By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Churches, ministers share responsibility for preparing for life-changing events
BRENTWOOD — Gary Rickman has seen and heard the same story far too many times during his 24-year tenure with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
A pastor (or any staff minister) has faithfully served a small Tennessee Baptist church for many years. The minister is well loved not only in the church but the community as well.
Then one day, tragedy strikes.
It might be an automobile accident. It could be a life-changing disease or health issue such as cancer or a heart attack or stroke.
Whatever the issue, it leaves the minister unable to perform his or her ministerial duties, whether it is pastor or minister of youth, music, education, children, etc.
While most churches are able to provide for ministers in need for the short term, what happens when the illness or recovery drags on for extended weeks or even months?
It is at that point that compassion and business collide, noted Rickman, director of strategic relationships for the TBC.
Some church members feel the responsibility to continue to care for the ill or disabled minister and his or her family.
At the same time, however, in some cases the church is having to temporarily pay someone else to carry out the ministerial responsibilities, especially if it is the pastor, Rickman said.
While this may not pose a problem for larger churches, it can create a major budget crunch for smaller congregations, he observed.
Such crises could and should be avoided on the front end when a church calls any minister, Rickman said.
Unfortunately, he observed that many churches still operate on the “total pay package” approach in which ministers are given a set amount of money and told they can use it any way they want.
The problem, Rickman said, is most ministers are forced to choose the options that best meet immediate family needs, not the long-term needs such as insurance and retirement.
That approach leaves both the church and the minister vulnerable, Rickman said.
He encouraged churches to take the initiative to protect ministers by providing health, life, and disability insurance and retirement automatically when a minister is employed.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention has recognized the problem exists and has sought to help provide some assistance, he said.
Through the Church Retirement Plan (under the auspices of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention), the state convention provides a protection benefit (paid through the Cooperative Program) that provides a disability benefit and life insurance, he continued.
The “catch” is that the minister/or the church must enroll the minister in the Church Retirement Plan and contribute to the retirement account each month. In addition the person must be enrolled in the Church Retirement Plan for one year before the protection benefit can be used, Rickman said.
The convention offers the protection benefit “because we know there are many ministers within the convention who do not have disability or life insurance to adequately protect their families if crises occur.”
He stressed, however, that the convention’s protection plan should only be seen as supplemental to anything the church provides.
“The convention plan was never intended to be the only protection that a pastor or staff minister has,” he noted.
Churches should not have to make a choice to show compassion or make moves to keep the doors open, Rickman said.
“By providing adequate insurance you are protecting both your church and your ministers in the event of a crisis,” he continued.
“Pastors and staff ministers across our state are on call continually to minister to their congregations when crises occur.
“Those of us who sit in the pews should be willing to do the same for our ministers,” Rickman said.
For more information about the Church Retirement Plan, contact Rickman at 615-371-2020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.