JEFFERSON CITY — In the 25 years that Gene Foster has served on staff with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), he has seen five executive directors take on the challenge of handling the church retirement plan.
Each has been involved, to some extent, in making sure that the plan runs smoothly. About half of the MBC churches, as a rule, participate, according to Foster, who specializes in human resources and GuideStone insurance. The amount now budgeted by the MBC to provide matching funds in this plan is $435,000.
The current state executive, John Yeats, has taken the plan to another level, Foster said. He does not wish to simply keep this pool of money quietly managed. He wants to raise its public profile by talking about the importance of growing the funds as an investment.
“He wants to help pastors,” Foster said. “I think that’s really one of the main things on his heart. We’ve got to help our churches, and if we help our pastors, we’re going to be helping our churches.
“They (the previous four executive directors) just didn’t make it a priority the way Dr. Yeats is making it a priority. They were all for the pastors being in the program. They were all for helping churches. But Dr. Yeats is saying, ‘We really want to get the word out on this.’
“I really think Dr. Yeats would just love it if we turned around and had 80, 90, 100 percent of our churches in the program. He’d think that was marvelous.”
The church retirement plan at its core is simple. If a local church initiates the plan, the MBC wants to be the minister’s partner. This means cooperative giving.
“We will provide you with that $500 a month disability benefit,” Foster said, explaining the first advantage for the participant. “We will also provide you with the survivor protection benefit. Depending on your age, it might be as much as $100,000. We’ll provide you with an extra $17.50 into your retirement plan if you will contribute at least $105 a month.”
If more ministers become aware of the plan and join, the cost to the MBC could substantially increase.
“It would have an effect on our budget, and we would just have to deal with it,” Foster said. “It has that potential. If we picked up an extra 500 pastors, that’s another $105,000.”
Yeats called that an investment.
“Isn’t that worth it?” he said.
Foster said the goal is to prevent situations where pastors who have little money to live on are faced with situations where they need to keep on working just to make ends meet. By getting involved with the retirement plan, a pastor can begin to take control of his own destiny.
“It allows him to step back from active pastoring of a church and he can do supply work, he can do interim work, he can do mission work, and he doesn’t have to worry about do I get paid well enough for it?” Foster said. “He can still continue to be an active minister and preach the gospel.”
Two of the more reliable areas of MBC life where Foster can recruit people into the plan are church planting, which has Ben Hess as team leader, and strategic partners, which includes the directors of missions with Jim Wells as team leader. Both areas are sources for meetings that put him directly in touch with pastors.
“I never turn down those opportunities, because it is so hard to find the pastors,” he said. “It would be impossible for me to contact them individually.”