Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ministers and retirement planning

Over the years I've heard that retirement is not found in the Bible so there is no justification for ministers to consider ever retiring from the ministry. While I will admit that we should not abandon God's call on our lives, that does not mean that we will serve in a ministry position throughout our lives. Because of health reasons, limitations as we grow older, or the sense that our ministry skills are no longer effective in a changing world, most of us in ministry will retire at some point. To not plan for that eventuality is foolish on our parts.

As a judicatory minister for 14 years I met several pastors who wanted to retire but could not for financial reasons. They had very little in savings, and their Social Security would barely cover their monthly expenses, especially if they had debt. Some of these pastors resented having to continue working, and they were not doing their churches any good by their continued service.

Many of these pastors had been fully-funded throughout their ministries, but their salaries were meager at best. In many cases their churches did not pay into any kind of retirement account on their pastor's behalf leaving them at the mercy of Social Security. However, when your income is low your Social Security payout is going to reflect that as well.

Those of us in bivocational ministry may be better able to fund a good retirement. Not only do we have outside income paying into Social Security, we often have more disposable income to invest in retirement planning. The secret is to not dispose of it before doing so!

As one reaches a certain age (like me!) he or she wishes they had done some things differently. One of the things I wish I had done was to begin early in my working life living on 75 percent of my income. That would leave 10 percent for my tithe and 15 percent to invest in retirement. One of the things I've learned late in life is that investing 15 percent in a good retirement account throughout one's working life will often lead to over $1 million dollars in retirement. And that's not even including Social Security!

I know many will argue that it's not possible to do that. It is possible but it's not easy, especially if you started out living on 120 percent of your income and you've piled up a bunch of debt that has to be paid off before you start saving for retirement.

Seminaries need to teach every ministerial student a course on personal finance. Of course, most won't because if they taught the course no one would take out student loans and they would lose income. But, their students would have a much better idea of what to expect financially in the ministry and how to prepare financially for each phase of ministry including retirement.

If you feel that you are sinking financially it's time to do something different. I would suggest start by reading The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey and following the Baby Steps he presents in the book. By doing that you can begin to better prepare for retirement. Believe me, you and your family will be thankful you did.

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