Vol. 1 - No. 6
"Random Thoughts About Preacher's Support From An Elder and Businessman
by Curtis J. Torno
I've known many preachers intimately through the years and I've also seen many preachers neglected and thoughtlessly mistreated. Preachers usually suffer in silence and rarely complain. Rare also is the preacher who can preach without a great deal of personal sacrifice to himself and his long suffering family because of inadequate support. It shouldn't be necessary for a preacher to sacrifice to continue to preach the gospel, yet most of them do. Brethren should see that preachers are supported adequately and fully and given every opportunity to be able to take care of their family, needs, and retirement just as others do.
I have seen circumstances where a preacher with a larger family (4-5 children) will stay in a local work for four or five years and never be offered or given an increase in support. If he would be so bold as to ask for an increase, he was thought to be "money hungry" or not able to manage his money and severely criticized. Everyone is quick to compare their "take home pay" with the preacher's gross salary and neglect to really compare their fringe benefits and gross pay with his.
If this article was written by a preacher, it would likely be criticized and shrugged off. That is why I wanted to say these things so that brethren will be reminded of them. We need to keep our wonderful gospel preachers and their families supported so that they will not have to always preach at a personal disadvantage. If a gospel preacher is not worthy of full and adequate support, then he is not worthy of support at all. Most of the ones I know are worthy of much more and would be able to get a lot more in secular work.
As most of you readers know, I have been privileged and allowed to know some preachers better and more intimately than most men have opportunity to do. I've also seen more of the sacrifices and suffering that preachers undergo than most men see. I have seen the ones who never could get the money together to pay social security or income tax because it took all they were given to just live.
I know that I wouldn't have them long if I treated my employees with as little concern and consideration as most churches treat their preachers. When was the last time you or the elders asked their local preacher if he was getting enough support? When taxes go up, when insurance goes up, when social security goes up and the cost of living is up 10-15% (inflation) each year do you see that the elders increase his support to take care of these needs? Or do you do as most churches do--just ignore and neglect the preacher's needs until he either gets in financial trouble and can't pay his bills or he has to leave to get an increase in support from some more perceptive congregation or he has to go to secular work to pay his obligations and support his family.
I have nine employees in my medical office and nineteen in my bank. I see that they have their hospitalization insurance paid, some life insurance and social security paid. I also see that each year, at least at year end, a fair salary adjustment is made to compensate for inflation and to reward merit and industry on their part. Doesn't your preacher deserve at least that much consideration?
Many times preachers do not use the tax laws and tax rules that are allowed under IRS regulation. Every preacher should be given a housing allowance and allowed to furnish and own his own house if possible. Preachers can also be given auto allowance, clothes allowance, utility allowance, book allowance, and hospitalization insurance allowance and all these can be excluded from income tax payment. Social security taxes must still be paid on all of them. These things take only a separate check and statement prepared in the elder's meeting records to secure these tax benefits for preachers. It could save the average preacher $2,000 or more in income taxes every year. Preachers are the only people who can get the tax break of excluding a housing and utility allowance from income and still deduct the property taxes and interest paid on a house mortgage from their tax return. We should allow them to have that break by letting them own their own home and giving them the housing allowance tax break also.
One of the payment problems I see for preachers, especially younger ones, is the lack of ability to pay income tax and social security taxes at the end of the year. Those of you who have your employer pay half of your social security tax and withhold the other half, imagine having to dig up nearly $2,000 for social security tax alone if your salary is $20,000 per year. Congregations should pay for social security taxes each quarter of the year for their preachers. It is very little more than your employer pays for you and you accept it as normal procedure, but if the preacher asks for it, it is terrible.
Each preacher should start an IRA and make a deposit each year. They should be paid enough to have $2,000 per year to put into such an Individual Retirement Account. This is approximately the amount that the preacher could save on income tax if his support was earmarked as above and was handled correctly. The IRA is the true tax shelter without any chance of loss. The total amount will be deductible from your income for tax purposes and the income from the IRA is totally non-taxable until it is withdrawn. Every preacher should specifically be encouraged to do this and allowed to do this. We wouldn't have so many preachers grow old in the service of the Lord without a home, without retirement provisions, and without income to take care of their needs. With social security paid for, and IRA, and having paid for a house during their early years, most preachers would be much better off than they now are. They deserve at least this. Think on these things.