Should Ordained Pastors Opt Out of Social Security? No.

Should ordained pastors/ministers opt out of self employment taxes (i.e. Social Security and Medicare taxes)?

No.

Unless you meet extremely rare requirements.

None of which include the following:

  • Social Security benefits won’t be available when I retire
  • It’s poor stewardship of God’s money
  • I can do a better job investing than the government
  • It’s not the governments job to take care of people
  • Extra cash in the pocket!

In order to opt out you agree to:

I certify that I am conscientiously opposed to, or because of my religious principles I am opposed to, the acceptance (for services I perform as a minister, member of a religious order not under a vow of poverty, or a Christian Science practitioner) of any public insurance that makes payments in the event of death, disability, old age, or retirement; or that makes payments toward the cost of, or provides services for, medical care. (Public insurance includes insurance systems established by the Social Security Act.)
~IRS Form 4361

That statement is extremely wordy. So let me simplify it for you.

I am conscientiously opposed to the acceptance of any public insurance that makes payments in the event of death, disability, old, age or retirement.

The key here is if you have a conscious/religious objection to receiving public insurance (e.g. Social Security, Medicare).

Most arguments I’ve heard for opting out argue against the Social Security system. It’s not the governments job. Won’t be available when I retire. I can do a better job investing for retirement . . .

Those are all invalid arguments.

Remember, the form is asking if you have an objection to receiving public insurance. It is not asking what you think about public insurance as a whole.

Should you opt out? One question to ask yourself.

It all boiled down to this question for me.

Assume you’ve paid into the Social Security system for 50 years. Would you be okay receiving retirement benefits from the government (or any of the benefits from the other public insurance programs)?

If you answer yes to this question you have no religious or conscious reason to ethically sign the form and opt out.

“Even if I have to pay the taxes, I can never file for the benefits, since my theology will never allow me to accept them.”
~Memo #10 – Can Ministers Opt Out of Social Security?

Final Advice

The decision to opt out of social security should not be taken lightly.
~Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability

Read Form 4361. Don’t blindly accept the advice of others. Know what you are signing and saying yes to.

I highly recommend reading this article from Russell Moore for a very well argued and biblical response to whether ordained ministers/pastors should opt out.

Be sure whatever your decision, you can stand before Jesus with a clear conscious and a pure heart.

I think a great prayer in this situation is:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
~Psalm 51:10 (NIV)

A pure heart. One that is not tempted by money. A steadfast spirit. One that strives to live according to God’s moral and ethical standards.

Sources and Additional Resources

I’d love to hear your reasons for either opting out or not. Please let me know in the comments!

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Comments

  1. says

    Interesting article. Based on the discussions I have had with a number of pastors on this subject I’m not sure most of them really read Form 4361 before signing it. I could not sign it with a pure heart after reading it. It’s one of those decisions I remember every year when tax time come around.

    • Alex Tran says

      @Pastor Mike: Yah, that was pretty much my conclusion after asking around as well. I mean, seriously, who reads IRS tax forms? ;)

      Glad to see I’m not the only guy with his head screwed on a little differently. ;)

  2. Pastor Taylor says

    The fact of the matter is that the Social Security that we receive is not insurance, but it is actually welfare!

    • Alex Tran says

      @Pastor Taylor: Sorry for the delay in approving this comment. For some reason I didn’t get an email notification about it. :(

      I haven’t heard that description before, so curious to if you could elaborate on how Social Security is like welfare?

      • Robin says

        According to Crown Financial Ministries, Social Security has been determined by the Supreme Court of the United States not to be an insurance plan but a social welfare plan provided by the government.

        • Alex Tran says

          For others reading this, here’s the article from Crown Financial Ministries which asserts that.

          So, with that stance how do you think that affects the question of ordained pastors opting out of Social Security?

  3. Tim says

    You left out the most key part in your simplified version: “for services I perform as a minister.” As a Baptist who strongly believes in a separation of church and state I believe it is unethical for a governing agency and unbelievers to be paying me for services within my autonomous local church. This is similar reasoning to why our church constitution does not allow us to do fund raisers and such. I’m afraid you have oversimplified this issue.

    • Alex Tran says

      Hiya Tim! Thanks for commenting.

      Can you elaborate more on your beliefs on the separation of church and state? And also the objections your church constitution has to fund raising?

  4. Wesley says

    You said

    “The key here is if you have a conscious/religious objection to receiving public insurance (e.g. government grants/loans for higher education, Social Security, FHA/HUD housing loans, Medicare).”

    What the form actually says it acceptance of public insurance “that makes payments in the event of death, disability, old age, or retirement;…medical care ”

    student loans, government grants and housing loans are not for death, disability, old age or retirement. The form does not say “all” forms of insurance, but “any” with a qualifier.

    Granted it would still include Medicare/aid. But if the minister has other better insurance it would not be an issue anyway.

    Secondly, it only says for funds received as a minster. So for instance a minster could still sign and not have a problem with his wife paying into it for a secular job. This would also not cover previous secular jobs.

    • Alex Tran says

      Hiya Wesley! Thanks for pointing that out. You’re right, so I’ve updated the post and removed reference to grants/loans.

      Thanks!

  5. says

    Hey Alex,

    Thanks for the information. I disagree with your simplification of why a pastor would opt out. You stated
    “Assume you’ve paid into the Social Security system for 50 years. Would you be okay receiving retirement benefits from the government (or any of the benefits from the other public insurance programs)?”

    At first that seemed correct, and while it is still reasonable I think it isn’t correct. It’s hard to go against the term “conscientiously oppose”; seems pretty straight forward. I don’t conscientiously oppose receiving aid from the government for reasons I won’t go into here. I do fall under the category of “because of my religious principles I am opposed to,” however. In which case, I would have no problem signing it and I wouldn’t be lying. My religious principles oppose receiving aid, but they aren’t conscientiously opposed.

    • Alex Tran says

      Howdy John!

      I appreciate the feedback (particularly the other side of the coin).

      Would you be willing to share what religious principles prevent you from receiving aid?

      I honestly haven’t heard a religiously-based argument that I believe would qualify someone to sign the form. Really curious to hear your perspective.

      Thanks!

  6. says

    Well, first off; I found your site while googling the pastor’s social security thing. I just recently learned that pastors are able to opt, through my pastor mentioning that he opted out.

    Anyways. I suppose it all goes back to Christ’s second greatest commandment; which is basically the golden rule. To love your neighbor as yourself is to do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself. I don’t want to be forced to pay someone else’s retirement, nor would I want to force anybody else to pay for mine. Which is what SS is. It isn’t some savings account that we all pay into; the money I am currently paying into SS is already spent on non-SS things (like military intervention in Uganda). Much of SS is funded by debt right now, debt which future people will be forced to pay. I can’t willingly condone that. That is a brief argument for why I would oppose it.

    You could state conscientiously oppose based on that, but I don’t conscientiously oppose because of the other side of the coin. Which is; as the government receives all money by force or fraud, it is essentially theft. And I advocate taking money back from thieves; so if you are able to legally get money back from the state (even if it’s not literally the same cash you had stolen from you) then by all means, take as much as possible. I’d trust retirees more than the government with the extra cash.

    That’s kind of a brief answer to a complicated issue; but I hope that helps. I can elaborate on any point if requested but nor do I want to bore you with what is often seen as an unusual and unthinkable basis.

  7. Randal Austin says

    Yes, pastors should have the right to opt out of SS…. When it is the money given from people for the purpose of Gods increase, the SS system is not on the table. The tithes/oferings are ment for Gods work. However SS payments made with money earned outside of the church is a different matter.

    • Alex Tran says

      Hi Randal! Thanks for chiming in on this conversation.

      Could you elaborate more on “When it is the money given from people for the purpose of Gods increase, the SS system is not on the table.”

      I’m not sure I understand how the SS system is not on the table under that situation.

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