September 23, 2010

Director of Christian Education: Is He a Minister?

Question:

A church hires a Director of Christian Education. Does he qualify for the same tax-status as a pastor (e.g., housing allowance, exempt from income tax withholding, eligible for Form 4361 election)?

Answer:

The IRS Minister Audit Technique Guide helps to answer this question. I'll edit out some of the technical citations, but readers should follow the link for more details:

"To qualify for the special tax provisions available to ministers, an individual must be a 'minister' and must perform services 'in the exercise of his ministry.'

"[Tax rules] require that an individual be a 'duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed minister of a church.'

"[Tax rules] provide that service performed by a minister in the exercise of the ministry includes: Ministration of sacerdotal functions; Conduct of religious worship ...

"[Tax rules] also provide that whether service performed by a minister constitutes conduct of religious worship or ministration of sacerdotal functions depends on the tenets and practices of the particular religious body constituting the church or denomination."

Readers really need to read the entire section of the Guide on "Who Qualifies for Special Tax Treatment as a Minister." But I'll offer just one more quote that may apply to the specific question posed in the Blog entry:

"The Tax Court held in Lawrence v. Commissioner, 50 T.C. 494, 499-500 (1968), that a 'minister of education' in a Baptist church was not a 'duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed' minister."

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