Not Your Father’s Pension System


Two overtures are coming to Synod next week regarding the current pension system of the denomination.

Overture 17 from Classis BC Northwest observes that the flat rate of pension pay-in by a congregation for their minister unduly taxes (pun intended) the reserves of smaller churches.  The request embedded in this overture is that Synod re-evaluate with an eye toward the burden placed on smaller churches.  No recommendation for accomplishing this task is provided.
Overture 16 from Classis Grand Rapids East recognizes a relatively new phenomena in our denomination, although other denominations have surely done the work required to sort out this problem.  The issue is of clergy couples who share one job description between them.  The pension system has no way of accounting (pun intended) for an equitable distribution between the couple, especially in the case that the one carrying the benefits precedes the other in death.  Two solutions are proposed but I’d be curious, as well, what provisions have been made for this – say in Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches – over the past several decades.  
What say you?
  • Do you serve or attend a small church that is unduly burdened by paying into the Minister’s Pension Fund?
  • Do you have any ideas for an equitable fix?
  • Have you heard of other denominations compensating in their pensions programs for the new-er reality of clergy couple serving together?
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I would add that it is also a considerable burden for non-traditional ministries (church plants, campus ministries, etc.). The Pension plan constitutes a sizeable part of the budget of any smaller ministry.

It probably irrelevant what other denominations are doing. The question is what does civil law have to say on the matter both in the United States and Canada. 

Though the CRCNA sets the assessment on the basis of the cost of one FTE pastor, that does not preclude enrollment and payment on a pro-rata basis to two parties.

Regardless of the fact that they are working under one job description, they are two separate legal entities entitled to EH&D, LTD, pensions, etc.



With respect to the financial burden of smaller churches - there is an inequity build into the method of assessment that needs to be addressed. Workplace pension plans generally operate on the basis of the employer and employee both being assessed 50% of the cost. In the case of the CRCNA Ministers Plan, the local church which is the employer is expected to pay 100% and the pastor or employee pays 0%. 

When many parishioners do not receive a workplace pension, the inequity becomes even more burdensome. 

Why did God establish the minyan as ten adult jewish men and the Tabernacle tax as 10% of gross  annual increase? Maybe because the revenue from ten tithing men should enable one rabbi to live as well as they do (after the Destruction)? 

Why should a local congregation of 10 families have a lower per capita income than 100 families? Maybe the problem is that we all prefer to spend more money on our pleasure than we do on other people. After all, God owns the cattle on a trillion hills. Most (more than 50%?) of the local church budget goes to make most of ourselves more comfortable two or three times a week.

Community Builder

Study the attached table . Our average churches are getting smaller. If we continue on the path of planting new churches at a cost of about $200,000 per year each, most of those will be needy in terms of funding. Including pensions.Average decline in membership  is 21% between 1997 and 2012. 

Congregational Data




%  Increase











Professing Under 18





Professing Over 18





Total Professing








Non Professing








Total Members






$20,000/year for how many years? How long does it take for a new chuch to break even? How long to pay back the initial investment? Apparently "church planting" has been a losing proposition for decades. Maybe God does not want the CRC to plant new churches in the US or Canada.  

Don't most new church members come by stealing warm bodies from existing congregations? What did St Paul (?) say about people running after new things? Does this not describe many church plantings?

It takes 2 full time employees to plant a church? A person goes to a new city, rents a house with a large recreation room, and starts planting. Then what?

Adjusted for inflation and exchange rate, what might have it cost St Paul to plant a new church? 

Is there a difference between church planting and making disciples? What is the percentage of disciples in most CRC congregations?  Say an undercover church planter should go to an existing CRC congregation in a new to him in a city a thousand mile away, find a side job, and join an existing congregation? Might he not be more successful at making new disciples FOR CHRIST? Say he went to the church council and suggested that he start a mid week week meeting in his house for some group in the congregation that seems to need some special attention? I don't think anyone would ask, "Are you a spy for Home Missions?" 


Community Builder

Bill Wald,  the annual cost for a new church plant is two hundred thousand $200,000 per year. (Rent 2 salaries, heat light material etc).

The CRCNA has started 112 new congragations in 15 years. That's about 10 per year.  If you go to GR HO and give them the addressess of all these new churches and then ask for a breakdown of their payment of ministry shares you will get a good picture of how sustainable they are.

Community Builder

Pension calculations are very complex. However simplistically a Pension Fund gets obligations when the employer starts one. The CRCNA Canada has a Pension Fund.  It knows the age of the contributors and the benefits of the plan. It also knows the age and number of folks drawing a pension and the projected dates of death for all them. This data is based on tables designed for that purpose. Those tables are updated every year because we are living longer. Based on that the actuaries come up with an amount of  money the Pension Fund needs to meet all its pension obligations.  They then test the funds we have in the bank and the earnings and income they get from investments and premiums from current members and potential contributions from the employer. They compare that number to the obligations of the Pension Fund and if the sponor is short, the sponsor has to make a plan to make up the shortfall (in Canada ) within 5 years. That happened two, three years ago in the CRCNA Canada Pension Fund and the benefits were reduced and the charge to churches was increased.

When a couple work for the CRCNA and are both employed in the same church (which I personally would not recommend) they are to be treated as two employees full stop. No deals.

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