The PCA’s annual Christmas Offering plays a vital role in caring for church leaders by bolstering the Ministerial Relief Fund. Managed by the PCA’s Retirement and Benefits, Inc., (RBI) the Fund offers assistance to widows and families of deceased teaching elders, and to retired pastors whose assets have become depleted. Unfortunately, at the current rate, the Fund will be gone by 2026, leaving no cushion for future generations of pastors. “It’s getting to the point where the needs are beginning to grow,” explains Bob Clarke, RBI’s director of Ministerial Relief. 

After the 2009 Christmas Offering did not yield enough to meet current needs, RBI had to dip into its reserve fund for the first time. A recent survey suggests that approximately 60 percent of the PCA’s current 4,100 teaching elders will retire within the next 25 years, increasing the burden even more. “There will be four times as many people in need in the next 25 years as there are now,” says Clarke. Which is why, within the next five to six years, RBI needs an additional $10 million for the Relief Fund.

RBI is focusing on educating congregations of the PCA’s great ministerial relief needs, giving individuals and churches the opportunity to contribute to this meaningful cause.

In order to have money left for the next generation of pastors and their families, “we need to double [church] participation,” says Clarke. “We are expecting about $500,000 from this year’s Christmas offering, but we need about $800,000.

“These are the numbers that keep me up at night,” says Clarke. 

Preparing Pastors: Prevention is the Cure

Gary Campbell, president of RBI, hopes his team can facilitate both “the prevention and the cure.” While much of the burden to cure the current ministerial relief deficit will fall on PCA church members, RBI believes that the prevention of future shortfalls can come through training pastors and sessions more thoroughly about retirement planning. 

RBI recently conducted a comprehensive survey among pastors and teaching elders.  Many respondents confessed to being far from ready for the financial burdens of retirement. The survey was intended to both assess the current situation among pastors, and to prepare future leaders for their retirement needs. While the findings were disturbing, they also gave RBI information and tools for educating and training pastors for the future.

Campbell says there are three key things that current pastors should keep in mind when thinking about retirement planning. “First, they need to know that focusing on retirement planning is an expression of love for their families.” Citing Scripture’s call for the church to care for widows and orphans, Campbell stresses that this is particularly important given that the average woman will outlive her spouse by 11 to 14 years. “A practical expression of love is planning for the day when I retire or am not here and able to provide,” says Campbell.

The second point that he emphasizes to young pastors is to start early and contribute consistently. “The later you start,” says Campbell, “the more expensive it becomes.” He adds that “saving consistently is the most important thing that will produce a reasonable retirement outcome.” Campbell applauds Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) for training their young leaders early about the importance of saving and contributing toward retirement. The earlier that men in ministry can begin to think about and plan for future needs, the less anxiety they will have when approaching retirement.

The final message that Campbell hopes will resonate with pastors is that RBI is available to help. “Pastors do not need to face retirement planning alone,” says Campbell. In fact, RBI recently hired David Anderegg, who has experience as both a teaching elder and a financial planner. He will offer personal attention to pastors, helping them with their budgetary and retirement planning challenges.

Pastoral Support from the Session

RBI can give pastors support and resources, but pastors also need support from their sessions. Whether simple phone calls to check in, or more thorough financial planning advice, Campbell believes that sessions have much to offer. “I think most pastors would invite session members to come alongside them,” says Campbell.  

Implementing small administrative changes, such as changing pastor pay structures, is another way sessions can help pastors plan for the future. Many pastors are paid in lump sum amounts out of which they must then contribute to various retirement and benefit packages.  Instead, Campbell would like to see these items broken out into a “call package” and have the church administer retirement and benefit pay-ins before paying the pastor’s actual salary. The current lump-sum system still used by many PCA churches not only increases the tax burden on the pastor, but also, according to Campbell, “creates significant confusion when comparing pastor salaries to those in the congregation or on the session.” 

RBI is also working on a resource manual for teaching and ruling elders, as well as deacons. This manual will make church leaders aware of what pastors truly need in terms of long-term disability, long-term health care, life insurance, and general health insurance. “Our hope,” says Campbell,  “is that [the manual] will be a valuable tool to help our sessions love their pastors.” RBI hopes to present the resource manual for final approval at General Assembly next June.

Whether through administrative changes, or simply encouraging session members to come alongside their pastors in more practical ways, RBI is seeking to equip churches to more effectively support pastors and their families. “Part of the love we need to see our sessions express,” says Campbell, “is to be sure our pastors and their families are protected.” He continues, “If we have pastors with significant worldly cares, it may hinder their effectiveness in carrying out the gospel ministry.”


For more information on the PCA Christmas Offering, talk to one of your church elders or visit pcarbi.org.

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