Three Retirement Best Practices for Pastors

By Hance Dilbeck

The first sermon I preached was on a Sunday night at a small Oklahoma church. I preached on Revelation 2 and 3, the letters to the churches. I delivered it in about seven minutes.

It was a train wreck.

I’m thankful there are no recordings of that first sermon on YouTube!

Through training, first at Oklahoma Baptist University, then at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, along with some patient congregations and a loving wife who keeps me on my toes and humble, I progressed from that first sermon. Most pastors have similar stories of their first sermons. The pattern should be familiar: we learn from experts, apply what was taught and then encourage those who come after us.

Planning for your retirement journey is something you may have given no thought to, or it may be something you know you need to consider but haven’t had the time. Others may be on the journey. You may have started, but then the demands of family finances derailed you.

Just like preaching, though, you need to learn from the experts, apply what they teach, and then encourage those who follow after you.

At GuideStone®, the ministry I’ve been privileged to lead for just over a year now, we employ a team of experts on retirement, insurance and investments. They are some of the brightest minds with impressive initials after their names – CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals, Chartered Retirement Plan CounselorSM professionals, MBAs, CPAs and others. Many came from the big names in the financial space.

They are at GuideStone because they believe in and live out our mission to enhance financial security and resilience for those who serve the Lord. They’ve caught our vision to see every servant of Christ finishes well. 

Learn from the experts.

There are three things our experts hope you learn:

  1. Stay in Social Security. You may be tempted to opt-out if you’re at the very start of your ministry. Some well-meaning people will encourage you to do so. Let me encourage you to continue paying into Social Security. Yes, the quarterly payments may be hard to make, but in the long term, opting out is a decision almost every pastor regrets making. GuideStone has free information on why opting out of Social Security isn’t the answer

  2. Invest regularly and stay invested for the long haul. Contributing to a 403(b) retirement plan — like the Church Retirement Plan from GuideStone, designed exclusively for Southern Baptist churches and staff — is a great habit to start on day one every time you get paid. Those contributions add up, taking advantage of today’s prices of mutual funds, and will help you build your savings over time. Staying invested is the second part of this. Markets are cyclical — they have periods of ups and downs. No one knows when they will go down or when they’ll start their climb. So, be sure to stay invested during periods of market volatility, and don’t be spooked by the headlines on your social media feed.

  3. Teach your people to provide you with the proper pay in the proper way. The 2022 SBC Church Compensation Survey indicates that the median annual salary for lead pastors in Southern Baptist churches is $70,000. This includes churches large and small across the nation. That amount may be more than you currently get paid — it may be less. Do some research — what do others with an education similar to you with commensurate responsibility — business owners, accountants, principals, bankers — earn in your community. Present that, as appropriate, to your church leadership so that they are aware and can make an informed salary decision. Then, make sure your church doesn’t provide a lump sum approach; instead, a salary-and-benefits approach will reduce your tax burden, even if the church cannot raise your salary as high as they would like. Advocate for yourself and ask the Lord to raise up advocates for you.

Apply what you learned.

Knowledge is only good if you apply it. Like that first sermon, you may not get everything right in your first pastorate or with your first foray into investing for retirement. Still, the more you apply what you learn and recover from missteps, the sooner your retirement investments can grow and bless you, your wife and your family.

Encourage those who come up after you.

Some of you are on your own journey. Still, if you are a pastor at a multi-staff church, you also have a responsibility to ensure that the staff who serves alongside you are making wise decisions about their retirement planning. Make sure you advocate with your finance, personnel or the appropriate committee or board on their behalf. Encourage the new minister not to opt out of Social Security. Encourage your worship minister, custodian, children’s minister or secretary to enroll in and contribute to the Church Retirement Plan. And when you have the opportunity to take other pastors under your wing, to pass on the knowledge others have poured into you, do so joyfully and happily.

Pastor, yours is a high calling indeed. We at GuideStone count it a sincere blessing to serve you and your church from the first day of your ministry until the Lord calls you home.

To learn more about SBC church benefits or to enroll, visit

If you have more questions or need additional assistance on retirement planning, you may reach a customer solutions specialist by calling GuideStone at 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433), Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT. 

For tax questions, you may also choose to contact a certified tax professional who is familiar with ministerial taxes.

This educational information is not intended as legal or tax advice. Ministers or churches with specific legal or tax questions should consult a legal or tax advisor who understands ministerial tax issues.

Dr. Hance Dilbeck is the president and CEO of GuideStone. He joined GuideStone in July 2021 as President-elect and became President on March 1, 2022. Dr. Dilbeck came to GuideStone from the position of executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists since 2018. Prior to that, he had served as a pastor in Oklahoma churches for 30 years, 15 of which were at the Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. During that time, the church tripled in size even as it took part in planting 32 churches. He has been an active participant in denominational life, having served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Oklahoma Baptist University, Southwestern Seminary, and the International Mission Board through the years.

Dr. Dilbeck holds his undergraduate degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and both his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Julie have three married sons and eight grandchildren.