Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why Even Selfish Churches Should Insure Their Pastors

It's that glorious time of the year again: Budget Season! I don't know whose insurance premiums the President had been watching when he said in the debate that rates were going up at a slower rate than ever before, but he needs to come and look at ours for a little reality check. Each year at FBC Farmersville we grimace when we look at the rates for the new year. For most churches, employee health insurance is a major portion of the budget (even for churches for whom that expense is obscured under a line item entitled "Salary").

Churches provide insurance because they are generous and want to take good care of those whom God has given them as servants. And yet, as I labor on our church's budget each year, it is my duty to look out for the best interests of the church. Church leader, occasionally you may encounter those who, seeing high insurance premiums, would advocate dropping the benefit of health insurance for the church staff. If a church does that, it obviously harms the financial interests of the church staff. I'd like to make a case for how that church may also be harming its own financial interests.

In other words, I'd like to explain why even selfish churches ought to insure their pastors.

Even among the wealthy in our country, only a few could afford to self-insure against hospitalization and medical expense. The most expensive hotel room in town probably can't touch the cost of the cheapest hospital room: A one-night stay in the hospital costs an average of nearly $16,000. Have a car accident, a stroke, or a cancer diagnosis, and you're going to need a lot of coin stashed away somewhere if you're planning to do the whole thing out-of-pocket. I think we can safely presume that very few Southern Baptist pastors could face such a scenario out-of-pocket.

So, what if something like that should happen to one of your pastor's children? What would your church do? When his financial duress began to become obvious and the stress began to mount, what would you do? When he declared bankruptcy, how would your church respond? Would you kick him and his family to the curb? How would that look? What would happen when he went to the local bank and set up a fund, begging members of the community to contribute to help pay for his little girl's chemotherapy? How would that look? What effect would any of these scenarios have upon your church's reputation? When you eventually faced hard choices, would the challenge of it all split your church? Would you lose members over it?

What would you pay, on that day, to get your church's good reputation back? Comparing the various insurable risks that a church faces, you might be a lot better off financially (if you are in a smaller church with an older building and with a beloved pastor) to have a church building burn down without property insurance than to have a pastor's child get leukemia without health insurance.

Of course, having a child develop cancer is only one of the scenarios we could consider. What if your pastor should die and leave behind a family of four in your parsonage with no income? What if your pastor suffers a stroke and is disabled? Won't this family be an object of sympathy and pity in your community? Won't your church feel tremendous pressure to meet their burdensome financial needs?

Protection against these sorts of scenarios is the value provided to churches by the insurance that they provide for their employees. You're not just insuring your staff; you're insuring your church's reputation in your community. The insurance could be worth whatever your church's reputation is worth.

This very reason is why your church ought to provide health insurance as a benefit rather than simply increasing the salary and telling your employees to go get their own insurance. Will all of your staff members actually go out and buy the insurance, or will some of them pocket the cash? How can you be sure who is doing what? If the church buys the insurance, then at least the church can know for certain that the insurance is in effect. That's worth something.

It should be a goal for your church to make certain that you have no uninsured full-time employees.

Here's what we do at FBC Farmersville: We provide a health insurance benefit for our full-time staff. We provide a long-term disability benefit for our full-time staff. We do not provide a short-term disability benefit, because we are able to self-insure against that risk. We do not provide life insurance for our staff, although that exposes us to some risk, because it is so difficult to arrive at any uniform way to evaluate the life-insurance need of various employees.

Ours is probably not the perfect approach to employee insurance, but we've done what we've done both out of a noble desire to take good care of our staff and out of far-sighted self-interest on the church's behalf. May the Lord prevent us from ever facing any of the scenarios that I've outlined in this essay, but if any of them should befall us, I'm thankful that our church will not face an imminent financial crisis or crisis of reputation while we are facing such unfortunate events.


Anthony said...

[Better to] "to have a church building burn down without property insurance than to have a pastor's child get leukemia without health insurance."


Thanks for this perspective.

If a pastor is full-time, I agree he should get health insurance (although I'm OK with giving the funds to secure it where he would). If part-time, I think some contribution should be made towards paying his insurance, or temporarily pay all of it if he is otherwise unemployed and unable to secure insurance through other full-time employment.

Bob Cleveland said...

Bart, you're right in your approach. There's a "threshhold" for deductability, as I recall, on health expenses, including health insurance, where employer-paid insurance is tax-free, as are the benefits. It only makes sense for the employer to buy and provide the coverage. And it's seldom that an individual family can buy it as well as the employer can, where you have multiple employees.

On life insurance, giving the employee a multiple of annual base salary is the most common way of determining the benefit, that I know of.

Bart Barber said...


No disagreement here!


Thanks for mentioning the formula for calculating life insurance need based upon a multiple of one's salary. That is a good industry practice. What I meant to indicate is that a 25-year-old single man, a 41-year-old married man with 3 children, and a 64-year-old man who is financially ready to retire and whose children all are grown—these three scenarios represent drastically different life insurance needs. One might argue that the first and third scenarios really only need enough insurance to cover final expenses. The middle scenario represents someone who needs enough of a life insurance benefit to finish raising his children and to provide for his wife until ample retirement funds are available.

Anonymous said...

Good words.

If you have to go cheap, go cheap on salary - not benefits!


kws said...

Could not agree more. We actually require all of our full-time employees to keep 3x their annual salary in life insurance for this very reason. Three years ago we lost a 37 year old staff member who left seven children. The church family gave assistance beyond this, but the insurance allowed us the time and clarity to formulate a proper response to the need.

Tim Rogers said...


What is your formula for the short-term disability? We are dealing with this now and yours truly has been turned down for short-term disability.

Bart Barber said...


We just keep paying the salary until the long-term disability kicks in. At least, that's the plan. We've never had to do it, yet.

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