Five Awkward Questions Your Church Needs to Answer (Part Three)


The awkward questions are easy to ignore, but leaders can’t shy away from topics that have the potential to cripple ministry if left unaddressed. What goes unspoken can create divisions and spread distrust.

Read Part Two

If you haven’t caught up, here’s what we’ve discussed:


  • In the first post, I asked the question about who should have access to giving records. It’s a heated topic in some churches and the answer needs to be prayerfully and respectfully agreed upon.
  • In the second post, I asked the question of the pastor’s salary. How can churches address this practical, tricky topic in a way that honors the calling of the minister? I provided some conversation starters from my experience.

Now, we turn to the future. For some, it’s a looming question that is growing more urgent every year. For others, it’s a hard-to-fathom reality that nevertheless deserves planning and forethought.

Our next awkward question is…

Does Our Pastor Need a Retirement Fund?

These are true stories. Very true.

An older priest retired a few years ago after having served the church for over 40 years. He did not serve wealthy parishes at all. But at the beginning of his service he asked the leadership to set aside a portion of his income into a tax-free plan. He did this little by little every year. When he retired and stopped active ministry, he and his wife had money to travel, to support their church, and to help out with some of the schooling costs for their grandchildren.

Another priest retired about the same time. He had served faithfully in modest-sized churches, too.  But in his case, the Vestry never got around to funding a retirement plan. They seldom found ‘extra’ money in their budget. And he was too reticent to ask for it. He always said he didn’t want to take from the sheep; he believed that the holier thing to do was carry the burden himself and hope that the Lord would provide. When he retired…well, he actually never retired. He continued to serve churches until his health failed. Most of his colleagues remembered him at clergy gatherings as the one was always trying to pick up a wedding or a funeral service or a summer Sunday here and there just for the honoraria. The last time I saw him he handed me his business card from the local mortuary. He was selling cemetery plots and hoped for my referral. He and his wife had a most unhappy final years.

The stark contrast between these priests makes a point, but I assure you their stories are nonetheless true. The saddest part of the story is how one man or one vestry can refuse to deal with a need simply because it is an awkward question to ask. In this series of blog posts I am simply raising a number of awkward subjects that need to be openly discussed with the leadership of every church.

In talking about retirement, I should say that I’m not offering any actual financial advice. These thoughts and links are meant to be discussion starters.

For legality’s sake, let me reiterate: No financial advice is being given or sold here. The only financial advice I ever want to give is that you need expert financial advice. Seek it out.

How will you get from here to there?

After this disclaimer, I want to be candid with my reader about why I am even addressing this issue. Our province is young and we have limited money and infrastructure. And I see young clergy with incredible talent and faith coming into the ministry. They are setting up churches. They are ‘casting vision.’ They are doing the work of ministry in a totally laudable and compelling way.

But they often do not bring up the most awkward items to their Vestry. For fear of being seen as a greedy or demanding pastor, they forgo the conversation. Because I was once in their shoes, I want to bring it up.

So I want to present seven reasons why you need to have this awkward conversation with the pastor and the leadership of the congregation.

Seven Reasons Churches and Pastor Need to Discuss a Retirement Plan

1.) Most people will spend as many (or even MORE) years in retirement as they do working. We think of our ‘twilight years’ as just the short tail end of our lives, but there is a lot of living left to do after we retire. The Social Security website estimates that one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90. One out of ten will live past 95. Are we financially prepared for the decades ahead of us?

2.) God doesn’t intend for His children merely to ‘survive’ their retirement years. Wellness is bigger than simply securing a roof over our heads and making sure we can pay the medical bills. As the University of California, Riverside discusses, we need a healthy balance in all dimensions of our lives—spiritual, physical, emotional, occupational, and more. All of that must be considered when planning for retirement.

3.) Low inflation now is good and means there is a low cost of living in retirement, right? WRONG! We might assume that with regular cost-of-living adjustments, a retirement plan will accommodate our needs; however, as LIMRA points out, those adjustments are made based on the spending of the entire population. However, retirees experience more inflation than others because so much income is devoted to healthcare. This may shock you, but healthcare costs are soaring compared to normal inflation.

4.) Just as your flock seeks you as their shepherd, you should seek a professional financial advisor as your financial shepherd! You wouldn’t solicit a random member of your church to remove your appendix, right? So why would a minister rely on amateur financial advice or (worse) their own intuitions. We all have our arenas of expertise—find someone qualified to offer financial counsel.

5.) I don’t need a retirement plan…I have Social Security! WRONG! Social Security’s 2017 report concluded that non-interest income has lagged behind program costs since 2010. They predict that deficit will “rise steeply” in the coming years. No matter what action is or is not taken to ensure that Social Security benefits remain in place for future retirees, individuals must look beyond those benefits to sustain their retirement years. Millennials are learning to plan ahead.

6.) Compounding interest is the ‘eighth wonder of the world.’ Those who think there will be time to think about saving later need to remember this most basic principle of saving—start now! Investing early makes a huge difference in retirement. According to US News, a commitment of $300/month, starting at age 25 can grow to over $1 million by age 65 (presuming 8% interest.). But wait until 35 to start, and that number is cut to less than half. The question of a retirement fund can’t wait until the tail end of a minister’s tenure.

7.) Presumptions often lead to pain. It’s easy to presume that because a parish and pastor are happy and ‘settled’, that the relationship will go one indefinitely and that the parish will ‘do what they can’ to support their beloved pastor. But change happens—the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates average employee tenure just over 4 years. Having an open conversation and setting up a formal retirement plan will allay fears and ease transitions, if and when they occur.

At the end of the day—and at the end of a career—this is a conversation about how we love and care for one another well. It’s easy to let these conversations feel clinical or cold, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. A willingness to engage in these financial realities shows a total commitment to one another. Conducted with charity and humility, these conversations can strengthen your church and bless the pastor.

Next post…Do we need to launch a capital campaign?


David Roseberry

David Roseberry leads the nonprofit ministry, LeaderWorks. He was the founding rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and is the author of many books. He lives in Plano with his wife, Fran.

View more from David Roseberry


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