Thursday, October 13, 2016

The long, slow slog to a 50/50 Cooperative Program split

The money collected under our venerable Cooperative Program, now in its tenth decade, is divided into two parts: the first part is the money kept by the state conventions, the second part is forwarded to the SBC Executive Committee, most of which is divided among the mission boards and seminaries.

Of interest to those who pay attention is the "split"; how much stays in each state and how much gets to SBC seminaries and mission boards. A few data points on this:

  1. Historically, state conventions keep most of the money. There has never been a year that state conventions split the money equally or kept less than 50%. In nine decades of CP collections only twice (1949-50, 1950-51) have state conventions kept less than 60% 
  2.  The most recent data show that of every CP dollar, the state conventions kept 61.25% and the SBC received 38.75%. 
  3. In the past half century the percentage kept by state convention has ranged between 61.29 and 66.56.  
  4. Since the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report was adopted by the SBC in 2010 and called for a "return to the historic ideal of a 50/50 Cooperative Program distribution between the state conventions and the SBC", the state conventions have kept between 61.25% and 62.20% of CP dollars. 
  5. The most recent statistical year, 2014-2015 showed states reducing their percentage about a full point to 61.25%
  6. The Florida state convention made a drastic change that put their split at 49/51 making them the only legacy state forwarding a majority of CP dollars to SBC causes.
  7. Southern Baptists of Texas, the conservative state body in Texas, has been at 45/55 for a few years.
  8. Two smaller state conventions, Iowa and Nevada, are at 50/50.
For those who believe Southern Baptists are better served when the state conventions keep less money and forward more to the mission boards and seminaries, the call for a 50/50 split was a welcome one. Many of the states have responded with small steps in that direction. Some have responded with giant steps. 

Over 90% of CP revenue comes from 16 legacy, southern states. In these, except for Florida and the upstart state conventions in Texas and Virginia, progress towards 50/50 has been slow or non-existent.
  • My state, Georgia, is moving to a 58/42 split, a move made much easier as a result of a $25 million gift to the convention to retire the mortgage on the headquarters building. It is unclear how much progress will be made to move from 58/42 to 50/50.
  • The Alabama convention, which gives the largest amount in CP revenues to SBC causes, is at 55/45.
  • The Tennessee convention, third largest CP giver, is at about 57/43.
  • The Louisiana and Mississippi conventions have the least favorable splits among the legacy states (not counting the more moderate conventions in Texas and Virginia) at about 63/37.
I think the recent trend in state conventions relative to the CP split is healthy but I'm not optimistic that we will get anywhere near 50/50 in my lifetime. 

I would ask my colleagues what they feel is the ideal state/SBC split of CP dollars in your state.

Monday, September 5, 2016

SBC could do better in helping pastors with sabbaticals

I never had a sabbatical, not after serving as pastor for more than a decade in two different Southern Baptist churches. By way of abject confession I'm sharing why my resume would not include any brief or extended period away from my church for renewal and rest:

I never asked.

Had I asked, the two wonderful congregations where I served longer pastorates would likely have worked with me to arrange some period away. I am none the worse for not having done that but believe now that it is a good thing for a pastor (and ministerial staff as well) to be able to take an extended time away from their church for a sabbatical.

There is, I admit, a subset of SBC pastors who have slipped into the unhealthy and unproductive attitude that they are overworked, underpaid, that the work is uniquely difficult. These are the brethren who depress gatherings of ministers with their personal and church woes.

But it is tough for the average pastor. The SBC as a whole is flat or declining meaning that most churches are not growing and that many are having difficulty properly supporting a fulltime pastor. Congregations these days have far more exposure to the megachurches with their celebrity pastors. The amount of respect given to the minister has been eroded by our scandalous, greedy, immoral, and racketeering fellow clergy. There is a consumer mentality among many prospective church members leading to an attitude from the pews that focuses more on what the church and staff can do for them and their family than how they can serve Christ through the church.

All this adds up to the pastor having to sustain a higher level of stress.

So, churches, give the guy a sabbatical who has labored for the Lord and the church five or ten years faithfully. Pay him during that period. Tell him not to worry about anything, the church will take care of the routine ministry needs while he is away. Tell him to go somewhere where he can enjoy himself (and family, of course), where he can develop fresh, new ideas. Where the daily pressures have been suspended.

Our moderate and liberal colleagues who identify with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have a plan and program in place for sabbaticals. If we SBCers have anything, I haven't seen it. Is the SBC doing what we do best here - talking a subject to death but not actually doing anything about it?

Our North American Mission Board has an information page on sabbaticals along with an occasional article on the subject.

Thom Ranier, LifeWay CEO, had a fairly recent article on sabbaticals. He estimates that 5% of SBC churches offer sabbaticals.

If sabbaticals are only a big church thing in the SBC, then I'm wasting time here. The vast majority of SBC churches are small congregations, single staff. Baptist Press has a nice article (rather dated but still relevant) on one of these. Noteworthy in the piece is that when the pastor returned after his five-week sabbatical he preached a month of ten minute sermons. The congregation liked them. (I know of a couple of pastors for whom I would fund a sabbatical if they would preach 10-minute sermons rather than preaching their 10 minutes worth of sermonic material and expanding it into 45 minutes).

If megachurches are the model for us these days and megapastors are the few, the mighty who are emulated by the average pastors, then here's a place where something good could come from the mega-satellite-franchised church up the road from you. Almost certainly their pastors takes one or more months away every year.

We invest hundreds of millions of dollars in training and helping Southern Baptist ministers. I would consider setting aside some funding for a sabbatical initiative that would encourage and assist churches in giving their pastor a sabbatical a good investment.

If your association, state convention, or any of our entities have a sabbatical plan for SBC ministers, feel free to comment on it and post a link.


Photo: Surf fishing at Padre Island, my idea of part of a sabbatical plan. Wiki Commons.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

They're coming after your housing allowance...again

"They" would be the Freedom From Religion Foundation which gained a victory in a federal court district ruling in 2013 which disallowed the cash housing allowance. Unfortunately for them, the ruling was overturned at the appeals level. The appeals court found a problem with a technical legal issue, standing, and made no determination about the constitutionality of the cash version of the minister's housing allowance.

This problem with standing has been resolved and we should expect, I am told, to see another suit filed by the FFRF challenging the housing allowance.

For a good summary of the matter visit the blog of my CPA friend, Peter J. Reilly whose articles on the housing allowance are informative and insightful. He wryly notes that these challenges to the housing allowance are a "great source of ecumenical spirit" with we Southern Baptists joining with Khrisna, Muslims, Greek Orthodox and other groups. Perhaps Peter is unaware that ecumenicism is still in the Southern Baptist dictionary under "things to snarl and gnash one's teeth about."

A few things to note about this continuing tap dance that concerns our Sacred Tax Break that enables us to exclude thousands from income tax and in some situations take advantage, legally of course, of a double tax break:

Only the cash version of the housing allowance is being challenged

Ministers who live in church-owned parsonages need not worry. That is not the issue here. The issue is only for those ministers who receive a portion of their compensation as a cash payment housing allowance. Parsonage-dwellers, that beleaguered subset of clergy, are like caretakers or other employees who live in their employer's housing as a convenience to their job. There is no challenge to that version of the housing allowance.

If God in heaven wanted to institute fairness in paying clergy He would surely double or triple the income exclusion for living in the church's home. Any pastor who has lived next to their church likely has a long list of complaints that flow from that. But fairness in tax policy is up to legislators and God has apparently chosen not to profane Himself by dealing directly with congressional representatives. Good choice.

The FFRF believes that it is unconstitutional to limit this tax break to ordained clergy. The courts will ponder the matter.

I expect that the venerable housing allowance will survive the challenge.

This is pure conjecture, of course; however, it doesn't help us that a very small minority of clergy who live in earthly mansions, literally, and are able therby to exclude hundreds of thousands of their income. If military personnel have a cap on the amount of their housing allowance, I don't see why this wouldn't be better public policy to do the same for clergy. But that's another issue.

You should maximize your housing allowance this and every year.

 Let the lawyers and judges sniff and snort and argue the grave constitutional issues. As long as you are eligible to take the housing allowance, get the maximum exclusion you can. (I offer this counsel only to the hardworking, modestly paid colleagues of mine who do not live in million dollar houses. The religious racketeers who live in 10,000 square foot homes should voluntarily limit themselves here, but if they have no spiritual compunction about living in a home as large as any third world dictator, then my counsel to them is likely not going to be heeded.)

You can take compensation as housing allowance for actual expenses (mortgage or rent, taxes, insurance, furnishing, repairs and improvements, utilities, etc.) so long as the total amount doesnt exceed the lower of (a) the fair rental value of the home, furnished, plus utilities, or (b) the amount your church approves as housing allowance.

Don't ignore a couple of things here:

  • Fair rental value is for a furnished house. Furnished homes may have FRV 50-70% greater than unfurnished. A state convention rep advised pastors to take 150% of FRV to allow for furnished rental value. And add utilities on top of that. I suspect that many ministers can exclude more that they presently are if these figures are considered.
  • Make doubly sure that your church pre-approves and budgets the housing allowance. GuideStone has a good Q & A page that will help you. You can't pull a figure out of the air and make it work with the IRS. Do it right.
  • Oh yeah, you have to pay Social Security taxes on the value of your home. That's the real killer tax for clergy. No relief in sight for that.
The folks involved with the Freedom For Religion Foundation are, like everyone else, our neighbors.

We should love our neighbors. I only know one member of the FFRF and my interaction with him has been respectful and cordial. Frankly, there are Southern Baptists on this and every other SBC oriented blog I read who are less respectful and cordial. 

And, please, don't let this unpleasantness stifle your enjoyment of college football today.