Evangelical Missions Quarterly had an article last year that probably nobody found interesting. (Sorry, can’t find it available online.)
However, since here at BFFM I focus many financial aspects of being a missionary, I was thrilled it was written.
It was about retirement funding for missionaries. What can be more exciting than that?! (Not sarcasm.)
Have you considered retirement options for missionaries?
Most churches involved in foreign missions have a bulletin board hanging up somewhere in their church. A map with indicators for where all their missionaries serve is par for the course.
At this one church, I saw something additional I had never seen.
I saw a few elderly couples listed along with all the other missionaries.
However, they were in the US, and they didn’t have any particular ministry description.
That was odd. Then I saw that they were listed as “retired” – but the church was continuing to support them financially on a monthly basis.
Thousands of dollars, annually, were going to retired missionaries because they had not previously saved or invested for retirement.
God bless that church for taking care of their missionaries who were no longer in the field. But is that the best way to prepare for missionaries’ retirement?
Here’s where the EMQ article comes in.
Retirement Savings for Missionaries.
The article had studied four different missions agencies, and they examined how much money was budgeted for retirement. Of the four different agencies, guess how many of them were saving adequately for retirement.
One. Just one in four.
All the agencies saved something for retirement, but only one in four budgeted enough so that missionaries could reasonably plan to retire around 65.
Reasons for Little Funding for Retirement for Missionaries.
I’ve got a few hunches as to why such little funding is given to retirement for missionaries.
First, perhaps neither mission agencies nor missionaries themselves really plan on being missionaries for very long. If that’s the case, they can make up the necessary retirement savings in their next career.
Perhaps some missionaries saved a lot early in life, and now being a missionary is their second career.
Have missionaries felt pressure to raise as little funds as possible to get to the field, and so retirement contributions are not viewed as necessary?
Some missionaries may be oblivious to the need to save for retirement.
Or, they feel called by God to a certain ministry, and they feel like details that may not matter until 40 years later is not something they should focus on right now.
Lastly – and most optimistically – since Christian ministers actually grow in earnings potential age 50 and beyond, maybe they will serve as pastors or counselors and earn money that way well past retirement. That is, as they accumulate more wisdom and experience in Christian ministry, their human capital increases. (Human capital is another topic altogether. However, most careers have declining human capital once they pass about 40.)
Should Retirement Funding Affect which Missions Agency You Choose?
All other things being equal, you should choose an agency that requires you to raise funds to adequately save for retirement.
It’s not that simple, though. No two agencies are the same, and so all other things are never equal!
Having said that, if you plan on being a missionary for more than a few years, weigh the retirement contribution factor heavily.
Retirement contributions should be weighed so heavily because you have to have a longer term perspective on serving as a missionary. Saving and preparing a little bit now will help you minister longer.
If you don’t take this longer term perspective, it can really hurt.
I have met a former missionary who told me: “I was a missionary until I was 55. Then, I realized I was going to have to retire at some point in the future, and I had nothing saved for that. So, I had to go work on something else and make a bunch of money.”
Now, it seemed like he really liked the switch he made to his new career, and it worked out well for him and his family. The bad part is that he didn’t really have a choice. He had to leave his ministry and go do something else.
If you want the choice to serve as a missionary for many years, pick an agency that requires adequate saving for retirement.