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09 May 2017

Baskets, Flowers and the IRS?

Raul Rivera

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, and I felt it was appropriate to write a blog about this special day. Many churches use this particular Sunday to recognize and honor the moms in attendance. While your church should honor all moms who will be in attendance - new moms, experienced moms, grand-moms, single moms, teenage moms, stay-at-home-moms, working moms, moms who may have lost a child, and every other kind of mom in between - I want to use this post to emphasize the importance of honoring the pastor’s wife.**

After being in ministry for around 20 years, I can truly say that there are few people anywhere, in any church, who have as much impact as the pastor’s wife. Yet, most of what she does is behind the scenes and goes unnoticed.

Pastors’ wives are the ones who will not rest until they have found solutions to the many challenges of coordinating events at the church, organizing cleaning schedules, and scheduling board meetings. Usually, they are not the ones giving sermons, leading from the front, or getting the praise. They often move and operate under the radar, loving the church and its people, which then creates a foundation upon which a thriving church can be built. 

When I was speaking at our Ultimate Church Structure Conferences, I would travel to more than 40 cities each year. Here is what I know; without my loving wife doing the hundreds of tasks behind the scenes, I would have never been able to do it, and I know very well that many of you pastors reading this can attest to the same thing.

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Giving honor to whom honor is due

When I was pastoring, my wife worked tirelessly to make me look better than I really was and to help our church in countless ways. Whether she was leading praise and worship, coordinating the logistics of our outreach programs, or managing the women’s ministry, her relentless pursuit of my well-being and that of the church was never compromised.

I recall one day many years ago, I was in a hurry, and I tried to escape the house with a pair of pants that were poorly ironed. To my surprise, like a Doppler radar scanning the skies, my wife scanned the details of my attire and noticed the small creases on the side of my pants.

Not allowing me to leave the house in wrinkled pants, she immediately went about helping me get ready. She would not let me leave unless she ironed them to perfection. A mere 15 minutes later, I left the house with perfectly pressed pants, looking like I was ready to conquer the world!

Even to this day, I do not know how she does it. Her capacity to care for and love us is awe-inspiring. I am amazed and humbled at her dedication to her family and even more so, to the Lord and to His bride.

A job with no stardom

The truth about the role of the pastor’s wife is that it does not come with stardom. In fact, the wives of pastors will often attest to the reality of more scrutiny from the church than support. 

She usually serves unpaid, and though she knows she is worth pay, she does not ask. In fact, in many churches when the pastor's salary is considered, what the pastor’s wife does is oftentimes considered as part of the package.

Hence, my question to you is: Has your church actually stopped to think about all that your pastor’s wife does?

After pastoring my own church, and talking with thousands of pastors and ministry leaders through StartCHURCH, I find the job description of a pastor’s wife to be one of the most important roles in the local church. Here are a few of the most common roles she plays in the church:

  1. Internal Support: Most churches do not understand how often their senior pastor gets discouraged, and how often he wants to quit the ministry. You have the pastor’s wife to thank for him sticking it out another week!
  2. Nurturer: In general, mothers are nurturers. The nurturing that a mother gives to her children plays a huge part in the adults that they become. In a similar fashion, a pastor’s wife may be considered the church mother by caring, loving, and nurturing those within the church without expecting anything in return.
  3. Bookkeeper: Most often in church life, the pastor’s wife is the bookkeeper. She is keeping the church on track financially—a responsibility that comes with much burden.
  4. Coordinator: Oftentimes, the pastor’s wife is in charge of multiple schedules. From the volunteer schedule to the meetings of the board of directors, to most calendars within the church, the buck tends to stop with the pastor’s wife.
  5. Intercessor: Only heaven really knows the prayers of the pastor’s wife that have kept the church and the pastor covered in the arms of God’s grace. Many times, I would find my wife on her knees, with her Bible open, crying out for me and the church and the city in which we were investing our lives. Like Aaron, the pastor’s wife often lifts the heaviest hands.

Has your church actually stopped to think about all that your pastor’s wife does?

What you need to know about gifts of appreciation

As a token of appreciation, many churches may choose to honor the pastor’s wife by giving her a gift of appreciation. This is often done with gift baskets, flowers, or gift cards. How does the IRS view such gifts since those gifts are given to the pastor’s wife out of appreciation for all that she does for the church?

Treasury Regulation 1.132-6(c) makes it clear that cash, or cash equivalents, are subject to federal income tax as well as Social Security tax. To complicate matters more, if the recipient is a non-ministerial employee of the church, such as the pastor’s wife, the church is required to withhold federal income tax and FICA tax.

So, what can the church give to the pastor’s wife that would not be considered taxable?

To answer this question we need to become familiar with the term “de minimis.” In essence, “de minimis” means minimal. Thus, if the gift given to the pastor’s wife is so minimal in value that it would be unreasonable or administratively impractical to account for it, you will not have to include the value of such gifts as taxable income. (See IRS Publication 15-B for more information.)

(Recommended reading: “IRS Wants Cut of Volunteer Rewards”)

Advice from one pastor to another

Before I conclude this blog, I want to speak directly to the pastors who are reading this post. Now you know as well as I do that if it was not for your wife there is a chance that you might have left the ministry a while ago. 

Oftentimes, your wife is the one who helps bring calm to the storm. She is the one who, through thick and thin, is going to be by your side with unwavering support.Your wife is the one that you can pour out your heart to and not worry about being judged. She is your life support when you sometimes feel like throwing in the towel.

The simple fact is that the most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with your wife, not the relationship you have with the church board, the deacons, elders, or church congregation.

If you want to have a healthy and vibrant church, you need to have a healthy and vibrant marriage. In order to do that you must spend time with her. Talk with her, not at her. Take her out on a date to a coffee shop or movie. Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you intentionally set aside time for her.

As the saying goes, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.”

A virtuous and capable wife

Proverbs 31 extols a virtuous and capable wife. We are told in verse 10 that such a wife is “worth more than precious rubies.” Like many of you, I can attest to this being true. When everything in ministry seems to be going against you, it is comforting to know that your spouse, your best friend, and partner in ministry is there to support you.

Since your spouse plays such an integral role in your ministry, I invite the both of you to join us at one of our Ultimate Church Structure Conferences for a day of growing, learning, and dreaming of what can only be possible with God.

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**We certainly understand and affirm that the Lord has many women in senior pastor positions throughout America. In all of our conferences and blogs, StartCHURCH celebrates the important role that women play, whether as senior pastor, co-pastor, or another role. This blog was specifically designed to honor those women whose husbands are in the senior pastor role; we hope that you can understand our heart and celebrate her with us.**

Please feel free to comment. We always appreciate good dialogue. However, we do moderate each comment to ensure that it is on topic and not derogatory to other participants. We ask that you keep your comments brief and pertinent to the topic so that others may benefit.

Raul Rivera

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About the Author

Church Planter. Speaker. Author. CEO. Raul Rivera has had ample experience in the church planting world. His current venture, StartCHURCH, has helped 1000's of churches to start right. Raul has compiled an array of manuals and software tools that help churches stay compliant with the IRS. He also hosts over 35 national conferences per year, training pastors on how to launch their churches. Raul is married to his wife Genel, and they and their five children live in Atlanta, GA.