May 21, 2009

Licensure of a Gospel Minister

Question:

Can a part-time minister get licensed by his congregation in order to receive the tax benefits of being licensed? Is his licensing contingent on factors such as title, hours, or ordination?

Answer:

It is my belief the a congregation should issue a license to a minister in recognition of his call to the gospel ministry. In many churches (as evidenced in their Constitutions) this gives him the same authority to serve as a minister as he would enjoy after ordination (i.e., leading public worship, preaching, administering church ordinances, conducting weddings, etc.). Of course, ordination is a highly valued designation as well.

Technically, the IRS will recognize the ministerial status of pastors who have not been licensed or ordained as long as they can demonstrate that they have performed the duties of a minister--what the IRS calls "sacerdotal functions" (see IRS Publication 517). However, this is generally much more challenging than simply providing evidence of one's licensure or ordination (a photocopy of the certificate and accompanying letter is often requested).

Again, I believe that motivation for licensure should be for recognition of one's call to the gospel ministry--a matter not to be taken lightly. Once a minister is licensed (and, of course, then performing sacerdotal functions) he must make sure that he is aware of the tax issues related to ministers, including at least one once-in-a-lifetime deadline for Form 4361.

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