Emerging ministry leaders and self-employment

​Case 1

Joshua, a recent seminary graduate, is a candidate preparing for ordination. He has completed his ordination exams and is approved by the presbytery to seek a call. He and his wife, Marissa, own a small coffeeshop, a business Marissa started during Joshua’s seminary years. With missional zeal, Joshua gathers a group of about 20 young adults weekly for Bible study on Thursday nights after the coffeehouse closes. The presbytery is aware of this ministry, but it has neither officially endorsed the program nor committed financial support. The group collects weekly donations (typically about $50 per week), used to cover the costs of coffee and Bible study materials.

Joshua approaches the Committee on Preparation for Ministry with the proposal that he be ordained to lead this emerging ministry. Several participants plan to marry and have asked Joshua about conducting the services. Ordination would allow him to officiate at weddings and generate ministry-related income. Joshua has learned also that with ordination and ministry-related income, he would qualify to secure medical coverage through the Board of Pensions.

Several members of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry are reluctant to ordain someone to a position the presbytery cannot fund for a ministry that is not yet officially established. Others in the presbytery argue that innovative and entrepreneurial forms of evangelism are needed.

How would you respond to Joshua’s request? What benefits would he be eligible for through the Board of Pensions?

Case 2

For more than 30 years, Debbie has served as a pastor and on mid council staffs. She wants now to engage in new, cutting-edge ministries of consultation and spiritual direction for both individuals and organizations. Debbie is boldly adventurous and sees herself as self-employed in this new ministry. She does not know how many contracts she will generate in the first year of operation. At the outset, at least, she will not have a set salary and is not sure what level of income she will secure. She has set aside savings to help her launch the venture. She is married and her husband is supportive of her new sense of call. Indeed, his mature and stable professional status affords a level of security as Debbie explores and develops new forms of ministry.

Debbie approaches the Committee on Ministry and requests validation of this ministry in which she will be self-employed and will set up an advisory board including members of the presbytery. She also wants to explore the availability of benefits with the Board of Pensions.

How would you respond to Debbie’s request? What benefits would she be eligible for through the Board of Pensions?

The Board's perspective 

  1. The cases present unique issues to the presbytery. Joshua is a candidate seeking ordination and validation of an emerging ministry. Debbie is ordained, experienced, and seeking validation of an emerging ministry of a very different sort. The cases raise ecclesiastical questions the presbytery must wrestle with. Eligibility for benefits depends on the decisions made and the evolving nature of the respective ministries.
  2. Not ordained and having no employment with a Presbyterian-related organization, Joshua is not eligible for enrollment in the Benefits Plan. If, however, he were ordained and receiving some level of ministry-generated income (the $50 per week offering and potential wedding honorariums), Joshua could secure medical coverage through menu options. As a self-employed minister, he would then be considered the employer under Section 3.2(a)(3) of the Benefits Plan. He could enroll for medical coverage and would be potentially eligible for the Retirement Savings Plan of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (RSP). As long as there is ministry-generated income that can go toward RSP contributions, he could use other resources (such as income from other employment or personal assets) to pay for medical coverage. (The cost for medical coverage would be based on age, regional cost of services, and coverage level.) RSP contributions are limited to ministry-generated income, so Joshua cannot defer coffeeshop earnings for an employee contribution.
  3. If the presbytery validates Debbie’s ministry, she will be considered self-employed. If working without a specified salary and less than 20 hours per week, she is not eligible for the full range of benefits available through the Board of Pensions. As a self-employed minister, she would be considered the employer under Section 3.2(a)(3) of the Benefits Plan. She could enroll for medical coverage and the RSP. As long as there is ministry-generated income that can go toward the cost, she could use other resources (such as income from other employment or personal assets) to pay for medical coverage. The price would be based on age, regional cost of services, and coverage level. RSP contributions are limited to ministry-generated income. If at some point Debbie is working on a salaried basis and for 20 or more hours per week, she would be eligible for other benefits through menu options or Pastor’s Participation.