Beginning with the end in mind is about more than simply accomplishing a significant task, it is about living a significant life.
Most of you know, if we have had any personal time together, that I am a planner. I can’t seem to help it; it’s just who I am and how I think. And I’ve discovered over and over again with my own life when I have failed to plan, personally, and by watching the lives of others who failed to plan, just how important it is. Having a mental target in your imagination, a goal you’re driven to achieve is one of the principle steps in developing a clear vision for action in the life of a leader. I remember an old mentor of mine that used to say, “he who aims at nothing usually hits it.” Great leaders are not about wielding their power; they are about shouldering their responsibilities. It’s hard to do this effectively without planning; planning is being responsible.
Stephen Covey, one of the great thinkers in the arena of personal empowerment and leadership, identifies this truth and includes it in his famous list of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is habit number two, “Begin with the end in mind.” Beginning with the end in mind in another way of saying that you should have a clear vision of what you want to do. It’s very important in the process of accomplishing goals, but it is also important in the process of living a significant life.
In ministry, most leaders understand this concept at some level as it relates to accomplishing ministry goals, but there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to the area of personal finances. Maybe we think of it as a lack of faith to plan for our personal financial lives? Or maybe we see it as less spiritual or, in some way, selfish. As ministry leaders I believe it is our responsibility to not only plan for the future of the ministry but also to plan for our families’ financial future as well. Really the two are connected. It dawned on me several years ago that one of the greatest gifts I can give to the ministry after a lifetime of service is to be financially prepared to step aside when it’s time.
Too often people are forced to stay in particular ministry positions too long because they have no other financial recourse. Most of us have seen people occupy a position past their passion, past their productivity, and past their vision. These people who were once an asset to the ministry can sadly become a liability. In most cases, this could have been avoided with proper planning and management.
So, it’s time to think and plan for your retirement, and let me say that the earlier you begin the process, the less traumatic it is to your personal finances as well as the ministry’s. With that said, let me encourage you today to consider your compensation package and the three components that I believe should be considered as a part of it. Your compensation package goes beyond just your weekly paycheck. Here are some things I have learned and that I wish someone had taught me earlier:
1. Have a vision and plan your life the same way you plan your ministry future. Have a vision for your future outside of vocational ministry and apart from the current position you occupy. We all plan to serve God and others for the rest of our life, but it’s ok to acknowledge that there may come a time when the “senior responsible party” position may be better filled by someone else. Don’t be afraid of it. Envision that time, strategize for it and when it’s time, embrace it. You can, if you are financially prepared. I turned 55 this year, and more than ever I am aware of the fact that nothing is forever but God. Cathy and I have been working for many years to prepare for life in our 60s and beyond. We have not accomplished everything in our plan yet, and we need several more years of consistent acting in accordance with our plan, but are in a much better position that we would have been if we had not taken action years ago. The point is you need a goal and a plan.
2. Every paid leadership position should include a savings/retirement mandate. A certain percentage of your salary should be set aside for retirement, or at least for savings. This will serve you well at the time of retirement, but beyond retirement, sometimes positions we thought would last forever do not. It is not uncommon for a church or ministry who hires a leader to help pay for relocating expenses if necessary, but seldom are there monies provided for your departure if the position doesn’t work out. There are several different opinions on the subject of tenure; some suggest the average tenure of a local church pastor is 3.6 years (Lifeway), others a bit longer, some as high as 8 to 10 years. Regardless of who is right, it is not normally a full career. Staying in one position your entire career is the exception not the rule. If there is a savings mandate in place on the front end, then there should be monies that you have saved to help you transition from one place to the other should you have to move. I have seen numerous situations when there was an unexpected departure and simply no money available to help with the transition. As a senior leader you must have this possibility on your radar and have a contingency plan in place. When taking a position, don’t make the assumption that it will last forever. Begin with the end in mind. Plan to stay forever, but be prepared; you might not.
As savings relates to retirement, the earlier you begin to have a savings plan as part of your compensation package, the smaller amount you have to save at once to accomplish your goals. Studies show that if you manage to sustain 7 % interest and save $40 a week, you will have $953,404 after 50 years of saving. So, maybe you don’t have 50 years, increase the weekly number to the amount you can afford and have it put into a secure investment where you cannot get to it. This is a key. Life happens to us all, but some monies you save should be secured in a location that cannot be touched except in life or death situations.
3. A Life Insurance Policy(s) should be part of your plan. None of us plan to pass away unexpectedly, but if that should happen, your family will have to deal with expenses associated with your passing and any potential medical expense associated with an accident or illness. Plus, it will take an extended season of adjustment for the family to adapt to the absence of your personal income in the family’s budget. Life insurance is a financial solution to this potential problem in the short term.
Another reason life insurance is important is that if you study personal finances, you will find that most people get really serious about saving for retirement during the last 15 to 20 years before retirement. A life insurance policy becomes a bridge that lets your family experience the retirement plans you had in mind even if you don’t live long enough to accomplish them through savings and investment. I believe that my family is my responsibility whether I’m alive or not. Having an appropriate amount of life insurance provides options for your family and the ministry should something happen to you.
I know this is not an exhaustive list of things to do to prepare for retirement, but they are a start. I believe that if you put them in place, you will be so much better off in the end. A friend, Pastor Brett Jones, recently posted a powerful statement that hit hard but is true. Essentially he said, “Too many in the church world today prefer miracles above discipline.” When I read that I thought how true, if we fail to discipline ourselves, we are always going to need a miracle. Thank God for His grace and His faithfulness to send miracles when we need them, but when it comes to personal finances, I believe the mature route for Christian leaders is being disciplined to do what we can and then to trust God to do what we cannot. Begin with the end in mind! Develop a vision for your future. Make a plan that works. Work your plan.