By Louis P. Barbarin
Writer William A. Ward once said there are “four steps to achievement: plan purposefully, prepare prayerfully, proceed positively and pursue persistently.”1 In many ways, this statement exemplifies the perspective and vision MMBB brings in our commitment to serving you. MMBB’s founding principles call us to plan and prepare today, so we can help you plan and prepare for tomorrow. These principles enable us to guide you so you can pursue your financial goals with hope and determination, and remain steadfast along the way. As a financial services ministry, we understand that God is ever-present in all our plans—members and staff together. Our mission or heavenly call is to assist you in building the financial future you envision so you can commit your efforts and gifts to press onwards in the multiple ways God calls you to serve your congregation and your community.
As I write this letter, we are living in a time of unprecedented challenge as the world faces a oncein- a-century pandemic. It has far-reaching effects on every aspect of human existence—social interaction, education and training, travel and leisure, our public healthcare system, financial markets and more. Nonetheless, as we look back at 2019, there are many high notes for which we can give thanks and which may provide lessons for what lies ahead.
The year 2019 was one marked by continued change and transformation of the church landscape as church attendance decreased and the presence of nondenominational houses of worship increased. MMBB is not only keeping pace with change, but we are keeping our eyes on emerging trends.
So too, pastors must keep pace with change and adapt their approach to ministry over time. They must lead with a mindset that honors the past, is cognizant of the present while also embracing the future.
When it comes to their finances, pastoral leaders also can’t dwell on previous mistakes. At MMBB, our goal is to meet our members where they are and help them to forgive themselves by making peace with financial decisions they may regret. We partner with our members to focus on what could be instead of what has been.
“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3: 12-14 (NRSV)
Creating a Vision for What Is to Come
MMBB’s partnership with Lilly Endowment Inc. has been a blessing to us. We have been the recipients of several Lilly Endowment grants, which continue to afford us the opportunity to help pastors gain more confidence in handling their personal finances and church financial matters. Participants in our Lilly Endowment initiatives tell us that the work MMBB is doing to facilitate pastors’ financial wellness enhances their ability to be vital and effective in today’s dynamic church climate. When pastors are not worried about their finances, they can concentrate on their ministry, and the current and future needs of their congregations. Our 2019 accomplishments related to three of the programs born of Lilly Endowment grants we have received shed light on the lasting impact of Lilly Endowment initiatives on our members.
One of these Lilly Endowment initiatives, the Strategic Pastoral Excellence Program (SPEP), is designed to strengthen the personal and organizational financial skills of pastors who have been identified as key leaders of healthy congregations. In 2019, SPEP celebrated its third year and ran a total of six cohorts in various stages of their programming. This past fall, MMBB hosted three of those cohorts, including a total of 50 pastoral leaders, 29 spouses and 33 lay leaders representing diverse backgrounds, pastoral settings, ages, gender, ministry experience and geographic location. We were pleased to see that participants had made progress on their financial goals. Some had paid off their debt or reported increases in their credit scores, and others built up savings in an emergency fund or created educational funds for their children as a result of their involvement in SPEP.
But the participants’ heartfelt words tell us even more about the profound significance of SPEP on their lives. Earlier in 2019, we celebrated the graduation of the first SPEP cohort. A participant concluding the SPEP program was interviewed by Church Executive magazine for a feature article called, “Pastors Follow the Path to Financial Wellness.” It focused on the uniqueness of SPEP and included reflections from one pastor and his family. He commented, “It [SPEP] changed our entire financial outlook and improved our cash flow in life-changing ways.” Another member noted, “The program has given me concrete tools to make changes without burdening me with guilt for previous bad decisions.” And, program graduates have expressed a desire to share their learnings with other pastoral leaders in their regions.
Another initiative, MMBB’s Bridges: Colloquia for Cultivating Ministry, is part of Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry (TIM) grant program. Bridges hosted five colloquia in 2019, reaching more than 100 pastoral leaders, while uniting more seasoned pastors with emerging pastors and those transitioning in ministry. The principal aim of the Bridges program is to create and nurture ongoing relationships that can also function as mentorships and foster higher levels of well-being through financial wellness and fellowship. Some participants come to the colloquia with a previously established mentor relationship and others develop a collegial relationship at the event. However, we feel they leave the program with a more profound commitment to ministry that will enrich their understanding of how to handle the difficulties pastors may encounter as they tend to their congregations.
The Financial Wellness Program (FWP) is a Lilly Endowment effort that served more than 130 congregations and 300 people in 2019. The FWP offers 45-90–minute workshops on financial planning topics at regional and national denominational events. Subject matter includes setting financial goals; investment, retirement and estate planning; emergency funds; debt management; compensation; and MMBB benefits plans. The FWP makes connections between these topics and family financial needs, a pastor’s spiritual call and the nuts and bolts of financial planning. The immediate feedback we receive through workshop evaluations is often enthusiastic. Referencing the workshop on financial wellness and staff benefits, one participant wrote, “This workshop should be mandatory for all pastors.” This past November, we were grateful to be the recipient of a fifth grant from Lilly Endowment that will make it possible to expand the FWP.
At Your Service
The marathon runner who wins a race strives to be ahead of the curve. He or she trains long and hard before the competition in preparation for pulling ahead of others in the lengthy race. In the same way, Financial Planning staff remains informed about the economy, global markets, financial trends, financial and tax laws, and how these laws and the investment landscape affect MMBB members. Because of this know-how, the Financial Planning team can better anticipate members’ financial needs and guide them in meeting their current and future financial goals.
“ Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NRSV)
Our Financial Planning team includes six CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals (CFPs). In 2019, the Financial Planning staff added another designation, Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP®), which aids retirees and those near retirement in understanding how they can create sustainable retirement income streams. In total, each full-time financial planner also has at least one other designation in addition to CFP, such as:
Other Financial Planning highlights of 2019 include the following:
The Service team’s knowledge of MMBB benefits plans, our investment options and the financial markets allows them to respond to various types of inquiries from members and employers while ensuring awareness and understanding of the broad range of MMBB’s benefits and services. Senior Benefits Specialists who possess the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor® designation bring that expertise to the Service staff’s interactions with those who contact them by phone or email. The Service team engaged in more than 20,000 calls with members and employers in 2019, including 17,000 inbound calls.
Communicating What Is Possible
In 2019, our communications, marketing and thought leadership encouraged our members to plan for the long term now, while we provided valuable insights and resources to expand their financial knowledge. One of our articles, “Why You Need an Emergency Fund,” which appeared in Church Executive magazine, was named one of their 15 most-read articles of 2019. The story discussed the importance of saving to have a financial cushion for life’s surprises. Other articles that appeared in Church Executive included “Money Habits for Millennials,” “Financial Challenges of the Sandwich Generation” and “Planning for Healthcare Expenses in Retirement.”
In our Tomorrow newsletter, the publication’s editors shared an eye-opening three-part series on “Everything You Need to Know about Estate Planning,” covering subject matter ranging from why you need a will to the role of an executor. We were excited to welcome Rev. Laura Lisa Ng, Director of Leadership Empowerment at the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, as a guest writer for a series of articles in which she discusses her own challenges and personal journey to achieving financial wellness for herself and her family.
As we laid the groundwork for the future, MMBB introduced a vibrant look and feel to our educational and marketing materials and targeted new communications channels that appeal to ministers under 45 while still addressing the needs of more seasoned pastors.
The Biennial Mission Summit
The 2019 Biennial Mission Summit of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) centered around the theme “Summit by the Sea.” The MMBB Member Luncheon kicked off our biennial events, with more than 500 members in attendance. In my address to members at our luncheon, I concentrated on our efforts to partner with members to be a transformative presence and bring meaningful change to their lives. In addition, I discussed ways that we at MMBB have innovated and enhanced our organization so we can better serve our members.
Our keynote speaker was Dr. Matt Bloom, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, who talked about flourishing in ministry. Dr. Bloom focused on four factors involved in ministers flourishing more consistently—resilience, thriving, daily wellbeing and authenticity—and how to achieve them. I also enjoyed a conversation with Rev. Everett Goodwin, retired pastor, historian and author of MMBB: A Pioneer in Employee Benefits—The First 100 Years. Rev. Goodwin celebrated MMBB’s history with us and discussed how lessons from the past can help us adapt to the changing church landscape.
Our CFPs conducted 63 individual financial planning meetings and two workshops (“Take Advantage of Your Benefits” and “Financial Planning—Start Today”). We were pleased many summit participants attended. At the MMBB booth, we also displayed our new branding. We believe this branding elevates MMBB to a more meaningful partnership with our members and also appeals to a broader audience, including younger pastors.
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b (NIV)
In life, no one escapes encountering hurdles they must overcome without persistent effort to realize their aspirations. Some of those obstacles may be financial—especially for pastors who often face paying off seminary debt while earning modest incomes. We honor the work of God’s servants with outreach to those who have devoted their lives to serving others and may be weathering and persevering through personal adversity as they endeavor to fulfill their calling. Heritage of Sharing continues to be a lifeline for MMBB members and churches in times of need. MMBB distributed nearly $4 million in noncontractual benefits in 2019. The Retired Ministers and Missionaries Offering (RMMO), a long-standing tradition established in 1977, is conducted on behalf of ABCUSA. RMMO supports ministers, missionaries and their widowed spouses who have devoted 15 or more years of their lives to service in ABCUSA (see page 10 for details).
In 2019, MMBB remained fully compliant with all cybersecurity requirements mandated by the New York State Department of Financial Services for financial services organizations. Our efforts to improve our cybersecurity posture are constant, however, and appropriately, we can never be satisfied with something we’ve done in the past. Our Technology team is always looking for opportunities to make us ever more secure and resilient. In 2019, we took steps to provide better safeguards for information that is housed in our systems about employers and members. Our Technology staff revamped computer equipment, consolidated some of our security tools and has made our computer network more robust.
MMBB went live with the Ariel administrative portal in January 2019. Ariel is a record keeping system that provides online financial and retirement/benefits solutions that will enhance MMBB’s ability to offer state-of-the-art financial services, increase operational efficiencies and reduce cyber risk. We have experienced some growing pains with Ariel, which in and of itself, is not unusual for systems of such complexity and magnitude. While that may have meant delaying some upgrades, we’re still excited about what’s coming down the pike. MMBB remains fully committed to reaching every potential to serve our members and employers better with Ariel as our primary operational system.
In 2019, global stock markets exceeded expectations. While trade wars and the unknowns surrounding Brexit were of significant concern in 2019, all major asset classes realized positive, and in some markets exceptional, returns. Global equity markets, driven by U.S. equity performance, experienced remarkably solid investment returns for the year. Even bonds saw significant gains in 2019. Our 10 investment options reflected these strong markets—led by MMBB’s U.S. Equity Funds, with returns of approximately 30 percent. That being said, we recognize that the market volatility caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) so far in 2020 has been extraordinary. As such, it is important to remember that positive returns in some years and negative returns in others are a normal part of long-term investing.
While we celebrate 2019 financial outcomes, MMBB will continue our focus as long-term investors with a balanced approach to investing on behalf of our members. With that in mind, in 2019 MMBB’s Board of Managers voted on and approved the addition of Target Date Funds (TDFs) managed by Vanguard to our investment platform on January 2, 2020. A TDF offers the simplicity of a complete portfolio in a single investment option. Each target-date investment fund is comprised of up to five broadly diversified Vanguard index funds. As the year in a TDF’s name draws near, its asset mix becomes more conservative. Thus, a single target-date investment is meant to serve you throughout both your career and retirement.
The Annuity Payout Value is determined on September 30, each year using the higher of:
Although the actual value of a unit for the period ending as of September 30, 2019, was $71.85, the MMBB Board of Managers voted to infuse the Annuity Fund to support a payout value of $74.00, which is a 0.75 percent increase in your annuity for 2020.
While there may be an increase in your monthly annuity, MMBB understands that financial difficulties may remain—especially in these turbulent times. We are here to help where we can. MMBB has emergency funds available to assist you if you find yourself making choices about purchasing food, prescription drugs, medical services, or necessary home repairs.
Creating the Annual Report encompasses gathering and culling information, which involves reflecting on last year’s accomplishments and successes. As MMBB embarks on this new decade and the opportunities and challenges it holds, not the least of which is the global impact of COVID-19, we remember that God is with us in our efforts to faithfully serve our members and employers. You are also not alone on your financial journey. At MMBB, we are honored to partner with you as you shape your financial vision for what is to come. It is our privilege to support you as you press on toward financial freedom today and strive for a fruitful tomorrow.
Louis P. Barbarin
Chief Executive Officer