“Churches have a biblical responsibility to provide a good wage and benefits for their pastors,” says Don Shoemaker, long-time pastor of the Grace Brethren Church at Seal Beach, Calif.
“In our contemporary culture, provision for retirement is important,” he adds. “A church’s willingness to contribute to a pastor’s retirement shows proper respect and gratitude.”
It’s one of the reasons he was instrumental in the development of the retirement plan now offered by the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC) for pastors, church and Christian school staff members, and employees of other related organizations. It was 1985 and little, if anything, was available that allowed professional personnel in the Fellowship to prepare for their eventual retirement.
“For too long, many churches had treated their pastors like they were ‘different’ — different from other career people, even different from other human beings,” Shoemaker stresses. “A retirement program is humane, reasonable, good church stewardship, and shows a church’s willingness to be responsible and responsive to its pastors. It is a good point of connection with the denomination’s broader ministries.”
The plan, offered by the OneAmerica Financial Partners, Indianapolis, Ind., is sponsored by the FGBC and is administered by the Grace Brethren Investment Foundation (GBIF). It allows the church, school, or organization to contribute to their employees’ retirement while also providing an option for the individual to make tax-deferred contributions.
It’s also easy for participants to review their involvement and make decisions regarding their individual plans by reviewing the company’s Internet site. There are 19 different options from which individuals enrolled in the FGBC plan may choose.
Options for Tax-Deferred Annuity
In addition to the employer-funded plans, there are also options for the employee to set up his or her own tax-deferred annuity.
“Many have taken advantage and enjoyed their retirement benefits,” says Linda Leonard, coordinator of administration, who has worked with plan participants for more than twenty years. She says it is particularly beneficial for those pastors who have chosen to separate from Social Security.
Ken Seyfert, GBIF vice president and executive director of operations, chairs the FGBC’s retirement planning committee, which includes Tom Avey, Bill Burby, Dr. Jim Custer, and Jim Johnson, and has worked the past 10 years to make sure there are good investment options for participants. “Investment options are continually being reviewed, so that participants are assured to have diverse offerings from which to choose,” Seyfert stresses.
As long as an individual is ministering in a Grace Brethren church or related organization, the employer-funded plan can move with the individual as the person changes jobs. The funds cannot be withdrawn unless the job is terminated or the individual retires, dies, or is disabled.
Only about a third of churches in the Fellowship currently participate in the plan. Last year’s report to the annual conference revealed that the assets of the plan stand at more than $8 million with 333 participants.
Both Leonard and Seyfert encourage others to consider enrolling.
“It is biblical to take care of our families,” Seyfert maintains. “We need to help and encourage our pastors to take care of their families.”
Jerry Young participated in the plan from 1987 until he retired in 2004. When he left his ministry as pastor of the Grace Church, a Grace Brethren church in Lititz, Pa., he withdrew his funds, using them to buy a retirement home in Arizona.
“I couldn’t have done it otherwise,” he says.
A Valuable Service
As a pastor, Young encouraged his church and school to become involved in the plan. “There were many plans available, but I wanted to work through our Fellowship,” he stresses. He felt that the GBIF was performing a valuable service through its administrative support and that leaders of the organization were trustworthy to manage the funds.
“If a church does not have a retirement program for its pastors and other employees, it is cheating them,” Young adds. “Pastors should speak up and use a vehicle like the FGBC retirement plan to help their churches do the right thing. It’s such a small investment at the beginning, but it is a huge help to people in the long run.”
Shoemaker, whose church is using the FGBC plan for its employees, made the initial motion in 1985 to establish a study committee to create the plan and to address the needs of the older program that was running out of funds.
The following year, the Conference adopted the plan, as well as the “Our Promise of Honor” program that would fulfill obligations to retired pastors and their widows covered under the old plan.
“I personally consider it my greatest contribution to the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches,” says Shoemaker. “When the plan was passed by Conference in 1986, a retired pastor came up to me and thanked me for what I’d done for older people,” he remembers. “Nothing better could have been said.”
For more information on the FGBC Retirement Investment Plan, contact either Linda Leonard or Ken Seyfert at the Winona Lake, Ind., office of the Grace Brethren Investment Foundation at (574) 267-5161 ext. 21 or firstname.lastname@example.org.