Bible Question:

In smaller congregations there is often not enough money to fully support the staff that is required to look after our congregation of 200- 300 people. We are in the position of having some retired part-time pastors who have no retirement package. Can you comment or direct me on how best we address this?

Bible Answer:

Every church has the responsibility to ensure that their pastor or pastors have a retirement plan according to the principle given us in 1 Timothy 5:17-18. In the Old Testament God established the principle when He commanded Israel to provide for the Levitical priests with a tithe (Numbers 18:21-24). The tithe provided them with income for life. Israel was a theocracy and God’s command was to establish provision for the priests. The parallel today is the church is to provide for its pastors. Our question of concern is, “What can the church do for their pastors who are without a retirement plan?”

Retirement Planning For Pastors

Retirement Planning In The New Testament

The New Testament refers to providing for widows in the retirement years (1 Timothy 5:3-16. Then in the next verse, 1 Timothy 5:17, the apostle Paul  discusses compensation for elders, especially for those who work hard at preaching and teaching. This most likely includes retirement since it would be inconsistent to discuss retirement for widows and then ignore the elders, who are similar to the Old Testament priests. Further, since 1 Timothy 5:17-18 states that the elders are worthy of “double honor,”why would widows be provided for but not the elders? The answer is that elders should be provided for in retirement.

In a previous question, “Should a church financially support a pastor in retirement?” an explanation of 1 Timothy 5:3-16 was given. In that passage of Scripture, we are told that a church should not support a widow just because she is older than sixty years of age. It depends upon her faithfulness and a variety of other factors. Additionally, 1 Timothy 5:17-18 assumes that the elders or pastors mentioned in the verse are qualified to serve as an elder. If they are retiring because they have committed sin and are now disqualified, then they do not deserve further support. If support is provided when a pastor has been disqualified, then it is an act of grace and mercy. That is, if a pastor is removed from office because he disqualified himself, the church has no obligation to support him. He is no longer an elder worthy of double honor. 1 Timothy 5:21 warns the church to not show partiality toward any elder. That includes the provision of retirement support.

The church leaders need to have full knowledge of the finances of a retiring pastor  in order to determine how best to meet his retirement needs. If a pastor has Social Security or other retirement savings, that will factor into the decision. The church is not obligated to single-handedly provide his retirement income. Nor should the church try to escape providing the pastor “double honor.” This extends to a man who has served in a part-time position since the church hired him for only part time.

Full-Time and Part-Time Pastors

In the Levitical system, a Levite was required to serve from the thirty to fifty years of age (Numbers 4:3, 23, 30). There were no part-time Levites. Everyone served until they were fifty years old. But today we have full-time and part-time pastors. Therefore, the question we have is, “Should the church provide a retirement package for both categories of pastors since 1 Timothy 5:17-18 does not make any distinctions between full-time and part-time?”The answer is, “It depends!”

In this discussion since our primary concern is for part-time pastors, we will now focus on them. First, we consider why is the man a part-time pastor? Is he the only pastor of the church and the church has insufficient funds (typically a startup church) to provide a full time salary? Therefore, must he have secular employment?

Senior Pastor Is Part-Time

If the answer is yes, then his primary source of income and retirement compensation may be from his secular employment and not the church. Yet, the church should at least inquire from a reputable financial institution as to what types of retirement options can be provided. Some churches try to accumulate a large bank balance for a rainy day and in the process ignore the needs of their pastors. This is contrary to trusting the Lord. If the Lord stops supporting the church, then it is time for the church to close its doors.

Part-Time Pastor Has Secular Employment

Second, if the church has multiple pastors and past-time pastor(s) such as a youth minister then he will have secular employment. His primary source of income and retirement compensation is from his secular employment and not the church. We usually remember 1 Timothy 5:17 but forget 1 Timothy 5:18 which states that the laborer is worthy of his wages.

For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:18 (NASB)

Part-time pastors should be paid and the church should provide a part-time pastor a retirement plan as it is able. Any compensation package should consider his retirement years. God did for the Levites!

Part-Time Pastor Is Retired From Secular Employment

Finally, if the church has multiple pastors and a part-time pastor was hired after he retired from secular employment and he has a retirement plan from his secular employment plus Social Security, then the church should not be obligated to provide him a full retirement plan. While the part-time pastor is “worthy of his wages”, the church is not required to provide excessive retirement compensation. Also review Paul’s teaching about the widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Any compensation package should consider at least something for his retirement years. God did for the Levites! And 1 Timothy 5:8 gives us the following divine principle, in the midst of a discussion about caring for widows who are widows in deed.

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8 (NASB)

Conclusion:

Pastors in the United States can opt-out of the federal social security plan, which is a minimal retirement system. Since Social Security allows pastors to opt out, many pastors chose this option and realize an increase in their income “during the working years.” But sadly, they fail to wisely invest equivalent funds or more in a 401k or other retirement plan. They often wait too late to start saving for their retirement. Then when it arrives, they have no retirement income – not even Social Security or another like retirement plan if resident in another nation. When they opt out of the social security system, the typical reason given is that the Social Security system will fail and not exist when they retire. Such thinking is shortsighted and probably driven more by the immediate desire for additional funds in their paycheck. (Any politician who opposes continuation of Social Security in the United States will be immediately removed from office). By not investing that extra money, ironically, they realize the very situation they feared would happen if they invested into social security. Their failure to invest results in no retirement of their own. They are like the sluggard who failed to prepare.

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest. Proverbs 6:6–8 (ESV)

In such situations the church is not responsible for a part-time pastor’s failure to plan. They have been irresponsible. Should they then expect the church to help them when they have been irresponsible? Remember that in Paul’s teaching about the widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16 the widow had to demonstrate faithfulness by her many actions (1 Timothy 5:9-10). If the church decides to help an irresponsible pastor, then they had shown grace and mercy.

Suggested Links:

What is the church’s responsibility in caring for a pastor?
Should a church financially support a pastor in retirement?
Is it right for pastors to get paid as a profession?
Should pastors be wealthy?