The Debt We Owe – Our Denomination’s Responsibility to its Retired Ministers
Emphasizing Allegiance and Loyalty to a Worthy Generation
Dignified, distinguished and deserving!
These three words immediately come to mind when I think of the men and women who helped make our church great. I know that I have frequently written and talked about the need to raise up and recognize younger ministers whom I have referred to as the Jeremiah Generation. However, it must be emphasized that our allegiance and loyalty to those who came before us cannot be misplaced or forgotten.
...it must be emphasized that our allegiance and loyalty to those who came before us cannot be misplaced or forgotten.
From the beginning of our movement, the Church of God has placed emphasis on assisting in the care of our retired ministers. We developed a culture early on of showing honor to whom honor is due. At the 1929 Annual Assembly, a committee was formally established to look after the needs and to provide comfort to older and retired ministers. Then, at the 1930 Assembly, the Aged Ministers’ Fund was created under the auspices of that committee. After the 1932 Assembly, the administration of the Aged Ministers’ Fund was placed under the guidance of the Executive Council, then known as the Council of Twelve.
An Evolving Plan for Retirement
A formal payment process was implemented for the Aged Ministers’ Fund at the 1934 Assembly, and in 1935, eligibility requirements were established for receipt of benefits. The church continued to enhance the program in succeeding Assemblies. Although different procedures and processes were set up, the Aged Ministers’ Fund was never a formal retirement plan, but rather a benevolent fund set up by the church to help retired ministers.
Although different procedures and processes were set up, the Aged Ministers’ Fund was never a formal retirement plan, but rather a benevolent fund set up by the church to help retired ministers.
Following the appointment of a task force at the 1980 General Assembly, a recommendation was presented and adopted by the 1982 General Assembly to create a formal 403(b)(9) church retirement plan called the Ministers’ Retirement Plan. The Ministers’ Retirement Plan, often simply called the “MRP,” is now administered by the Church of God Benefits Board, Inc., a separate non-profit entity created for the purpose of running church benefit programs. Since early 1983 when the Ministers’ Retirement Plan begin taking contributions, the assets under management have grown to almost $400 million, and now serving some 5,600 ministers and church-related employees.
In the late 1980s, the Aged Ministers’ Fund stopped taking individual contributions and most participants were transitioned to the “new” MRP plan or they were provided an annuity through Lincoln National Life Insurance Company. Roughly 1,000 participants remained in the Aged Ministers’ Fund and continued to receive benefits from it.
To provide the benevolent benefits under the Aged Ministers’ Fund, a percentage of the tithe of tithes coming into the Church of God International Offices were designated to fund those benefits. Of course, before the reallocation of the tithe of tithes, a smaller percentage was needed than today. Currently, $1,455,000 is budgeted from the tithe of tithes income to fund the benevolent payments made annually to Aged Ministers’ Fund recipients.
Legacy of Aged Ministers' Fund
Because of the age of those recipients, regrettably many are departing this world and going on to their heavenly reward. By 2014, only 373 of the original 1,000 or so recipients were still alive. By 2017, that number had dropped to 255 and as of July 1, 2019, only 224 Aged Ministers’ Fund recipients are still with us and receiving benefits.
...as of July 1, 2019, only 224 Aged Ministers’ Fund recipients are still with us and receiving benefits.
The amount received is different for each recipient and is based upon years of service, contributions, whether they are a retired minister or spouse of a retired minister, disabilities, and whether they are deemed “needy.” The average amount received per participants is about $400 a month, with many receiving much less. While we would like to do more for these soldiers of the faith, budgetary restraints limit our abilities.
In addition to the Aged Ministers’ Fund, the Church of God International Offices provide a Christmas offering to retired ministers. In 2018, the International Offices alone sent over $348,000 in Christmas offerings to retired ministers. Some of those funds come from the Reformation Sunday offering, a special offering taken in most churches on the last Sunday in October each year. The remainder of the funds come directly from the tithe of tithes sent to the International Offices.
In 2018, the International Offices alone sent over $348,000 in Christmas offerings to retired ministers.
To qualify to receive a Christmas offering from the International Office, a minister must be reporting as “retired,” be age 70 or above, have ministerial income of less than $2,000 per month, and have a minimum of 20 years of unbroken credentialed ministry in the Church of God.
Other Sources of Support
Some state and regional offices also provide offerings to retired ministers, as well as to spouses of retired ministers. The criteria that is used to determine who gets an offering varies from state to state.
Additionally, SpiritCare Ministries, a part of the Division of Care, provides assistance to retired ministers and spouses who need help in paying for basic utilities and prescription medication. The program is purely need-based. In this fiscal year, it is expected that SpiritCare will provide at least $150,000 in assistance to Church of God retired ministers and spouses.
Finally, in conjunction with the Lilly Foundation, the Church of God has given grants totaling almost $1 million over the past three years to Church of God ministers, many of them facing retirement without adequate preparation.
Simply put, the Church of God family cares about our retired ministers and their spouses. Are we doing all that we would like to do for these soldiers of the faith? Absolutely not. However, we are doing all that our resources allow us to do and we are leveraging every available opportunity to do more.
Simply put, the Church of God family cares about our retired ministers and their spouses.
I Timothy 5:17 reminds us that those who labor in the “word and doctrine” are worthy of double honor. The Church of God can never forget those who paved the way for us to FINISH the Great Commission. I encourage you to give honor to a retired minister or the spouse of a retired minister today. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their sacrifices. May God make their latter years even greater than their former years.
Let’s talk about it.
Timothy M. Hill