Churches can still protect pastor even in tough economy, SCBC official says

With terms like “economic crisis” and “layoffs” routinely leading nightly newscasts, South Carolina Baptist churches are not immune to the pressures of tough economic times, but the state convention’s retirement services director hopes churches won’t borrow from the pastor’s future to address today’s financial concerns.

Gary Horton, director of the retirement and insurance services office for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said churches may actually save money in the long term by continuing to fund the pastor’s retirement program, especially if “bad things” happen to the pastor in the future.

Through GuideStone’s church retirement plan, in addition to building a nest egg for the future, participants enjoy a little-known free benefit that includes disability protection (up to $500 a month) and survivor protection (up to $100,000) payable upon death to the participant’s family.

“Over the years we have received calls from churches and families who say what a difference these benefits have made in the life of their church and the lives of the families who received the benefits,” Horton said. “It lessens the financial burden on the church when bad things happen to their staff.”

Since 2002, GuideStone has paid out more than $30.4 million in disability benefits to almost 1,500 retirement participants who are no longer able to work. An additional $29.9 million was paid in survivor benefits to 1,277 families of participants who died while active in the church retirement program.

Haven Bailey of South Carolina was one such beneficiary. A pastor’s wife in Ware Shoals, she and her husband Tim had four young children. Tim, a healthy 34-year-old, and his kids were playing along the Saluda River near their home when he had to jump in to save two of his children. He pushed his children to safety, but he drowned in the May 2005 accident.

With the protection section benefits of his retirement program, coupled with life insurance he had purchased from GuideStone, Bailey’s wife and children were able to remain financially secure while dealing with the sudden loss of a husband and father.

As the economy continues to place more pressure on church budget planners, Horton said many churches are asking employees to share some of the cost of health insurance. Also, some churches are turning to higher-deductible plans. In those cases, he encourages churches to help staff members by paying a portion of the higher deductible. “What churches save on monthly premiums can often help fund this deductible,” he said.

If pastors or other church staff members are facing frozen or reduced salaries, they should consider the overall impact on their financial future. “Most of us can find ways to reduce our household budgets,” Horton said. He advised cutting expenses, but not personal contributions to retirement savings. “The long-term impact on one’s future retirement benefits can be substantially affected by reducing the monthly retirement contribution by only $25 per month,” he said.

Horton advised that churches and individuals take a look at “Planning Financial Support,” a resource offered through GuideStone (

No matter the economic pressures, Horton advised, “We all need to keep our eyes focused on God and remember that he is in control of everything.”