by P. J. Anderson
A year of research and discussion with 18 faith (independent) and denominational mission societies, concerning 20 possible characteristics of planning and providing retirement income, has revealed a wide diversity of beliefs and practices.
This article was written by an associate of a consulting service whose personnel are known by the editor. It is the policy of the consultants not to identify themselves or their clients in releases such as this.— Ed.
Missionaries are certainly familiar with and rely upon Philippians 4:19: "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." American missionaries are also required by the present socio-economic structure to consider the alternatives for providing retirement income. This includes entry-level personnel, mid-career missionaries, and veteran servants for whom the wholly active years of service have been fulfilled.
A year of research and discussion with 18 faith (independent) and denominational mission societies, concerning 20 possible characteristics of planning and providing retirement income, has revealed a wide diversity of beliefs and practices. Conversations and correspondence with administrators, as well as with field personnel, uniformly reveal that in the diversity of the "how-to" there is heart-longing to have the practice fulfill the principle of Philippians 4:19 and at the same time face the reality of living in the world we are "in" but not "of."
This essay results from pondering and praying about how the research might be summarized for readers of Evangelical Missions Quarterly in a provocative but non-pontificating way. Please read the following six observations and seven ideas with that spirit in mind.
Observation 1. There is a time-honored, traditional view of Philippians 4:19 that no longer squares with the real world. That view basically says, "I will be full or suffer need as God wills, and I will live hand-to-mouth so long as it is his hand and my mouth." For the generations of the valiant servants who were in circumstances that permitted living without reserves or planning ahead, all praise to the Lord and honor to them. But if one of them from two or three generations back could return today, he or she would be faced, at a minimum, with paying Social Security taxes. There is more than one setting in which the apostle’s logic is inescapable: "else must we leave the earth."
Observation 2. The necessities of changing support systems and financial planning for the future have built-in-hazards. The Lord’s work may be carried out as a copy of the commercial world.
In the commercial environment, financial planning for retirement by-and-large is based on the incentive of getting away from work and on to leisure and ease as soon as possible. This means getting the most financial security and creature comforts.
But this philosophy violates the life of being a servant. The servant assumes that all planning will be accompanied by faith and faithful service. The financial planning we have in mind is intended to extend rather than to cut off or inhibit service.
Observation 3. Among the 18 groups mentioned above, with one or two exceptions, the privately expressed feelings were ones of frustration and uncertainty. Most felt their efforts in planning have been too little, too late. They are ever playing catch-up. Occasionally, sounds of despair crept in: "We have nothing to share. All you could learn from us is what not to do." Mostly, however, there is a determination to keep the problem front and center, ever seeking the techniques for the greatest possible honoring of Philippians 4:19.
Observation 4. There is not surprisingly a variety of views among entry level, mid-career, and elder veterans about the "how much" and "how to" of financial planning. There also is a wide disparity of views on what Philippians 4:19 promises, between those committed to the support practices found in the "faith missions" and those who work in more denominational patterns of support.
Observation 5. Among those who do not want to plan ahead by financial "set-aside" now, there is a reluctance to consider as a whole a number of New Testament injunctions along with the Philippians 4:19 promise. One example is the passage about government in Romans 13:7, 8: "Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due,revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." To get a further indication of Paul’s feelings about "beforehand planning," Philippians 4:19 and Romans 13:7-8 should be placed alongside 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: "Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come."
Observation 6. The God who supplies all needs is as able to provide by increments ahead of time (i.e., as weekly-offerings in anticipation of the larger needs) as by bailout-type rescue miracles. For example, consider how this principle applies to a non-retirement situation. A truly needed vehicle can just as well have funds provided ahead of time as by pleading for help for long-term payments that are loaded with finance charges.
Another example: Why have many missions with inadequate retirement funding almost uniformly required that basic support be underwritten before a new missionary goes to the field, plus beforehand provisions of equipment, personal supplies, and travel money? Ask any experienced missions person about the long-term dire consequences to the mission, as well as to the individual missionary, when "urgency" is allowed to violate the above beforehand stipulations.
From these observations come some how-to-do-it ideas for pondering:
Idea 1. Newly established retirement programs, and modifications of existing programs, should be designed to recognize and enhance the ongoing usefulness of veteran missionaries. In the commercial world, retirement and on-the-shelf are usually one and the same. In missionary service, retirement arrangements should be actively and creatively sought to maximize the potential contribution of retirees as long as practical.
Idea 2. Retirement programs should be planned to encourage individual missionaries to exercise faith about their maintenance. For many, this could mean avoidance of depending on collective faith. For some, this could mean the ability to contribute financial help for the benefit of those for whom collective-faith dependence is God’s channel of supply. This principle of the continuity of exercising personal faith should be clearly spelled out with entry-level personnel-the ones who will be more heavily affected by ahead-of-time financial set-aside than will the present mid-career and veteran people.
Idea 3. The first two ideas imply that some form of reduced assignment could well be provided for missionaries who have reached retirement age. No one really knows what retirement age is. The most common number is 65. But enforced earlier retirement in the commercial world has been increasingly common. However, in the decades ahead the U.S. Social Security system will very probably raise the number to 68 in graduated steps.
Any reduced assignment system must recognize the voluntary, cooperative nature within the relationship. People with this status should have full provision for medical attention and disability support.
Idea 4. Administrators will have a host of unanswerable worries about how the spirit of ideas 1 through 3 can be put on paper neatly and precisely. Objections granted. But the objective should be pursued. Idea 4 is that the value of retirees is so great that a full-time person within the administration should have the sole function of managing the affairs of people on reduced assignment after reaching retirement-income status. The office should be headed by a senior officer who knows (and does not need to learn) the process, privileges, and problems of reaching the age of reduced assignment.
Idea 5. Idea 4 must not be administered at the whim of the suggested person or office. Written criteria for a reduced-assignment program are a must. Mission agencies have a moral responsibility toward people with extensive, proven service. One of the specifics (certainly not the easiest to put in written form) must be provision for flexibility. Within the personnel of any mission there is wide diversity in personal stewardship, money management skills, and personal and/or family resources. The written criteria must also respect the different levels of need within the mission. Reduced-assignment status is not intended to become a consortium of make-work projects. Personal initiatives and the mission’s needs should be equally respected.
Idea 6. Variances in the program must be more than verbal. Every variance must be a matter of record and should bear the signatures of the person(s) involved and the officer with the authority to formalize the variance. Assured understanding by those involved in the variances is a must.
Idea 7. In most missionary societies, there are three groups that need to be accommodated: (l) incoming and, usually, young, inexperienced personnel; (2) mid-career missionaries; (3) missionaries within five years of retirement age, or who already have attained age 65. The burden of financial provision for retirement is inverse to attained age. Youngest people need greatest help in understanding the necessity of an appropriate strategy for the planning of reduced assignments and retirement.
Guidance is needed to enable missionaries to perceive that Social Security amounts, plus funds from mission retirement plans, need to be supplemented by personal high-quality IRA investments, or some other suitable tax-sheltered personal program in which they have vested interest.
People who support missions and missionaries likewise need guidance (and in many cases re-education) about retirement. During productive years salary schedules and personal planning should provide for retirement and/or for times of reduced assignments.
Our observations and ideas merit further discussion. We hope some of them will be deemed worthy of serious brainstorming by mission agency executives. It should be remembered that in this article we have necessarily resorted to generalizations. No generalization is ever entirely accurate and precise.
Our observations and ideas are accompanied:
by the longings of the researchers’ hearts that the Holy Spirit of God will mercifully cause any unrecognized but inevitable chaff to be blown away by the winds of forgetfulness;
by the writers’ desire not to violate the faith principle in the true biblical sense, but rather to dignify a trust relationship;
by encouraging essential and appropriate planning, to make sure that faith does not deteriorate into presumption;
by the hopes that every kernel of what is true will grow on to its own harvest of usefulness within the total enterprise of fulfilling our Lord’s "Go ye" command.
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