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Church Commissioning a Missionary

Question:

What would constitute “duly commissioned” in the case of a church commissioning a missionary for ministerial service outside of the immediate context of the sending church? In addition, how is a commissioning substantiated to the IRS?

Answer:


Denomination polity differs on who is considered “duly ordained, commissioned, or licensed.” For example, Independent Baptist churches, in general, believe from a theological standpoint that only a local assembly of believers in Jesus Christ can recognize the call to the gospel ministry upon a qualified member of the church. The IRS has readily accepted this type of recognition as well. While the process of becoming ordained, commissioned, or licensed may differ, some churches do not differentiate between ordination, commissioning, or licensure for granting authority or recognizing a minister’s call to the gospel.

Missionaries are often ordained, commissioned, or licensed by a local church in anticipation of ministering outside of the sending church. Per IRS Publication 517, the minister must “have the authority to conduct religious worship, perform sacerdotal functions, and administer ordinances or sacraments according to the prescribed tenets and practices of that church or denomination.”

In addition, IRS Publication 517 states, “if a church or denomination ordains some ministers and licenses or commissions others, anyone licensed or commissioned must be able to perform substantially all the religious functions of an ordained minister to be treated as a minister for social security purposes.”

Whether a commissioned missionary is considered a minister for IRS tax purposes will be based upon the facts and circumstances of each denomination. Church documents (e.g., constitution, bylaws, certificates) are a good way to substantiate a commissioning to the IRS if requested or for purposes of opting out of social security (IRS Form 4361). In addition, a detailed job description of ministerial duties and responsibilities after commissioning may be helpful.

This response is a follow-up to the recent blog post, Commissioned Missionary and Housing Allowance.

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