Trust services: colleague or competitor?

Many conferences now stipulate that trust services direct a specified percentage of the will or trust to the local church.

G. Tom Carter is director of Trust Services for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. An attorney and ordained minister, he pastored for 11 years before entering trust services work 22 years ago.

In the past five years, through trust services, by means of wills, trusts, annuities, and special gifts people have left the church more than $177 million. These gifts have gone to local churches as well as to conferences and church institutions and programs.

Perhaps you have thought of trust services as working to direct your members' moneys to the conference rather than to your church. You may even have heard of a trust services representative urging an individual not to leave anything to the local church. While such a situation may have existed in the past, I believe you will find that things have changed. Those of us who work for trust services want to be your allies and colleagues. We want not only to serve the church at large, but also to help you achieve the objectives you have set for your congregation. We aim to provide channels through which individuals can support the work of the whole church by their gifts, trusts, annuities, and bequests.

Benefits to the local church

While the methods used by different conferences vary, to my knowledge all conference trust services programs now encourage church members to consider the needs of the local church. In addition to recognizing gifts to local churches, a growing number of conferences mandate that a specified portion of unrestricted maturities1 be distributed to the donor's church. For example, three large conferences in the Pacific Union distribute from 10 to 20 percent of such maturities to the church of which the deceased was a member; the Florida and Georgia- Cumberland conferences distribute 20 percent; the Carolina Conference provides for the distribution of up to 25 per cent, upon the meeting of certain stipulations; the Ohio Conference distributes 15 percent; and the Pennsylvania Conference 10 percent.

The Atlantic Union is typical of many areas where, although no specific percentage is mandated, 10 to 30 percent of the restricted maturities benefit local churches. The Ontario Conference sets aside 20 percent of all unrestricted maturities for new church construction or for the renovation of existing churches.

The Southeastern California Conference reports that in a recent three-year period, donations to local churches through Trust Services totaled $585,000. In addition, the majority of unrestricted gifts have gone either for church buildings or education.

Trust services has also benefited the local church through the union revolving funds. For example, Stewart Crook, director of trust services in the Southern Union, reports that a church in Kentucky saved $155,000 in interest by get ting a loan from their union revolving fund and paying off the bank mortgage. According to Ralph Ringer, the pastor of that church at the time, doing so cut the church's payments about $700 a month. They were able to pay the loan off in six years instead of eight. Probably the majority of moneys in the union revolving funds come from trusts that trust services has developed.

Congregations outside of North America are also benefitting from trust services's efforts. In Europe during a re cent two-year period, the equivalent of millions of dollars matured to local churches. Alan W. White, now associate Trust Services director at the General Conference, says: "In Melbourne, Australia, some Adventist churches were under pressure from city councils to provide off-the-street parking for those who at tend their services. Other churches needed extra land for such things as community outreach centers. In one year, three churches received bequests of approximately $40,000 each. These congregations joyfully purchased land ad joining their churches, and thus their problems were solved."

Trust services cannot take credit for the donation of these moneys to the church; it is the work of the Holy Spirit on human hearts that has brought this about. But surely the Lord has used trust services as a tool to enable individuals to respond effectively to the needs of His cause.

Far from our potential

Despite these thrilling results, we admit we are far from reaching our potential. Our best estimate suggests that less than 10 percent of the membership in North America make any provision directing funds to the Lord's work upon their death. Think of what it would mean if we were able to increase that figure to 20 percent, 35 percent, or even 50 per cent!

While we are busy arguing over how the limited funds of the church are to be divided, we seem to be ignoring the vast resources that could be tapped if we united in unselfish dedication. Like angels having just one wing, we can fly only when we embrace each other. Pastors and trust services personnel must cooper ate in educating our members.

Certainly tithes and offerings constitute an important aspect of stewardship, but are they all that God requires? John Tulio, trust services director for the Pacific Union, answers that question with another question: Imagine a bank teller who throughout the day very faithfully posts and accounts for all moneys received. Suppose then that at the end of day, instead of carefully depositing all funds in the proper place for safekeeping and disposal, the teller leaves everything on the counter. Would such a bank teller be a good steward?

Likewise, it does make a difference whether or not stewards of the Lord's goods arrange to dispose of what is left in a way that will take care of loved ones, bless others, and advance the cause of Christ. Harold L. Lee, who specializes in stewardship for the North American Di vision Church Ministries Department, states: "An often overlooked dimension of stewardship is estate planning: stewardship after death. . . . God's purpose in the life of the Christian steward should be reflected in all areas of financial management--earning, spending, saving, giving, and estate planning."

Jesus commissioned His disciples to "be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8, NKJV). In this article I've focused on what is being done at the local church, or "Jerusalem," level. But let us acknowledge that there are also "Judea," "Samaria," and "end of the earth" concerns as well.

Completing the mission for which Jesus made us responsible requires the funding of sectors of the church beyond the congregation. The conference, which provides witness to places where there is no local church and which operates a conference-wide educational pro gram, deserves attention. Colleges and other union institutions merit consideration. And how could we complete our assignment without world mission, re lief, and media programs ?

To prevent a narrow, self-centered focus, trust services personnel try to present the needs of all segments of the church as impartially as possible. But even while doing this, we leave the individual members free to make their own decisions. We can present various options for remembering the church in estate plans, but only the individuals can, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, decide how they wish to distribute what they leave to the church.

Continuing communication necessary

Recently I asked both pastors and trust services directors how we could increase our cooperation. Continuing communication is an essential part of the formula. The five statements that follow reveal our perspective at trust services--our intentions and needs.

1. We want to emphasize the service aspect rather than just money. But we must also take into consideration the limits that our small staffs impose and the fact that we must be cost-effective.

One pastor indicated that during a five-year period a trust services representative focused primarily on offering his services to the members of the pastor's church rather than simply going where the money was. It paid off in a big way, bringing millions of dollars to the church. But it must be remembered that the limited number of trust services personnel forces them to be selective in the type and degree of service they can provide. In the example mentioned, the key to success lay in the pastor, church members, and trust officer all working together.

2. We want to keep the pastor informed, while also maintaining complete confidentiality for the members.

As I talked with the pastors, they often said that they wanted to be kept in formed. Pastors in Florida appreciate the fact that that conference's trust services director meets with them for lunch on a periodic basis and shares with them all information that he can ethically reveal. Some conferences in the North Pacific Union have also set up a forum for communication.

Of course, it would be unethical to share the individual church member's situation unless he or she gave full consent. There is no principle more sacred to trust services than that the donors must be able to count on complete confidentiality.

3. We want the members to know the needs of the local church and that they can leave to it whatever portion of their estate they wish.

This probably isn't much of a problem. Adventists are not generally known for being easily led by others. Those who have been in the church for many years know exactly where they want their money to go. We want to avoid the appearance of promoting a certain area or project. The primary goal of the trust services representative is to determine what the person wants to do and to give the general information needed to accomplish those desires. Additionally, the representative will give any appropriate assistance to the professional advisors the donor may have chosen.

4. When a member desires either a revocable or an irrevocable trust, we will want to determine the extent to which the church would likely benefit.

When it comes to trusts, the conference association can serve only where the church is a substantial beneficiary. In such situations, the conference association will serve as trustee, whether it is the local church or the conference that is the beneficiary. The association is set up as the legal body to serve both the local churches and the conference at large.

The unrestricted gift should not be dis counted. It allows the conference the latitude to determine how the gift may best serve at the time when it matures. Because circumstances change, it is not wise to stipulate a particular project in a will or trust. Many feel it is better to leave that decision to an appropriate commit tee. The Ontario Conference has set guidelines for the use of unrestricted gifts. Their policy states that 20 percent of such gifts will be used for the construction and renovation of church buildings, 20 percent for the youth camp, and 20 percent for education, and that the executive committee is to determine for what needs the remaining 40 percent will be used.

5. We believe that the world church, the conference, and the local church must be seen as parts of one body—that what benefits one part benefits all.

Trust services is one area where the rubber meets the road as to our sincerity in implementing this biblical principle. On the one hand, pastors ask that trust services personnel show their interest in building up the local church. On the other, trust services personnel sometimes feel that the local church and pastor are not aware of the benefits local churches gain from trust services. Both groups must realize that what benefits one part benefits the whole. We must work together, taking care that no part is neglected.

"If Christians were to act in concert, moving forward as one, under the direction of one Power, for the accomplishment of one purpose, they would move the world."2

1 When persons who have made trusts or wills
die and their estates are distributed, those trusts or
wills are said to have matured.

2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 221.

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G. Tom Carter is director of Trust Services for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. An attorney and ordained minister, he pastored for 11 years before entering trust services work 22 years ago.

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