, by good stewardship, for the provision they will eventually need.

The Responsibility

Responsibility to provide for ministers falls on the church. In the first place, it falls on the church at large. One of the reasons that the OPC, in good Presbyterian fashion, has diaconal committees at the presbytery level is to care for needy ministers among the other needy people in the church. The General Assembly’s standing Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM) backs the presbyteries in fulfilling this charge and contributes direct assistance to needy retired ministers. The OPC also answers the Bible’s demands for preparation and good stewardship in the future care of her ministers through the General Assembly’s Committee on Pensions (COP) and Pension Fund. The CDM and COP constantly seek, by God’s grace, to improve in their respective areas of service and to work together to improve the OPC’s care of her retired ministers, including needy ones.

In the second place, does not the local congregation bear responsibility to provide for its minister’s future retirement? Elders and sessions, are you not obliged to oversee this duty? It takes more to fulfill this responsibility than simply segregating a portion of his pay package on paper, calling it “retirement,” and leaving the minister to fend for himself. To properly oversee his provision for old age, it seems, the session should at least make certain that those funds actually are being set aside. No one is suggesting that the session or individual elders must manage the investments themselves. There are plenty of experts available for that. But the session needs to implement the biblical principles by arranging for the minister’s retirement funds to be set aside and work to his later benefit.

One simple way to accomplish that is to use the church’s mechanism for retirement savings and investment, the OPC’s Pension Fund, and contribute the recommended amounts for the pastor’s retirement allowance. In this manner, the local church works together with the church at large to fulfill the biblical mandates. There are other ways, and there are plenty of variables that are unique to each minister’s situation that a session must consider. But elders and sessions, at least take on the responsibility and get started. You will very likely help your minister take full advantage of tax relief now, as well as prepare for old age later. By this you become the Lord’s instrument to use more efficiently the resources available for the advance of his kingdom. But the buck doesn’t stop here.

In the third place, ministers themselves bear biblical responsibility. The Bible says, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Even if you live and labor to a ripe old age, the Lord requires you to provide for yourself and your wife for the rest of your lives. If you go to be with the Lord before her, should you not provide for her continuing well-being?

“But I’m only 28, for crying out loud! Why should I care about retirement now?” The earlier you start, the more you can save and the longer the investments can grow. “I’m no financial expert. I’m a minister. Why can’t I just concentrate on ministry?” No one is saying that you must manage your investments yourself. You simply need, along with your session, to make the arrangements for your retirement funds to be put aside and well managed. If you do, you will find that you worry less and concentrate on ministry more—not vice versa.

A little preparation now will avoid much worry later, when the years of your old age and inability to labor for the Lord arrive. So at 28 or 58, don’t wait to implement biblical wisdom to prepare for retirement. But there is another facet to your responsibility that you may not have recognized. You are responsible to see to the best use of the Lord’s resources.

The Need

Poor retirement planning now can easily result in the need for diaconal care later. There are always some situations in which, in God’s providence, the diaconal care of aged and infirm ministers is unavoidable. Some, such as early ministers of the OPC, labor faithfully and self-sacrificially all their ministerial lives in small or poor churches, with no hope of retirement funds, yet they serve God’s people. Some cannot put money aside for retirement due to difficulties that exhaust their funds. Some are disabled early in life, and thus have no hope of retirement funds. In such cases, with joyful thanks to the Lord for their labors, the OPC seeks to address their needs as the diaconal funds of local churches, presbyteries, and the Committees on Diaconal Ministries and Pensions permit. But would it not be a pity if those resources had to be additionally burdened simply because local churches, along with their ministers, failed to plan well?

This points out a potential difficulty looming on the OPC’s horizon. Many of the church’s ministers will reach retirement age in the next few years. Many will live longer than their forefathers did. How many will have adequate funds to support them and their wives for the rest of their lives? Possibly, fewer and fewer. The Committees on Diaconal Ministries and Pensions have begun to face that future now. They are working diligently, and now more closely together than ever before, to plan and implement strategies to provide adequate resources for the needs that come along and to avoid the looming crisis. Sessions and ministers, you can help the OPC avoid the crisis by diligently preparing for your pastor’s retirement, seeking God’s blessing upon it.

Yes, we depend upon the Lord always for all that we need. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We must always be ready to submit ourselves and our plans to God’s providence and be ready to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jas. 4:15). But planning for retirement is an instrument the Lord might use to give us our daily bread in later years. It is just as biblical as planning for the continuing well-being of Christ’s church. Retirement planning is important; do it, and do it wisely.


[1] Much of what follows was condensed and adapted from “An Outline of the Biblical Philosophy of Mutual Protection, Care and Dependence as the Principle Underlying the Program of the Committee on Pensions.” See www.opc.org/pensions.

The author is pastor of Redeemer OPC in Pearl City, Hawaii, and a member of the Committee on Pensions. New Horizons, Sept. 2012.

New Horizons: October 2012

Our Presbyterian Heritage

Also in this issue

Faith and Learning: The Heritage of J. Gresham Machen

The Personal Side of Charles Hodge

The Legacy of Geerhardus Vos

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