January 17, 2010

Christian School Teachers as Ministers

Question:

Do the teachers of a Christian school qualify for a housing/parsonage allowance under section 107 of the IRS code? If so, do teachers have the option to elect whether they are treated as ministers, hence receiving a housing allowance and being reclassified as self employed?

Answer:

Several resources can help to answer these questions including the IRS Minister Audit Technique Guide. Cited within the Guide is Treas. Reg. § 1.107-1(a) which "provides examples of specific services considered duties of a minister, including the following.
- Performance of sacerdotal functions
- Conduct of religious worship
- Administration and maintenance of religious organizations and their integral agencies
- Performance of teaching and administrative duties at theological seminaries"

Since I have been connected with a Baptist college for 21 years, I have studied this topic extensively. There are several issues that relate to teachers as ministers that I'll not re-study to prepare this answer but will influence my interpretation.

First point:
Treas. Reg. § 1.1402(c)-5 requires that an individual be a “duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed minister of a church.” Unless the churches employing the Christian school teachers cited in the question are ready to recognize the call to the gospel ministry upon these individuals, they have no grounds to ordain or license them. It is not uncommon to hear of a bona fide minister leaving his typical duties (defined above) and entering Christian education. It's much less frequent to have a Christian educator announce that he is called to the gospel ministry yet remain full-time in the classroom (the circumstance implied in the Question). The Scriptural call upon a man of God is certainly not an elective activity as I understand it, so I strongly caution churches and teachers against licensing for the sake of tax avoidance.

Second point:
Again quoting the IRS Minister Audit Technique Guide: "Although a minister is considered an employee under the common law rules, payments for services as a minister are considered income from self employment pursuant to IRC §§ 1402(c ) and 3121(b)(8). A minister, unless exempt, pays social security and Medicare taxes under the Self-Employment Contributions Act (SECA) and is not subject to Federal Insurance Compensation Act (FICA) taxes or income tax withholding." A licensed or ordained minister providing services for a church school does not have an election to make related to his tax status. He is an employee, but subject to SECA taxes. His compensation is not properly categorized as FICA wages.

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