What season of life are you in as a man? And how should that affect your approach to life?

Justin Curtis recently preached “A Word to Men” at Coram Deo Church from Titus 2:1-10. In his sermon he referenced “The Four Seasons of a Man’s Life” from the Authentic Manhood material (an excellent teaching series for men that I can’t recommend highly enough).

In my opinion these four basic seasons are critical for every man to grasp. Just think about the 42-year-old guy who’s trying to act like he’s 22, or the 25-year-old guy who hasn’t taken responsibility for himself and his own future, and you can see why embracing each season and transitioning well is crucial.

Below is a summary of the four seasons of every man’s life. What season are you in? What season are the men around you in? How can you help them live into the fullness of that season?

Spring Season | Age 0-20

  • Theme: IDENTITY
  • The key to this stage is transitioning to adulthood well
  • The key questions of this stage:
    • Who am I? What are my talents?
    • Who am I not? What are my limitations?

Summer Season | Age 20-40

  • The key to this stage is perfecting your skill set and distinguishing your expertise in some area of life that contributes to the good of society.
  • Key questions for your 20’s:
    • What do I want out of life?
    • Where will I distinguish myself professionally?
    • How am I different from my parents?
    • What do I really believe?
    • Around what person or conviction will I organize my life?
  • Key questions for your 30s
    • How do I prioritize the demands made on my life?
    • Have I allowed enough time for a vibrant spiritual life and authentic relationships?

Fall Season | Age 40-60

  • Theme: INFLUENCE
  • Key questions for this stage:
    • Have I achieved everything I wanted?
    • Do I have dreams that are unfulfilled?
    • Can my mistakes be redeemed?
    • Are my accomplishments fulfilling?
    • The major danger of this season mid-life crisis: an escape to numb the pain of past sin/failures or futile attempts to relive the past.

Winter Season | Age 60 +

  • Those who have lived the seasons of manhood well are now marked by composure, maturity, and insight.
  • Young men don’t see you as competition, but as a champion – which gives you tremendous access to mentor and invest in the next generation.
  • The greatest danger of this season is for a man to buy the lie that he can no longer contribute.
  • The major opportunity of this season is to take advantage of your flexibility and to be a blessing to those around you.

For more on the four seasons of a man’s life, check out 33: The Series, Volume 1: A Man and His Design

Church Planters: how well do you understand your tax benefits and liabilities?

Resources abound on issues like ministry philosophy, vision casting, and leadership. But when I was planting Coram Deo Church, I was hard-pressed to find any reliable guide to help me understand income taxes, FICA/SECA, minister’s housing allowance, and the like.

So I’ve compiled one for you. Below is a short briefing on tax-related issues which you can also download in PDF form. Also, at the end of this post you’ll find the audio recording of a short unscripted conversation about ministerial taxes between myself, Trent Senske (my assistant) and Carley Hunzeker (Coram Deo’s financial administrator and a former auditor at Deloitte).

This is pretty basic stuff – but I’ve found that for most church planters, a solid understanding of the basics is exactly what they need. Once you “get it,” you can find someone to help you with more complex investing or tax planning decisions.

I should make clear: these resources are informational in nature and are not intended to provide official legal or financial advice. You are responsible for your own tax planning. Please consult an attorney or tax professional before making decisions that affect your tax withholding.


What are the categories of taxation that affect ministers?

There are two categories of personal taxes: (1) Income Tax (federal and state) and (2) Payroll Tax, also called FICA/SECA. The acronym FICA stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and SECA stands for Self-Employment Contribution Act. As of this publication, the payroll tax rate is 15.3%, allocating 12.4% to Social Security and 2.9% to Medicare.

What is a Minister’s Housing Allowance (MHA)?

The MHA is an income tax deduction available to any “licensed or ordained minister.” An MHA allows a minister to deduct housing expenses (mortgage, rent, utilities, furniture, improvements, etc.) from taxable income. For some ministers, the MHA reduces their income tax liability to zero.

 Where did the Minister’s Housing Allowance (MHA) come from?

The basis for tax-free housing allowance dates back to at least 1921, according to one history account in the federal government’s court records. Congress decided that “ministers of the gospel” – as taxpayers who have little choice about personal living space, must reside where their employer requires, and often use their residence for business purposes – could receive tax benefit.[1] Therefore, this tax deduction for ministers derives out of the “convenience of employer” doctrine already available to seamen and hospital workers at that time.[2] The enactment of the Internal Revenue Code in 1954 expanded this tax law to include cash housing allowances. The rationale behind this change was that small churches and church plants should not be penalized if they cannot afford to provide housing or parsonages to ministers.

Will the Minister’s Housing Allowance (MHA) ever change?

Recently, the Minister’s Housing Allowance has come under fire as an unfair tax advantage given to clergy. There is always a chance that this allowance could go away, but it is a longstanding practice that government leaders have been resolute in supporting.

What is a minister’s tax status?

Ministers have a dual tax status. They are considered employees for federal income tax purposes (they get a W-2), but they are considered self-employed for payroll tax purposes.

How does payroll tax (FICA/SECA) work for ministers?

For an ordinary employee (for example, at Home Depot), the employer will pay 7.65% (or half of the required 15.3%) of FICA and then deduct the other 7.65% from the employee’s wages. But ministers, who are classified as “self-employed” by the IRS, are required to pay SECA (self-employment tax), which means they are on the hook for the entire 15.3% (since a self-employed person is both employer and employee). At Coram Deo Church, we made the decision to functionally treat our employees like Home Depot would. Therefore, we increase our gross compensation for ministers to take into account the effect of SECA taxes. To say it another way: we give ministers a “7.65% raise” before deducting 15.3% from their payroll for FICA/SECA. Therefore, the net impact to the employee “feels like” 7.65%.

For self-employed ministers, how often does SECA have to be paid?

SECA taxes must be paid either as a monthly payroll deduction or in a quarterly estimated tax installments. If you expect to owe tax of $1,000 or more when you file your return, you must pay monthly or quarterly in order to not be subject to underpayment penalties.

Can a minister “opt out” of FICA/SECA?

Yes. Ministers can request an exemption from self-employment taxes if they are “conscientiously opposed to public insurance because of [their] individual religious considerations.” In order to opt out, a minister must a) be “duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed by a religious body,”[3] and b) file Form 4361 with the IRS by the date their income tax return is due for the second year in which they have at least $400 of net earnings from services performed as a minister. If the IRS approves the exemption request, they will return an approved copy of Form 4361. File this form with your permanent records in a safe and secure place. Also be aware that once the exemption is approved, it is irrevocable.

If someone opts out of FICA/SECA, what should they do with the additional money earned?

Considering that Social Security and Medicare are means of income after Americans retire, a minister who has opted out of FICA/SECA should save or invest those funds. Good financial planners will encourage you to set aside every dime that would be going to FICA/SECA into a retirement account.

What is the theological basis for an objection of conscience to FICA/SECA?

A few passages in the New Testament to study are 1 Timothy 5, Romans 13, and Acts 6. The key question is: Who should be responsible to provide for Christian families at retirement age? Do I believe that is the federal government’s responsibility? Or do I believe that is the responsibility of the individual Christian or church? The IRS specifies that exemptions must be based on a personal conviction of conscience, not on financial pragmatism.

Additional Resources:

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterjreilly/2012/09/06/in-defense-of-special-tax-treatment-for-clergy/

[2] http://host.madison.com/news/local/with-court-ruling-clergy-housing-allowances-come-in-for-intense/article_aa394ca8-336d-57ab-8724-bd8d83361f74.html

[3] IRS Publication 517, http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-prior/p517–2013.pdf


PDF: Click here to download a PDF of this Briefing

AUDIO: Listen to a short (22 min) audio briefing here:

[audio:http://randomfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/taxes_mixdown_July2014.mp3|titles=Ministerial Tax Briefing|artists=Bob Thune]

Or click here to download the audio and listen later.

Prairie_Whole“Like the world we live in, Christian discipleship is often fragmented and disjointed, separating body and soul, calling and the earth, creation and community.” So writes Phillip Jensen in the prospectus for a very unique internship program. If you’re a student looking for a spiritually and personally formative summer internship, look no further than the Earthen Institute Prairie Apprenticeship.

I first met Phillip last year when he came to Omaha to sit down and talk church planting. We have some mutual friends (Phillip is a graduate of Covenant Seminary), and he wanted to discuss the possibility of rural church planting in Iowa. But after hearing what he was doing – and the significant ministry opportunities God was opening up to him – I encouraged him to stay right where he was. The Holy Spirit has affirmed that calling. And in the process, he’s strengthened Phillip’s vision for using farming as a means of “discipleship in an instant society” (to borrow a phrase from Eugene Peterson).

Phillip runs Prairie Whole Farm, a sustainable farm and CSA cooperative in Ida Grove, Iowa. He spends his days planting crops, weeding gardens, and tending a herd of heritage hogs, not to mention raising a family, mentoring a cadre of troubled teens, and contributing thoughtfully to evangelical theology. He’s not a farmer; he’s a pastor who happens to farm. Or maybe more simply: he’s a gospel-transformed Christian living a theologically integrated life. And he’s charting a course I hope to see many others follow: integrating work, faith, and life in a way that appreciates and enters into the “liturgy of creation.”

Download the prospectus for the Prairie Apprenticeship Program here. And as you think of it, pray for the work of the Prairie Whole Farm. I anticipate that this small farm in rural Iowa is going to have a big influence in reforming our practices of discipleship and spiritual formation.

iDevicesI’m surprised by how many parents just give their kids technology – without taking the opportunity to train them in responsibility, accountability, and wisdom. This is a sure way to raise a spoiled brat or a selfish, entitled college student.

There’s a better way, Mom and Dad. Your God-given task is to raise your child into a mature, wise, God-fearing adult. And along the path from childhood to adulthood, a child needs to slowly increase in responsibility and decrease in direct parental authority. In other words: in the early years you lead by direct authority; and if you do that well, in the later years you can lead by influence and wisdom rather than by direct authority. (On the flip side, if you haven’t done well leading by authority when your kids are little, you’ll have a train wreck on your hands when they’re in the teen years… but that’s another post). Technology provides a great opportunity to lead by influence and wisdom and test your child with some basic personal responsibility.

Last year my son asked for an iPad. So the family pitched in and purchased one for his birthday. Along with that birthday gift came the following contract – which, as you can see, sets some boundaries and parameters around its use and care. It’s also designed to make him laugh a little along the path to responsibility.

On this, my 14th birthday, I (Parker Thune) enter into the following agreement with my parents (Bob and Leigh Thune):

I hereby affirm that everything I have is given to me by the Providence of Almighty God; I am a steward, not an owner, of all my possessions. Furthermore, as a minor in the eyes of God and the state, I exist under the legal and spiritual guardianship of my parents. I affirm that my parents are good and wise parents who desire to teach me responsibility. By their generosity, with help from my aunts, uncles, and grandparents, I have been given an iPad on my birthday to help me grow in responsibility. By signing this contract, I affirm my love for my parents and my gratitude for their general benevolence toward me.

I acknowledge the scientific data which shows that technological devices like the iPad, when used excessively, can contribute to sloth, lethargy, loss of concentration, and general moroseness. Therefore, I commit to exercise self-control by observing reasonable limits on the use of my iPad. Should I fail to demonstrate self-control, I understand that my parents may exercise their parental responsibility to set such limits for me.

I hereby affirm that I live in a family with younger siblings who will undoubtedly be awed by my iPad and desire to use it for various purposes. I affirm that I will not be unduly protective, selfish, or exasperating to my siblings in considering their requests to borrow my iPad for their personal use. Furthermore, I give permission to Thune School for the Gifted to occasionally commandeer my iPad for educational purposes. 

I affirm the reality that the Internet, like many other cultural artifacts, may be both a vehicle for great good and/or a source of great evil. By signing this contract, I affirm my commitment to stay away from internet sites, games, and apps which may contain objectionable or questionable content. Furthermore, because I am called by God not just to avoid evil but to promote good, I affirm that I will use my iPad to promote the gospel and sow seeds of biblical truth wherever and whenever I can.

Because millions of people in the world live without iPads – and are just fine without them – I hereby pledge not to become one of the whiny, obnoxious Americans who thinks I need technology in order to have a “normal life.” I promise to remember the non-essential nature of technology, and to honor the primacy and dignity of my fellow humans in my words, attitudes, and actions.

I hereby affirm that ownership of an iPad is a privilege, not a right. I acknowledge that I do not have the “right” to an iPad. I do not have the “right” to use my iPad whenever I want. My iPad may be taken away or its use suspended by my parents at any time without my consent. In the event that my iPad is taken away or its use suspended, I promise not to whine, pout, cajole, ding-dong, or sulk, but rather to accept the consequences of my actions like a man.

Signed this ___ day of February, 2013, by


________________________________________    ______________________________________

Parker Thune                                                              Parental Representative

If we didn’t care about training responsibility and leadership into a child, we wouldn’t bother with these matters. We’d just hand him an iPad and tell him to run along so we could get back to reading more e-books about missional living.


Nothing could be more cliché than a blog writer posting about his lack of posting. But hey, clichés exist for a reason.

This blog has been languishing for months under a paucity of new content. (I chose the word “paucity” to make this worth your time). Why? Here are a number of reasons:

  1. I’ve been in a season of leadership in which I’ve needed to focus the best of my time and energy in other directions. I dislike these seasons, because writing is an important creative outlet for me. But the fact remains that such seasons are a reality of leadership. Any writer who tells you otherwise is probably a true writer, not a leader/pastor/husband/father who moonlights as a writer in his spare time.
  2. Much of this year has been devoted to getting The Gospel-Centered Community ready for publication (about which see #1). I’ve needed to put my best writing time toward edits and tweaks and pre-press revisions. To say it another way: the business of writing has taken priority over the pleasure of writing. Which is why musicians who make it big eventually record bootleg albums on the side.
  3. My mom always told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Which hasn’t left a lot to say at times.
  4. Most importantly: the Lord Jesus Christ has been doing a good work of sanctification in my soul recently, which is more enjoyable to enjoy than to write about. It’s been a joyful season of peace and growth for Leigh and me, and I just haven’t had the itch to write much. As the Spirit awakens the desire… I’m excited to write more.