7 important steps for better employee participation

One of the biggest concerns of Plan Sponsors is the fear of low-plan participation.  Imagine spending your money, time, and effort in setting up a new plan for your employees, and they don’t understand or take little interest in the plan. Maybe you’ve already experienced this!

Addressing these issues head on allows you to overcome your participants' concerns and allows their plans to flourish. As you encourage and support your employees, it is also important to guide them in understanding retirement planning from a Christian perspective. Help them to recognize that retirement is not the end, but the beginning—a future stage of life when ministry starts or renews and a time when money should not be a barrier—their Future-Funded Ministry.

This exciting new way of talking about retirement allows you to lead your organization’s retirement plan process with vision and purpose.

Only a small percentage of eligible participants take an active role in their plan. The harsh truth is many participants don’t understand retirement plan investments and how to invest their money.

Here are 7 steps that can help you as you strive to create better employee participation.

  1. Plan Administrator Engagement - It’s important for your Plan Administrator to be engaged and knowledgeable when working with your participants. The Plan Administrator is responsible for the coordination of all activities and vendor relationships.
  2. Retirement Plan Oversight Committee Engagement - It’s also important for your Retirement Plan Oversight Committee to be engaged, knowledgeable, and fully functional.  The Committee is a team of employees established to oversee your plan.
  3. Proper Communication – It's important to have communications, such as a Welcome Letter, Personal Retirement Guide, and Summary Plan Description to equip you as you educate your participants.
  4. Resources and Tools – Your plan provider should have resources and tools, such as online and interactive enrollment, education, and evaluation tools that will help deliver investment knowledge and confidence that encourages enrollment, leads to wise actions, and motivates your employees toward funding their future.
  5. Education Program - Participants don’t want to rack their brains trying to understand the process of investing. For them, simple is best. That’s why it’s important to provide easy, straightforward education. 
  6. Employer Matching Contributions - In an Employer Matching Contribution Program, a participant will only receive a contribution from the employer if the participant makes a contribution on their own. Providing an employer matching contribution is a huge perk to your participants and will drive their action to participate in your retirement plan.
  7. Monitor the Outcomes – Your plan provider should provide a quarterly report that will monitor your employee participation. It's important to read these reports so that you can understand your organization's participation.

For more on employee education, visit EnvoyFinancial.com/activate.

3 steps that can make your retirement plan better

Is your retirement plan too complex and taking a lot of your time? If it’s too complicated for you, it will definitely be too difficult for your employees to understand. And if it's not easy for them to understand, then you are missing key pieces. Your retirement plan is too valuable not to put the right parts totally in place.

So what are the key pieces that your plan may be missing?

The first is this - a proven firm to handle your third-party administration, your recordkeeping, and your investment advisory services.

Are you and your staff handling your plan's administration, recordkeeping, and investment selections alone or are your current providers actually helping and improving your plan and its participation?

The second key is this—an excellent experience for your participants.

We know that only a small percentage of eligible plan participants actually take an active part in their plan. Why? Well, perhaps the plan is too complex. The harsh truth is that many participants don't understand retirement plan investments and don't understand how to invest their money. Participant education and communication are critical but they're still not enough. Even the best-designed investment plans fail if the enrollment process is too cumbersome. An easy enrollment system is one of the keys to a successful plan.

The third piece is providing a high impact, efficient, and cost-effective plan.

While many service plan providers make this promise, there are few that actually deliver. When a cost-effective retirement plan is designed specifically for your ministry, that plan should offer investments with institutional pricing, effective online and phone service delivery, and auto features such as auto enrollment, auto increase, and qualified default investment options.

Is your plan missing any key pieces? Take action today and replace the missing pieces and improve your plan.

Visit Rate My Plan to learn more.

Housing Allowance: Are you throwing away free money?

Introduction to Housing Allowance

Service leaders and those who serve them are faced with a unique set of tax and administrative issues when dealing with 403(b) retirement savings plans, or “Future-Funded Ministry” plans.

So what is Housing Allowance?

  • A tax benefit for pastors.
  • A portion of income the is excluded from gross income, thus is not subject to federal income tax.
  • Gives pastors the ability to take a portion of money out of their 403(b) without the 20% mandatory withheld (its possible they may still owe state or SECA taxes).
  • Also referred to as parsonage allowance or rental allowance.

The following issues impact all those who are licensed, ordained, or commissioned:

  • Housing Allowance prior to retirement
  • Impact of Housing Allowance on Retirement Distributions
  • Payment of SECA taxes on voluntary contributions
  • Roth 403(b) contributions
  • Payment of SECA taxes on voluntary Roth 403(b) contributions

Discover how these issues can be addressed within the 403(b) Retirement Plan context.
Click here to download the free ebook.

12 Things Plan Sponsors Need To Know

Executive Pastors, Business Managers, Board Members, CEO’s, COO’s, and HR Directors associated with Non-Profits are often in the dark when it comes to understanding retirement plans.

Often this includes those who are directly responsible for the oversight of their plan or charged with the responsibility of setting up or finding a new vendor.  Occasionally, a man or woman who really knows the business emerges but not very often. The usual dialogue with Non-Profit leadership starts with, “I really do not understand much about retirement plans.”

The 403(b) retirement plan for nonprofits has been around since the 60’s with IRA’s showing up in the mid 70’s and the 401(k) in the early 80’s. Prior to the enabling legislation bringing these defined contribution approaches to retirement into the mainstream, Defined Benefit Plans, similar to Social Security, were the norm.

Even today certain pundits lament the passing of Defined Benefit Plans, characterizing them as a better option for employees than the Defined Contribution Plans we have now. They often cite the need for plan participants to actually participate in the plan as one of our societal problems. For example, a couple serving 30 years in the mission field was shocked to discover that their ministry’s retirement plan only provided $13 per month for every year of service. The total $390 per month from their ministry wasn’t going to be enough.

If the same amount had been contributed to a Defined Contribution Plan, with average investment returns, the amount would be more than double. Also, the balance in the account upon the passing of the couple would go to their heirs. Clearly a much better stewardship solution. But it does require the participants to be engaged.

Discover the 12 Things All Plan Sponsors Need To Know.
Click here to download the free eBook.

Key Retirement Trends for the New Year

“What’s new?” You ask. “Plenty!” I respond.

US Citizens are waking up to the fact that retirement lasts a long time. That truth holds many implications. The US Government is waking up to the fact that less than 50% of US adults have savings or have only nominal savings. The Retirement Planning industry is waking up to the fact that most participants in formal retirement plans are financially illiterate.

Those are three big facts. Each one impacts all of us in one way or another.

1.     Retirement lasts a long time. When you realize that more and more of our population is going to experience a 30-year retirement, the first and obvious issue is financial. When you live longer on savings and Social Security, you must save for the 30-year period. You must save more and manage your resources wisely. Tying that statement to fact number 3, identifying financial illiteracy as an issue, illustrates the depth of the problem and how difficult it is to solve.

2.     Less than 50 percent of the adult population have adequate savings. We are learning more about the psychology of saving and spending but this knowledge has not yet been translated into changed behavior. There are certainly families that are truly living on the edge and literally can’t afford to save. For all the rest savings is not a priority. Most believe that payroll deduction is the best way to help people save. What they don’t see they don’t miss. The conundrum for the government, and maybe for the rest of us too, is to figure out what triggers result in changed savings behavior. Tax deductibility of savings is certainly one…. although it seems as if all of those who are going to save for this reason are already doing it. The open question remains about the other 50%. Encouraging employers to offer and contribute to a plan seems like the best path. The triggers to encourage the employers are as unknown as the triggers for the individual. A rethinking of public policy is needed badly.

3.     Most retirement plan participants are financially illiterate. This problem is summed up with the observation of “don’t know, don’t care.” The industry operates on the assumption that if people knew how to invest, they would. Unfortunately, that is not true. What I’ve learned about changing people’s willingness to participate in their own future is the need for a huge “why”. The “why” is the motivation to break the inertia and do something. Once that happens, the need for education is clear and the engagement begins. While there is a big push for financial literacy, which I totally support, without the “why” the future is more likely to look like the past.

So, three big facts overshadow much of the retirement plan world. It is like weight loss and dieting. How many options or programs are available to help you lose weight? A recent article suggested that the weight loss industry is a 60-billion-dollar business. You determine to lose weight, you pick a program, pay for it, get started and it lasts for a week, a month, sometimes a year. Why? Because the desire for change is not greater than the pull of carbohydrates, sugars and the wrong kind of protein. When you stay at a chain hotel, Marriott, Best Western, or Holiday Inn, think what the breakfast spread is like. Waffles, pancakes, danish, bagels, toast, rubber eggs and either bacon or sausage. Your cholesterol count goes up just walking into the room! Oh yes there are bananas and maybe an apple and yogurt in the fridge. You can probably tell I’ve been traveling too much.

Key trends in the retirement arena include paying attention to the compliance and legal side of things. 403(b) plans and 403(b)(9) church plans did not have a mechanism to get the IRS blessing on the specifics of the actual plan document. That now has changed and plan documents blessed by the IRS are available from Vendors who had the foresight to subject documents for review two years ago. Fortunately, Envoy Financial is one of those firms.

There are still non-profit organizations that are flying blind and do not even have a plan document. Without belaboring the fact, the regulations changed in 2009.

With a retirement plan participation rate of 50% nationally, the government is concerned about how as a society we are going to take care of the wave of Baby Boomers now overflowing into their 60’s as well as all those coming behind. It is a problem. I maintain the we have not and are not spending enough time and energy prompting them to think about the why. Apparently, the threat of being homeless or a bag lady is not enough. That is a little strident, yet the reality exists.

Another significant trend over the last few years is the wake-up call to high retirement plan costs. Most organizations never really paid much attention. For the last 30 years firms like Vanguard have been living off products with lower costs. The cost awareness phenomena did not really kick in until 3 or 4 years ago. People and organizations started asking the “how much does it cost” question and found out that it’s hard to figure out what a retirement plan really costs. This is particularly true when the plan is managed by an insurance company. It feels like you are mining for gold just to figure out what is true, let alone what is better. Paying attention to costs is a good thing and will continue for the foreseeable future. It too will run its course when the focus shifts to lower cost with higher value.

The Government, as well as Christians, realize that not having enough during retirement will severely restrict their ability to serve faithfully for a lifetime. There are a few but not enough voices examining the consequences of this issue and then creating a pathway to solve it.

Understanding the truths about retirement and then the realities of what it takes to be faithful for a lifetime is what the Retirement Reformation is all about. I’m committed to bringing not only the truths about financial preparation for retirement but also the balance of our lives that need attention too. The spiritual, emotional, physical and mental parts of our lives also need thoughtfulness. More and more I’ve come to believe that the result of excellent financial preparation is the platform for the others to build on. It provides choice, flexibility and stability. Without it those attributes become increasingly difficult. With a good and stable financial platform, there is freedom to fully respond to God’s call on your life during those final 30 years.

Compliance, cost, and education are the big three trends. The reality that more individuals need to engage almost does not need to be said. Sadly, many will treat financial readiness as they treat their diet.

My prayer is for your New Year. May it be one of evaluation and then intentional change. In the financial area if needed, and most certainly in the other four areas. For those of you that are older, I’m observing that emotional and spiritual strength can continue to grow over the years, while the physical and mental become increasingly challenging. Really good news, don’t you think?

Come back and stay with us as we journey with Trusted Advice along The Way.




The 3 stages of retirement

When people, or even analysts, talk about retirement, they talk about it as being one homogeneous season of life.  A time of retreat and diminished capacity is the general characterization. 

Nothing could be further from the truth or the reality of retirement.

During each season of life, there are limitations based on knowledge and experience, tied in with the capacity to contribute and make a difference. So it is true with the 4th quarter of life.

Our generalized and often wrong perception is rooted in the historical timeline of longevity. In 1936 when Social Security was introduced, our life expectancy in the US was 63. Today it is closer to 85 or 90. For those currently the age of 7, life expectancy is projected to be 104.  Now that there is an expanded period of time for the last season of life there is room for new and important roles for us to play.  It is currently the time to identify those new stages of life and to manage our expectations in relation to them.

It is also time that as Christians we realize the roles we can play to build the Kingdom of God here on earth during each of those seasons and life stages.

It is reasonable to suggest that just as there are roles in The Kingdom during our earlier stages of life, there are commensurate roles during the last seasons. As a 75-year-old opined, “God must not be done with me yet because here I stand.”

Just like the rest of life, there are stages in retirement. If there can be meaning and purpose for our lives during early stages, why not during later stages. Those stages are as distinct as the stages bounded by ages 30-40, 40-50, or 50-60. Each stage has unique and identifiable characteristics. Each stage can be filled with meaning and purpose connected to God’s plan for your whole life.

Here is a quick overview of the three stages of retirement. This is the start of another way for us to think about, understand and put in motion, our Future Funded Ministry. 

67 -78  "Active Application":

Ability and capacity to put into practice what you have learned up to that point in your life. You can lead, be very productive, and bring energy to all your endeavors.

79-87  "Insightful Stewardship":

Ability and energy to bring wisdom and insight to any opportunity or situation. Leadership roles will be collaborative and marked by the ability to bring perspective and support, and encouragement to those who will lead. You will bring value to any discussion or decision.

87+  "Reflective Sharing":

Ability to reflect on life’s experiences and lay out issues and principles in ways that will be helpful to the next generations. The benefits of longevity will be clear. The contribution to the well-being of those, especially those under 45, will be significant. As health deteriorates, wisdom accelerates. 

Each of the three stages referenced above has unique characteristics and bring unique value to building the Kingdom. There is a special call on your life and it plays itself out in different ways during each of those stages.

Thank you for joining us as we walk together on this Journey for a Lifetime.


What does change look like? 7 steps to make it happen!

It may be the hardest thing to do. Change suggests disruption, confusion, difficulty and inconvenience. We are wired to keep doing what we’ve always done. And yes, we will then get what we always got. If what we have is too painful, not encouraging and/or just plan hard, I’m open to change. What about you?

The first step is realization and recognition that something needs to change. When we are face to face with the awareness of wanting something different than what we have, the issue of change goes from hypothetical to serious consideration. Then, from serious consideration to possible reality and from possible reality to decision.

The only problem with deciding to change is the consequence – now you actually have to do something. When we think of change it is usually within the context of a New Year’s resolution: I’m going to lose weight, stop smoking, be more understanding, read a book or exercise. All good objects of change.

Then again, the object of our desire to change may be even more impactful: A career change, a decision to marry, move to a new neighborhood, town or state, or even country all get serious points on the Reader’s Digest stress index. Yes, change is stressful. It moves us from our comfort zone to the envisioned but unknown. Coming to grips with the way I think and act, deciding change is needed and embracing the saving grace of God and deciding to follow Jesus, can bring both joy and relief as well as stress.

Stress shows up because you actually change. It is like the picture of the lobsters in the pot. When one tries to change, to climb out, the other pull them back in. “Who do you think you are, red lobster, trying to get away from us? Think you are better than we are? Come back down here!” Quite a different picture from the frog in the kettle who will hop out if the water is too hot but will acquiesce to boiling to death if the water is just a little cooler. When we decide to change, it takes a decision, an action plan and usually a support group.

The first key to change after you’ve made the decision is to begin. My Grandfather had a saying, “Once begun is half done.” Upon reflection, if you never start it is impossible to finish. When encouraging a new salesman and responding to the question, “How do I start?”, my not so subtle answer is, “First get up in the morning, walk through your front door and turn either right or left.” Without starting there is no finishing. When counseling with a person charged with creating new ministry relationships who was struggling to achieve desired results, my leading question is, “How many potential prefects are you talking to each day? If it takes 9 dials to talk to someone and you want to have 5 meaningful conversations a day, it will take 45 dials of the phone. How many times are you actually dialing per day?”

Here is the bottom line to change: You must start!

The next step in the action plan is to listen. Listen to those who have successfully accomplished what you are trying to achieve. As a friend of mine admonished me one day, “Listen and Learn.” Easy to say, hard to do. So often we want to plot our own course and put down the successful course of others often because it isn’t our idea and it seems too hard. Yes, we like change to be easy, and it is not.

So, starting and listening are the first two steps in the change process. Next is to act. Another way of expressing this thought is to adjust. Whatever the action plan devised, whatever change agent embraced, it will require adjustment and the action steps that go along with the adjustment. Insightfully, we will make changes as we go through the change process. I thought I’d lose weight when limiting myself to a 1700 calorie diet. It works if I want to measure success in parts of ounces a week. I won’t live long enough to see a material change. When I adjusted it to 1400, the difference was significant and the weight loss meaningful.

So, decide, start, listen and adjust are the initial keys to change. The last step is the hardest. It is to learn what it means to change, what the new reality feels like, to appreciate the new reality and never go back to the old ways.

Difficult to admit, but from the time I was 18 until age 30 I smoked. It was about a pack a day. I enjoyed smoking. It went along with other enjoyable activities and became part of my stress reduction and enjoying life regimen. My daughter, Bethany, was in her early teens and not yet in High School. All the research about how bad smoking was for you was hitting the schools and being taught to the kids. The consistent nagging began, “Dad, you have to stop smoking.” As I mentioned before, I was not the least bit interested in stopping.

Bethany was wise beyond her years and went to her mom for help. “What will it take to get Dad to stop smoking?” Judy was very insightful and counseled that Bethany would have to come up with a plan that I couldn’t refuse. She did! One day she came to me and said, “Dad, I’ve got a proposition for you.” She immediately had my curiosity. “You know I want you to stop smoking, so here’s the deal: If you will stop smoking, I will commit to neither smoking, drinking alcohol, or trying drugs in High School. And if you continue to smoke, you have to buy me a car!”

As you might imagine, she had me. What dad could turn down a deal like that? No smoking, alcohol or drugs while in High School and all I had to do was stop smoking? I must admit, the cessation of smoking seemed like a mountain to climb and buying the car put additional teeth into the contract.

The conversation, if you can call it that, took place on a Tuesday night. On Friday, I gave Judy a half-smoked pack of cigarettes and stopped cold turkey. Every time I see an ad on TV for the nicotine patch, I think how nice those would have been now 40 plus years ago. I’ve not had a cigarette, not even one, since that day. Certainly, my love for our daughter was the key motivator while the thought of buying her a car did occur to me when the temptation was really strong.

I think of this example often when contemplating other changes in my life. I can do it and so can you, whatever the desired or needed change in your life means.

1.     Determine

2.     Decide

3.     Start

4.     Listen

5.     Act or adjust

6.     Learn

7.     Stay motivated

It’s not easy, but it is doable. One big area of change I talk about regularly is the decision to begin saving for retirement. Or, increasing the amount you are saving. Almost half of our society is doing nothing to prepare for that certain future. Consider those 7 steps listed above and at least decide to change in this one area now.

Be Blessed as we continue on Life’s Journey together with Trusted Advice along The Way.



What Plan Sponsors need to know about retirement plans


Board members, CEOs, COO’s, Church Executive Pastors, Business Manages and HR Directors associated with Non-Profits are pretty much in the dark when it comes to their understanding of Retirement Plans. Often this includes those who are directly responsible for the oversight of their plan or charged with the responsibility of setting one up or finding a new vendor.

Occasionally, a man or woman who really knows the business emerges but not very often. The usual dialogue with Non-Profit leadership starts with, “I really do not understand much about retirement plans.” 403b retirement plans for nonprofits have been around since the 60’s with IRA’s showing up in the mid 70’s and 401k’s in the early 80’s. Prior to the enabling legislation bringing these defined contribution approaches to retirement into the main stream, Defined Contribution Plans similar to Social Security were the norm. 

Even today certain pundits lament the passing of Defined Benefit Plans characterizing them as a better option for employees than the defined contribution plans we have now. They often site the need for plan participants to actually participate in the plan as one of our societal problems. I clearly remember a conversation with a missionary couple who asked for a review of their retirement plan. The plan was put in place by a mission organization and the benefit calculated amounted to $13 per month for every year of service. So, calculating 30 years of service times $13 came to a monthly income of $390 per month. $390 per month was going to show up each and every month - that is until the couple starved to death. Even in the late 80’s, $390 was not enough!

When I calculated what the result might have been if the same amount had been contributed to a Defined Contribution Plan with average investment returns, the amount was more than double. Also, the balance in the account upon the passing of the couple would go to their heirs. Clearly a much better stewardship solution. But it does require the participants to be engaged. 

Here are the basics that an existing or prospective Plan Sponsor needs to know:

  1. Retirement plans are governed by the regulations of two bodies; the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor.
  2. Beginning in 2009, the IRS determined that the employer is the responsible party to provide and oversee the set-up, implementation and oversight of the plan.
  3. Towards that end, a plan document and summary plan description are required for each plan. Should such a document not exist, the IRS can and will assemble all documents and regular activities related to the plan and establish the plan design for those bits and pieces.
  4. In prior times, you could update your plan documents every 5 years or so. Today they must be up to date at all times. Therefore, every time there is a change in the law or the regulations the document must be updated.
  5. The plan document states all the applicable regulations and then outlines the elements of the specific plan design. 
  6. The plan design details all of the important elements: Who is eligible to participate? When are they eligible to participate? And how much will be or can be contributed?
  7. Then there are a number of other simpler decisions such as: Will loans be available? Will in-service distributions be allowed? and whether those with ministerial status can take distributions as part of their Housing Allowance after Retirement?
  8. Deciding on the amount the ministry or nonprofit organization will contribute is the single biggest economic decision. Will the Plan Sponsor contribute and if so, how much, and/or will there be a matching component requiring the employee to contribute too?
  9. Then there is the matter of the Investment menu: When the subject of a retirement plan comes up, most think first of the investments. While important, the Investments are only one of four major components to the plan: 
    1. The Investments: A menu of mutual funds or Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) allowing the participants to invest well 
    2. Compliance and Plan Document issues referred to as Compliance or TPA services
    3. Recordkeeping: The tracking of all money in, all money out and accurately reporting the results of these activities. 
    4. Education: Helping all participants and the Plan Sponsor to participate and administer with confidence. 
  10. The selection of the Vendor, TPA, Recordkeeping and Investment Advisory. These roles can be separate or contained in one provider. There are two main categories of providers: Insurance Companies and Independent TPA, Recordkeeping and Advisor firms. I am certainly biased but a firm such as Envoy Financial brings great flexibility and wide range of capabilities to the table. Specializing in Church and Faith Based Retirement Plans has significant advantages over large Insurance Companies.
  11. How a plan is implemented and supported is important. Often how you start impacts how you finish. As a matter of fact, getting started is the single biggest determinant to how you will finish. 
  12. Putting a Retirement Plan Oversight Committee in place is important for mid-size to larger organization. Leaving the oversight of a plan to only one or two people when there are 15-150 or more participants, is not a good idea. As the plan sponsor is the fiduciary to the plan, and charged with its oversight, even though a vendor or vendors will be doing the work, means that a group charged with oversight responsibility, meeting 3 or 4 times per year, and consulting with vendors is valuable, important, and yes, necessary. 

The twelve items outlined above compose the basics of how a 403(b), 403(b)7, or a 403(b)9 Church Plan is put in place and operates. The ongoing educational component underlies the long-term success of the plan.

A staff that is engaged, contributing and growing in their understanding and confidence about the funding of their future ministry is both blessed and will be a blessing to their family and to the growth of The Kingdom. 

There are two important books available if you’d like more insight into the why and the how of retirement planning. They are excellent resources for your leadership team, and all plan participants. You can download “Live with Meaning” and “Moving Forward: Putting your Future Funded Ministry in Motion” at www.BruceBruinsma.com. They are both available in print and Kindle format on Amazon. They were written with care and designed to be both a resource and encouragement to those in ministry - meaning all of us. 

Come with us as we continue our journey with Trusted Advice along The Way.


Unity produces productivity


Leading and unity inherently include a dynamic tension that is hard to resolve. Leading includes envisioning a future that does not exist. It also includes communicating that vision to a group of people that have not seen, experienced, or acknowledged the potential existence of the vision.

Anything new will be accepted by a few, acknowledged as possible by more, and resisted by most. This reality illustrates why leadership is the purview of the few and the challenge for all. As a friend of mine once opined:

Leading with new ideas is like pushing a wet noodle uphill with your nose.

A bit graphic perhaps but essentially true.

Moving an idea from acceptance to excitement and ultimately onto unity is a tough road. We know that teamwork leads to amazing successes. After winning college or professional sports national championships, the television and radio interviews go something like this:

Question: “How do you account for the tremendous success of the team?”

Answer: “It was amazing how we all came together and accomplished this success!”

What does “came together” mean? Perhaps this coming together is the key ingredient to success. It must be hard to accomplish and very powerful when it happens.

So, does it happen by chance, just luck, or the alignment of the moon and the stars? I don’t think so! It happens when the hearts of men and women change, when personal priority is forfeited, and each individual dedicates themselves to a common goal. They take their identity from outside themselves and commit to something other and greater than themselves. Does that description ring true to you?

I went searching for the basis and example of this phenomenon outside of the world of sports and found that the christian scriptures are a source of the truth. Jesus’ teaching instructs us about life here and life eternal. What does he, and the disciples that he taught, say about this subject?

We can start with Jesus’ own words about unity and success in John 17. As a leader, he certainly challenged the men and women of both his day and current day with a new way of thinking and subsequently a new way of living.

Jesus’ goal expressed here is a powerful one: The world will know that he was sent into the world by God His father. That truth then legitimizes his teachings, life, and the reality of his death and resurrection. Without that knowledge, proof, and acceptance of his claims are hollow and the reality of an afterlife for believers is suspect.

The power and reality of His message is demonstrated by his being united with God and subsequently his followers with him. It is in the unity of voice, message, and action power exists and reality affirmed. It is how we “win” the game and show the world that Jesus is who he said he was and that by following Him we, including our family and friends, can be changed. And that an eternity with him is real on the condition of accepting the truth about ourselves and His role in our redemption.

Not an easy task and we need leadership to accomplish it. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul expands on this theme numerous times, as does Peter. Understanding the theme is important is all aspects of ministry where it takes a team to accomplish a goal…..and that is everywhere and in almost every situation. I say “almost” as a hedge against the exception however, I can’t think of one.

It takes a team to be productive, to achieve a goal, and to change lives.

Here are three of the key ingredients to finding unity and producing God inspired results. Without that God inspiration, we can only strive for the “man inspired” results. And these results are more limited and often lead to unintended and painful consequences.

1.      Love: if you start with a clear vision and unroll it starting with love, the results will always be better. The underlying principal is that concern for the other person, above yourself, will open you and them to more possibilities impacting success. In growing God’s Kingdom here on earth, “They will know we are Christians by our love” for each other and the constant demonstration of that love is convincing and inviting evidence of our faith and the reality of Jesus in our lives.

2.      Listen: You only learn by listening - rarely by talking. Some of us gain insight and clarity through verbal exchange, even within ourselves. It is the listening to others or even hearing ourselves speak that learning, clarity, and new understandings occur. I’m wearing a wristband distributed in our church last week that reads: “I am second." Inherent in that commitment is the priority, importance, and learned skill of listening. Listening for the “still small voice” for guidance and the insights, issues, and concerns of those we are leading.

3.      Like Minded: Until we are like-minded and pulling in the same direction, we are a house, team, or society pulling against itself. Certainly, there is value in discourse but progress comes when unity and like mindedness is achieved. When we all come together to accomplish a common goal

It takes patience, encouragement, perseverance and steadfastness to move from like-mindedness to success. The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote in Romans 15:5-6:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s principles of success play out across the spectrum of our lives. Those of us with leadership responsibility are wise to acknowledge and practice those principles in all we do. Loving, listening, and coming to a like-mindedness are elements leading to both unity and productivity success.

Stay with us as we journey through the hills and valleys of life with Trusted Advice along The Way.


3 reasons to understand “longevity”


There will be one million people over 100 years old by 2050 in the United States.  

I can remember Willard Scott on the Today Show was excited to highlight someone who had reached this milestone.

A little background: There is a difference between “life span” and “life expectancy."  Life expectancy means the average life span for a total population. We identify this with mortality tables. These tables are used by life insurance companies to calculate the costs of insurance among other things.  Life span is the actual length of an individual’s life.

Throughout most of history, the estimated life expectancy was impacted by infant mortality plus a whole category of medical issues that can be summarized as “infections." It was not until those issues were addressed and the results minimized, that life expectancy grew much beyond the 30-40 year mark. In addition, deaths attributed to war cannot be minimized. Over five hundred thousand people, a half million, have died as a result of the Iraq war for example.

For many generations there were no grandparents as it requires three generations to be living simultaneously.  Anecdotally, I can remember growing up and hearing my parents say, “He just retired last year, and now he is dead.”  They were referring to a 65-year-old and reflecting how many people died within 1-3 years of retirement.

Let’s agree that people in the United States often live well into their eighties or nineties. A typical age for retiring from the paid workforce is 65-70. So there are fifteen to twenty years subsequent to that and those years can be divided into at least three different life stages.  We’ll detail those stages another time.

Living longer is real, living longer is relevant, living longer is important. Here are three reasons why: 

  1. Longevity is important to business and ministry.
  2. Longevity is important for friends and family.
  3. Longevity is important for the country.

Longevity is important to Business and Ministry. There are at least 3 reasons:

  1. People with specific needs creates a market for business and ministry focus.
  2. People with specific concerns and issues provides a focus for service and support.
  3. People with longer life spans are valuable resources in the workplace and volunteers for ministry.

AgeLab’s Ben Coughlin says, “Longevity will be one of the greatest drivers of innovation for the next one hundred years.”

Longevity is important for the family.  Here are two reasons why that is true:

  1. Those living through the last quarter of their life are a source of wisdom and perspective. Knowing that learning from the experience of others is less painful than the learning that comes from our experience is a valuable perspective.
  2. Those living through the last quarter of their life can provide a place of emotional refuge and support.  Much research and anecdotal evidence suggests that there are closer and often more valuable relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren than between the grandchildren and their parents.

Longevity is important for the country. Here are two reasons:

  1. The change in makeup of the country impacts public policy. Social Security is often referred to as the “Third Rail of Politics."  Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House during the Reagan presidency, is credited with the metaphor. The third rail on an electric railway carries the power and if you touch it, you die.
  2. The seniors over retirement age, when considered as an expanding asset rather than a liability, the potential is enormous.

During our years of study about the re-definition of retirement and referring to Future Funded Ministry, we have learned a lot about what happens, or does not happen, after retirement. We have also learned a lot about the importance of individual preparation and about the importance of organizational and ministry support prior to retirement. Without preparation results are minimized. With preparation the results are maximized. This is uniquely true with regards to retirement or with the more substantive reference to Future Funded Ministry.

Be challenged to think about these issue along with me. Are you in preparation mode or simply passive about the upcoming years? How are you connecting to that definition of Future Funded Ministry as being a time of reward for past service and simultaneously becoming a stepping stone to future ministry?

Longevity is a reality. Longevity brings value. Longevity provides an opportunity to live with meaning to the end of your life. Longevity provides an opportunity to lead your ministry or organization by supporting and encouraging your staff to connect, engage, and carry out God’s plan for their lives, to the very end.

A lifetime of preparation leads to a life time of purpose.  A lifetime of purpose fulfilled, means a lifetime of meaning and joy.

Bruce Bruinsma

Three steps to take regarding your retirement plan


There are many non-profit organizations, ministries, churches, and mission sending organizations that wonder whether they are "doing" the right thing with their retirement plan.

They not only wonder if they are doing the right thing, they are also fearful of doing the wrong thing, and sometimes of doing anything at all.

When ministry leaders call Envoy, they sometimes have specific questions about costs, fees, or investments. But more often than not they call because they have a people problem. For example, they may have an employee who has been with them for 30+ years. The employee wants to retire but no plan was put in place to address this inevitable issue. The employee, staff member, Senior Pastor, or Executive Director approaches a Board member with the facts that show they should retire based on age and situation, but the soon-to-be retired employee’s finances tell a totally different story. It is at this point they reach out to us, the retirement plan experts, and ask, "What can we do?"

After more than 3 decades exploring the inner workings of 403(b), 403(b)(7), 403(b)(9), 401(k) and 457 retirement plans, I've decided that every Plan Sponsor, every Retirement Plan Oversight Committee member, every President, COO, or Executive Director who cares about training and helping their staff should do the following 3 things.

1. Understand what is true about your retirement plan.

How is your plan constructed? Designed? Administered? Managed? How is it really being used by your staff? If there is no plan in place at all, the reality is immediately obvious.

John 8:23 says that “Knowing the truth will set us free.” Freedom and life-giving impact certainly start with knowing the truth. It is further suggested that with Jesus’ help we can find our way to the total freedom promised by him during his earthly ministry. He sent his wisdom and insight to guide us. The reality that freedom truly can exist becomes real. Know the truth about your retirement plan.

2. Measure your plan against 3 relevant yardsticks.

What might those be? There are a number of different metrics that are relevant.

A. Does your plan connect your staff to God's perspective of retirement?
If there are no values or faith-based perspective in your retirement plan and your organization is one that has both values and a faith-based foundation, something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

How can a retirement plan reflect a faith-based perspective and support the values of your organization? Check out www.futurefundedministry.com for an overview of how retirement planning can be a continuation of your current and future ministry.

B. Does it measure up against competitive marketplace metrics?
There is a lot of information available to help with this. Issues dealing with cost, investment selection and mix, education system relevance, ease of administration and the integrated ability for each participant to self-administer are some of the keys for a meaningful evaluation.

C. How well is your retirement plan truly working for you?
Does it work administratively? For your staff? A word of warning: The staff you should be concerned about is not the 10% of your staff who are investment knowledgeable and retirement plan pros. They will generally be ok with whatever plan you have. You should be concerned with the staff who are not engaged, know little, and maybe scared of addressing the topic of retirement.

3. Connect with a plan provider that right for you.

This is critical.

Intuitively, we all recognize that not having the right tools to do a job or having the wrong person in a leadership position can be disastrous. The same is true for retirement plan providers. Like almost every other product or service, they come in all shapes, sizes, and descriptions. Among smaller or medium-sized plans, insurance company providers are the most prevalent. Often this is because a friend, associate, or church member is in the insurance business and brings the solutions to the table they are most familiar with. We all recognize that this approach may not bring the desired results measured against any meaningful criteria.

In the area of investments, generally, the menu of options and the choice of investments is determined or significantly influenced by your “financial” representative. Their perspective may be limited, yet, their recommendation is followed due to a personal relationship with a member of your key board or staff.

So there you have it, 3 key steps to impacting the future of your employees, staff, ministry team, and maybe even yourself. Put that process not only on your "to do" list, but make it a part of your strategic action plan, even yet this year.

Let me know your thoughts by commenting: What is the most challenging hurdle you face when talking to employees or co-workers about retirement?

Tough leadership decisions: 3 tips on solving the right problem


A few nights ago, Judy and I entered the directions to a holiday party in the car’s GPS. We drove the 20 minutes with confidence and ended up on a dark road, totally wrong address, and not a clue as to where to go.

We’d taken all the right steps, followed the correct procedures, and ended up in the wrong place.

We’d solved a problem and created an answer, it just was simply the answer to the wrong problem.

Has this ever happened to you?  


 The Increased Rate of Change

Everything is moving faster, makes more impact, and is increasingly interconnected. Without a clear direction of where we are going, or leading, we will only get to the wrong result faster.

Clarity, focus, and systematic solutions to all of our problems are not only important, they are critical.



In reviewing our strategic plans for the coming year, going so far as to diagraming our various systems, it became increasingly clear how every part of our company is truly interconnected. Leadership decisions made in the sales or marketing area impact service, while Third Party Administration and record-keeping decisions impact finance, HR, and our advisory area.

Identifying and understanding the interconnectedness is obviously critical.

So, between the increased rate that everything is changing and the interconnectedness of all that is changing, identifying and solving the "right problem" is critical. The implications of not solving the right problem are immense, costly, and very frustrating.

Solving the wrong problem, no matter how elegantly, has little value. As a matter of fact it may create more problems than it even solves.

3 Tips for Leaders Solving the Right Problem

1.  Identify What’s Wrong, the Root Cause

So often the most easily identified problem or issue is not the problem, it is only the symptom.

For example, a key salesman’s productivity drops dramatically. The salesman reports that the product pricing is too high and he can’t sell the product any more. Leaders go to work on the product pricing options, product design and packaging, collaborate with vendors on supply chain issues, and form a strategic pricing team to evaluate the competition.

After months of angst, reduced sales, significant investment, and even some internal finger pointing, it is learned that the salesman is having severe emotional problems and is spending most afternoons in the movie theatre.

No sales calls, no sales. No enthusiasm, no sales.

No one dug into the cause of the problem, the root cause, and settled for working on the the symptom.

There is an old adage:  If you want to know what the real problem is, assume all that you see are only  symptoms. Research and peel away the layers of symptoms until you find the real problem.

A parallel thought is that when you truly want to know what someone thinks , ask them a version of the same question, three times.

For example, “How are you?” They answer in a perfunctory manner, “Fine." “Great, so now how are you really?” They now respond in more depth. Then, “So, tell me more about that?” Now you have a chance to uncover what is real, immediate, and true. You can identify more clearly what is true.

Now you can understand, support, encourage, or advise. Whatever is appropriate. 

So, finding the root cause of the problem, or opportunity gone wrong, is the first step to solving it.

2.  Write Out Alternative Solutions

Rank the options.

In order to do this, you must be able and reasonably sure you have identified the real problem and root causes.

Write out the problem as succinctly as you can and run it by a trusted advisor to make sure it is clearly stated.

During this process, solutions will begin to surface. As possible solutions surface, write them down, again as clearly and succinctly as you can. 

When you have a list of possible solutions identified, you are 50% of the way to solving the problem. The pieces to the “solution puzzle” connected with each possible solutions are:

a. This solution will solve the problem because…….
b. The financial cost or impact of this solution is……
c. The people, or staff, this solution will impact are…..
d. The further benefit beyond just solving the problem with this alternative are…..

Then rank the solutions scoring each of the four (or you may add a fifth) on a zero to five ( 0-5) scale.

The highest score wins.

3.  Develop the Solution and Act Decisively

Be Bold.

Procrastination and “dithering”, a particularly irksome form of procrastinating, are the root reasons why problems often do not get solved, even when a solution is clear. There are many adages that address this key step in the “solving the right problem” conundrum:

 “You can’t win the lotto if you don’t buy a ticket”.

“You can’t make a sale unless you first walk out the door”.

And then my grandfather’s admonition, “Once begun is half done”.

The most helpful insight into this third step is to acknowledge that a decision, a decision to act, only takes about 2 seconds. Everything else is preliminary….the decision only takes two seconds.

So, when you think about it, if every day you only used 10 seconds of BOLD, you’d change your life. 

10 Seconds of Bold means that you had made 5 decisions to ACT each and every day. Five decisions of 2 seconds each. 10 Seconds of Bold, will change your life.

If you made even one of those decisions regarding how you spend or save money, how you handle your retirement plan, how you make staff acquisition or staff training programs, how you deal with a troublesome neighbor, friend co-worker or staff member, It will change your life. I’ll write more about this in my next blog. 

In order to solve the right right problem you must:

1. Know its root cause so you are truly solving the “right” problem.

2. Identify alternative solutions so you have a chance to solve that right problem.

3. Using a 10 second of Bold approach means there is a likelihood that the right problem will  truly get solved.

Remember, if you assume the problem you see it as a symptom and act accordingly- following the 3 tips outlined above-life will get better, you will be increasingly productive, your leadership will be stronger and lives will be changed. 

We continue the journey together with Trusted Advice along The Way.

Vision, Transparency, and Accountability


You always learn more when you teach than when you are a listener or a student.

I confirmed that truth again recently. As part of our visit to India, I was presented with a number of teaching opportunities. During two of them, the topics for the day were Vision, Transparency, and Accountability.

I was not sure how either of the audiences would respond. One audience consisted of the leadership team of a hi-tech company who were all followers of Jesus. The other was a group of 75 members of a teaching, translation, and medical consortium working in rural India.

We started with the necessity of clear Vision. We work, we play, we strive, and we contribute often without total clarity about the why behind it. The old adage, “Starting with the end in mind” is simple. However, simple does not always equal easy. As a leader, thinking through the why and the objectives of our why is imperative yet so often overlooked. Particularly when working in or with a relatively small group, the vision is missing because the why is assumed. “Of course,” is often the internal response of teams such as these. “Of course everyone knows where we are going and why we are going there!” Well, maybe not. Even a leader can get trapped at the 500-foot level as a doer rather than a leader. We need to show, tell and do rather than lead with vision.

A vision is a goal towards which we are putting our energy and talent.

As Christians, the vision is one seen through the lens of the ultimate leader – Jesus Christ. Sometimes we experience the vision as a beckoning from God. A call to action, a goal to pursue, and a pathway to follow.

In both groups, the leadership asked that we tie these topics to the realities of team building or teamwork. We can work for years on a project using internal motivation for energy. A team needs to experience a more outward call, leadership, or vision casting in order to come together. The coalescing of a team is the outward manifestation of a mutually accepted vision. Where are we going and how are we going to get there? In both teaching scenarios, we paused to reflect, pray and write down their understanding of the vision for their activity.

In both cases, it seemed like roughly one-third was on board both with the concept and the reality of their world. They were scribbling away while another third was struggling but making some progress towards connecting the dots. The final third was clearly lost in the process. Helping them move beyond their place of being stuck was and is a joy of teaching and the context for the most personal learning. It forces me to be focused, clear, and encouraging.

We then moved on to Transparency.

The conversation began with a question: Why does a leader need to be transparent and what is transparency anyway? I thought that unpacking the term “transparency” in such different cultural setting might be hard or confusing but it wasn’t.

Trust is not built by pounding your chest or proclaiming all the great things you have done. Those just feed your own pride and ego. Trust is built on the foundation of truth, love, and more often than not, examples of failure rather than examples of success. When we share some of our failures or issues we are dealing with, they provide a sense of truth and build a foundation of trust. Being transparent means letting them see the unfiltered you – both good and bad. It is not a maudlin dialogue centered around poor me, but instead centered around real issues and then clearly identifying how they changed you or how the problem was resolved.

There is another great old saying, “You have to build the bridge of trust strong enough so that it can bear the weight of truth going forward." We all know that the future will contain both success and failure. The difference between people is how they respond to both.

Transparency is important in building trust and facilitating communication.

We tell the truth to people we trust and who trust us. Transparency is a critical element to both building trust and communicating truth. I was so pleased that both audiences grasped this concept because I believe they know it to be intrinsically true.

Then there is Accountability.

If transparency is important, then accountability is critical. It is also the hardest. Very few of us relish being held accountable. Our western society is pointing to the other person as being the responsible party for any personal problem. We are not responsible for the outcomes of anything.

You, my parents, my teachers, my playmates, my wife, my kids, my culture, my education…my my, my, my! They are all the responsible party; therefore, I have no responsibility. Politicians are particularly adept at using the pointed finger to absolve an audience of responsibility and put blame on others with themselves and the intermediary savior. They did x to you, and I’m going to save you from the outcome.

When we are transparent with ourselves, the root cause of the problem has at least part of us in an accountability role. Thinking back to an old story, Adam blamed Eve for bringing him the apple to eat and the compelling message of all-knowing divinity that came with it. He certainly did not have to take that first bite. But he did choose to do so.

Accountability and responsibility go together. Part of the forward and positive motivation required to overcome the finger pointing syndrome is a commitment to excellence. When we want to do anything well, we need to know how exactly we are coming along in our progress. Accountability and the metrics that go along with it are the elements that evidence our willingness to take responsibility.

We will never experience the joy of seeing a vision fulfilled without transparency and accountability. Without those two elements, we operate in a vacuum or a sea without a compass.

A week or so after meeting with the tech team leadership, I met one of the team members at a conference. After our greeting, his next words, spoken with a big grin were, “Vision, Transparency, and Accountability!” The words were joined together in his sentence as if they were both connected and cohesive. One thought made up of three ideas. Expressing my joy at his connection to our teaching time and then the presence of mind to share them immediately brought both happiness and satisfaction to the teacher – me!

The group of 75 had a somewhat different reaction. “’Much of this is new teaching," they said, "but we see how important it is to have a vision, be transparent. and accountable. We will try and we will practice."

Each of us can commit to “try and practice."

And that includes me. Clarify our vision, be transparent creating trust and communication, and be willing to bear the responsibility of accountability so we can learn from our mistakes and be encouraged by our successes is a description of a life well lived.

You can’t ask for much more - live it, love it, practice it. This life is the only one you will have until eternity is a reality.

Be blessed and stay with us as we experience Trusted Advice along The Way.


Advice for the future


I spent a lot of hours on airplanes in the last few weeks.

The coffee plantation is doing well and the Dordogne area of southern France is superb. Read a thought provoking book entitled: 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America. Albert Brooks projects a challenging world, a scary world, in the not too distant future. Under his assumptions, the unintended results of curing cancer and unchecked borrowing by our government, changes our world. It is changed primarily because our country’s financial alternatives and decision making options become limited. We become victim to our own lack of foresight. The unintended consequences of sequentially bad decisions scared me about our earthly future.

It also made me think of issues even closer to today: The unintended consequences of not establishing a Future Funded Ministry Plan (both by an organization for it’s staff, and for each plan participant). Scary too. Scary because when each person gets to the point of changing their life style—because of age or other circumstance—and support funds are not there, choice is lost. “Going where You (God) want me to go” is then, not an option. “The unintended consequences of sequentially bad decisions” is scary indeed.

Let’s follow the logic: When choice is lost, the lowest common denominator wins. 

In most cases the controlling factor is money ... or more pointedly, the lack of resources. So, at least part of the answer is to set money aside now for that point in time when the paycheck stops or income is dramatically reduced. Experientially, we here at Envoy know the amount is about 10% of income. So how are you doing? How is your organization doing?

The next point is to make sure your plan is running well ... a smooth running automobile is an analogy that comes to mind.

The most recent “action item” in the tune up menu is to be clear about plan expenses. As a Plan Sponsor you should have received the plan expenses fee disclosure document from either Envoy or your current vendor. If you haven’t received it—in either case—give us a call, we can help. Not knowing also leads to unintended consequences.

Here is the key message of the day:

  • The future is controlled by the decisions you make along the way.
  • Once those decisions are made, future choice is either limited or expanded.
  • Read the book.
  • Make your plans.
  • Get help (Trusted Advice) so the plans will be good ones.
  • Know that God’s plans for you are "for good, and not for evil." So, pay attention ... your future depends in it!

Always good to be home.

Living with Trusted Advice together


Faithful for a Lifetime


The coach moves along leaving Jaipur and heading to Delhi. And yes, it is another world. On the one hand, we are all God’s creation sharing a common humanity. On the other hand, we are unique individuals impacted by DNA, culture and history.

Size has something to do with it too. Within the next few years India will overtake China as the world’s largest country.

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the scope of either. I believe the USA has a population of roughly 300 million. Soon both of these countries will surpass that 5 times over meaning each country will roughly have a population of 1.5 billion! Let’s do some more math to help us visualize the size.

They say that around 2% of the population are Christians. That does not sound like a big number, however, 2% of 1.5 billion is 30 million. I'll have to check with Barna but I believe that is the total number of committed evangelicals in the United States. 80% of India residents select Hindu as their preferred way of living and 15% select Islam. 15% and 85% of 1.5 billion is a lot of people. And that is just India.

A few years ago, upon traveling often to Laos, I learned that the country had about 7 million people composed of 64 tribes. When India was unified 70 years ago, it was comprised of over 600 “kingdoms” with 70 different languages. Large, complex, and diverse are some descriptive adjectives that come to mind when articulating the many dimensions of this country.

Our guide, Sanjay, when answering hundreds of “why” questions from Judy, myself, and our own distinctive traveling companions, often reverted to the following insight: we have the people, we have the resources, but we must find the will to change while removing graft and corruption.

Sanjay is very upbeat and hopeful, yet realistic about his people and country. When queried about trash and litter, he observes that they began a campaign 3 years ago and it is slowly beginning to work. He reminded us that the US’s big anti-litter campaign started in the 70s. “Give us some time too,” he adds with a grin that extends from one end of his mustache to the other.

From a business perspective, the opportunities here are unlimited. As a friend observed, 1 penny a day for each person adds up to a lot of pennies…. or Rupees. The numbers are astounding. The challenges are too.

After visiting an NGO that serves roughly 3,000 children a day in Jaipur, I asked what the number of street children were in that city. The answer of 200,000 took me back. So many families from the countryside are coming to the city with high expectations for work and support only to be disappointed. Many of the children are then abandoned to fend for themselves, or die.

As Jesus followers, there are so many ways yet to demonstrate his love and God’s personal concern. As Americans, there are immense ways to demonstrate new methods of living that do not destroy their culture, but enhances it. And as individuals there are so many new friends to make, help, and learn from.

Another road on Life’s Journey


Two thumbs up


I was in the Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand airport waiting for the Bangkok flight when I met him.

All five foot two of 67-year-old energy. My friend introduced me and I asked him, "Are you retired?" "Oh yes" he replied with gusto. Then he quickly continued, "retired from the restraining walls of the church and now free to minister wherever God calls." I was shocked to find an enthusiastic and joyful practitioner of Future Funded Ministry. A Future Funded Champion and Future Funded Ministry messenger, right there in Thailand.

With a little more questioning I learned that in his pre-Jesus days he was a highly ranked Thai kick boxing fighter. Up in the air, knocking out opponents with a judiciously placed kick to the head, landing on his feet and ready to go again. He now looks like he is ready to go 5 rounds for Jesus with anyone.

Upon departure he blessed us and as he turned to leave he said to me, "Young man, you are never through spreading the Word. Let's stay committed to never quitting.” I smiled, nodded in agreement, and gave him two thumbs up.

Reflecting on our "chance" meeting while on a late night flight to Narita, I realized that he did not put down the steepled church, but was honestly sharing the freedom he now felt to minister during his later stages of life. Because of his financial preparation he could teach at an all day training session in Ubon on Saturday and then present at a conference in Chaing Mai on Monday, while he encouraged me on the Sunday in between.

I have no doubt he will be ministering with intelligence and vigor at 77 and beyond. I look forward to our next “chance” encounter as we minister together.

Here are some of my take a ways:
- God is not finished with me yet
- Enthusiastic ministry is contagious
- It's not our size that matters, but our heart

Consider joining the growing band of Future Funded Ministry devotees. Share the message with your family, friends and staff. Be a Future Funded Ministry example whether you are just starting to prepare for that lifetime of service, almost there, or a joyous fellow traveler. Thumbs Up!

Let me know your thoughts and comments. Our dialogue continues.

Living with Trusted Advice together

Working cross-culturally: the Laotian experience

Bible Coffee.jpg

Across the street and on the other side of the roundabout is the central market for the City of Pakse in Southern Laos. 10 years ago, the local heavy hitter in the coffee and real estate market built the rectangle of buildings that encircle the market. Small shops on the street side of the market extend through the building to the huge open spaces inside the rectangle.

Red roofs and two story white buildings create an offset to the jumble of other buildings that face the cross streets, main streets, and side streets all around.

Pots, pans, children, supplies, flowers, foods of all kinds, and fighting cocks are all available. Anything you can imagine and much that you cannot is on display and for sale.

During the 10 years I’ve been coming to Pakse, often staying in this very hotel, I’ve watched the town develop and the market fill with every imaginable alternative to buy, wear, or consume. I can trace the development of the town and the economy just by observing the new roofs that enclose the square to protect the growing number of vendors from the heat, rain, and maybe even each other.

Pakse is the regional capital of Southern Laos. It is both remote from the capital of Vientiane and serves as the entryway to the economy supported by the Bolaven Plateau. The Plateau rises from the banks of the Mekong River and it takes about 55 kilometers of perilous driving to ascend the 1250 meters of elevation change and arrive at the coffee capital of Laos, Paksong.

Now don’t get the wrong idea, this coffee capital is simply a larger version of the hundreds of small villages that dot the road to get there. No one knows for sure how many people live on the plateau. Somewhat in excess of 50,000 people is my guess. The horribly rutted roads crisscross the largest plateau in South East Asia and extend from the heights above Pakse to include the northern tip of Cambodia and the Western edge of central Vietnam. And for you history buffs, yes the Ho Chi Minh trail cuts across the Eastern edge of the plateau.

The area has a long and varied history. Below is a map that all by itself tells much of the story of Laos.


You can see that the country is landlocked with crossroads of people going in each and every direction. With a little over 7 million residents consisting of 64 different tribal groups, it is a society working cross culturally within itself.

The Lao tribe represents about 50% of the population with the balance made up of small, medium, and somewhat larger people groups. As might be expected, the largest tribe is dominant with the balance of power swinging in their favor. Many of the people groups have no written language which means the children must then learn Lao when they go to school. Their heart language helps bind them to their history, Lao introduces them to the larger culture, and now English is the preferred market place language.

On the Bolaven Plateau, coffee is the primary cash crop. Thousands of small farmers have either Arabica coffee bushes or those living at slightly lower elevations have Robusta trees. For those of you that do not know coffee, the Arabica is the favored crop with Robusta being used as filler and the portion of a coffee blend that provides the “bite” favored by many, including Starbucks devotees.

Laos is the poorest of the SE Asian countries and is struggling to keep up with the mandates imposed on them as a part of the ASEAN member states.

Below is a map of those members:


The countries include:

Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia Philippines, Malaysia

The area in general loves to use impressive labels to describe relationships. The phrase: One vision, one identity, one community sounds promising but there is a long way to go for it to become reality, if ever.

The differences between Singapore and Laos are striking, to say the least.

When you complicate the relationships by adding the China behemoth into any dialogue, it is indeed complex. 

During my years of coming to Laos, the positive changes are striking. The distance the country and the areas around Pakse have yet to obtain in order to be within economic striking distance of the surrounding countries is stunning.

With that perspective, they are working hard to move forward. As a society that is not only Communist, but also hierarchical based on age, it takes generations to see significant political or social change. When a signed contract becomes the beginning of negotiations, and the rule of law is not well recognized, it is difficult to do business, create economic relationships, attract investment capital, and improve the lives of the people. 

The economic engine that can propel a country or region forward is hindered when the gears are greased with sand rather than oil. The sand that grinds the gears to a full stop, is the pervasiveness of bribery as the preferred way of moving any project forward. In all societies, there has to be a grease that allows progress to occur. In capitalistic countries, you expect it to be profit based on market supply and demand along with efficient communication and delivery systems and effective business methods. Perhaps that will be the case here, sometime.

It is challenging to learn what it means to work in an event-based society.

It sounded easy to me when we started. But that is not the case. It is also hard to lead in new cultural directions when the idea of “cause and effect” is nonexistent. So much of what we think is “normal” or common sense is based on this premise: If you do x, y will happen. Or, if you do not do x, y will be the reward.

It is hard to imagine how difficult it is for someone from the West to operate without these standard operating conventions. This operational void impacts everything from learning, preventative maintenance, and strategic planning.

My partner and I have been in business here in Southern Laos for just over 10 years. The reality is that we have been productive and building a sustainable coffee farm and production facility for five of those years. The other five were consumed by the inefficiencies of the business and legal system and dealing with significant corruption of local partners, associates, and government.

There are many necessary lessons to be learned in order to work cross-culturally and to do so effectively. We have met many wonderful people and learned a lot about what it means to have huge helpings of patience coupled with massive amounts of persistence.

As recently as yesterday, we received new and updated paperwork allowing us to move forward towards the vision we saw 10 years ago. That vision should have been realized, or at least started to be realized, five years ago. Because of those painful experiences, we can connect now much better with the historical people and people groups forced to delay dreams and set aside visions for an extended time. The biblical characters of Joseph and Jacob come to mind.

I always seem to go back and reflect on the historical Jacob of the Bible. He worked for the father of the woman he wanted to marry for 7 years. His time and effort were based on a promise and a dream about the future with his bride to be. When the wedding was to take place, he was tricked and the father-in-law substituted the older sister in place of the promised bride. As a result, Jacob had to agree to another 7 years of labor in order to marry the woman of his dreams. A great love story but a truly painful experience.

During those last 7 years, he was blessed by God with wisdom, knowledge, and significantly increased wealth. Although we have not experienced the final benefit, we have certainly grown in wisdom and knowledge during these last five years. Perhaps increased wealth will come during the next two.

There are so many wonderful and helpful projects for the people in the region that are badly needed. Our desire is to help fill the void that exists because of government, society, culture, and history.

I’ve written at length in this blog about the culture and cross-cultural issues impacting Laos. Laos is one example of difficult cross-cultural challenges and there are thousands of others stretching across regions, continents, countries, and cities. There is no part of the world that is exempt, some are just different from others.

There is both a challenge and an opportunity associated with this conundrum.

The challenge is to understand and see the opportunity through to viability and sustainability as well as understanding and workability. A result of the process for me is that I have become a better person. I have become more resilient and more understanding with enhanced perseverance and greater wisdom. And, I’m 10 years older.

Would I do it again?  Well, I’m not sure Jacob would have gone for a third round either. Now, moving to the next stage of business development, I’m excited to embrace the future built on the challenges of the past. Stay tuned and you can journey with me to the next stage of the 4th Quarter.


What is God's purpose for your life?


At key times in our lives, during the year and especially at the end of the year (as we celebrate this key event in God’s master plan that makes possible our salvation), our thoughts turn to serious subjects.

One of the subjects  I’ve been reflecting on is:

What is God’s preferred purpose for my life?

From the perspective of someone in their 7th decade, I may think about it a little differently than someone in their third or fourth.

We have a mutual understanding that ministry means changed lives.

So whose life am I yet called to impact during the balance of my 7th and 8th decade?

Each of us who claim the name of Jesus as Savior and Lord, are called to make a difference. To make a difference by reflecting the nature of our God, demonstrated by His son Jesus, in the work that we do and the life that we lead. Our life direction and demonstration is communicated to us through the Bible and we are empowered by the active work of the Holy Spirit. 

This what we often refer to as our “daily walk with Jesus."

Recently I listened to a speaker describe the Holy Spirit as “Jesus without a body." I found that unique description encouraging as it gave me a way to think of Jesus being with me every step of the way during the balance of my life’s journey and ministry. Having Him with me helps to drive out fear, encourage my actions, and find His creative solutions to the problems I’m confronted with regularly. It also brings me comfort and joy.

How about you? 

Are you dedicated to making a difference? 

Dedicated challenging those around you to walk confidently into God’s abundant plan for their lives in the future?

What is God’s preferred plan for your future?

Here are some thought starters:

  • Go to the world and preach the gospel
  • Love one another
  • Care for the widows, orphans and the needy
  • Reach out to the homeless
  • Use your talents to make a difference
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul
  • Listen to Jesus as he speaks to you through the Holy Spirit

Each of us is a unique creation of God. Each of us are part of God’s redemptive plan for the world. 

Be blessed and be a blessing. 

Why Don’t We Plan for Retirement?


“Now, what are you going to do?”

“I have no idea. Nothing for a while and then I’ll figure it out”.

This is the typical dialogue that takes place between a person about to retire and someone attending the retirement luncheon. They have no idea? Seriously? 

Yes, seriously. Preparation for this new stage of life starts in your teens and extends for 50 or maybe 60 years. With all that time and experience in the rear-view mirror, you'd expect a different answer.

At the other end of the age spectrum, usually upon graduation from high school, a similar question is asked: “Now what are going to do?" Inherent in that question is another one, “What are you going to be?” When the reply sounds like, I don’t know," we are quick to either verbalize or make a silent observation, “Well, you better figure it out!”

Why do we think a young person needs to figure out their life’s path and those over the age of 65 don’t?

The younger person may get a pass for a couple of years as they go to college but then those questions rise up again. If the same answer is given, there is a greater concern. The concern is based on the societal need to support yourself or your family financially and to make a meaningful contribution to society. What would you think if the answer, or the reality of checking back in with that person a few years later, truly was nothing? “Nothing, you are doing nothing?” Again, you silently evaluate the response and conclude that there is something wrong.

It is interesting to observe that the 65+ year old when asked about what they are doing, responds with “nothing” and we accept the answer as being appropriate and perhaps even reasonable. The acceptance of nothing being a reasonable alternative is because our perception of retirement is quite different than our perception of the transition from child to youth and then onto adulthood. The need to create additional societal and Kingdom value is a given for the young. It is not even recognized as an option for the old, those in the 4th Quarter. Strange, isn’t it?

Earlier today I heard a story of a 65-year-old woman whose husband died shortly before both of them retired. After a reasonable time of grieving for her loss, she prayed for new direction in her life. Her new course was launched by going on a short-term missions trip to Laos. There she encountered a couple struggling to make a difference in a difficult country. The couple noticed that pre-school age children did not have the opportunities that 2 to 5-year-olds had in the US. So, they wanted to start a pre-school.

the 65-year-old arrived on the scene and pitched in helping them to get started. She was flexible and open to new things. Jumping ahead 10 years, we find this same woman who looked for a new direction in life, actively involved in the lives of the six young teachers impacting the lives of 150 pre-school children. She bought the house where the young teachers stay and she encourages them by living life with them. Yes, she moved from the USA to Southern Laos. She is also the “Grandmother” to the 150 pre-school kids. Her new life is fulfilled, meaningful, and yes, difficult.

If her solution at 65 had been to affirm “nothing” as a viable option and “don’t know” as a reasonable response to the question about “what’s next”, literally thousands of lives would not be impacted for The Kingdom. Is she unusual? I don’t think so or if so, only because she chose to do something rather than settle for nothing.

Our societal view that assigns significant value to leisure is off kilter. When I look up the word leisure in the dictionary it says: spare time, idle hours, and nothing to do. We then look for ways to fill up the leisure hours - the spare time, the idle hours, the periods of nothingness - with activities that satisfy our personal desires. Our proclivities expand to fill the nothingness with more leisure activities. Where is the value in that?

We fill our time with either bucket list activities, entertainment options, or busy work with little lasting impact. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those things. They are great as interludes to meaningful activities impacting other’s lives. But, they are disappointing and tiring when they are pretended to be meaningful priorities and significant activities.

How then do we measure significance? We identify significance by measuring the impact our lives have on others. Meaning is introduced when our interactions with others change, enhance, or encourage them. When we try to create meaning out of nothing, we end up with sum zero.

We don’t plan for retirement. The closest most get to it is to address the financial side of the retirement equation. Certainly, being financially prepared is important. However, it is not the whole story. Many try to make it the whole story rationalizing that with enough money in retirement they can, in fact, do nothing. My goodness, what a trap that is. On the other hand, it makes no sense to, therefore, conclude that saving for retirement is irrelevant. It’s not. The role of money in retirement is to provide a flexible platform upon which the critical and meaningful issues of life can play out.

Because our 65-year-old friend was financially prepared for her next life stage, and the subsequent ones after that, she was able to purchase the home that houses the teachers of 150 kids and to be an active participant in their lives and the lives of those Laotian children. Yes, being financially prepared is important and way too few are, but even more are unprepared spiritually, emotionally, educationally, and relationally.

We don’t plan for retirement because we do not understand the length of time that makes up retirement – roughly 30 years. That is the same length of time between the ages of 10 to 40, 20 to 50, or 30 to 60. It is indeed a long time!

How sad it is to see a life wasted during any of those 30 year periods. Whether the wasting is due to opioid use, laziness, or even misfortune, we know more value is possible.

It is time to change the rhetoric about the 4th Quarter, those last 30 years. Let’s change our thinking resulting in changed actions and impact on others.

When the Bible talks about experiencing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, it is talking about what happens when we reflect Jesus in our lives and listen to his lifestyle promptings and reflecting on what he has written in the Bible, and putting all of it into action.

It’s time we embrace the promise of the Retirement Reformation. We are each called, prepared, and empowered to do more than nothing. And to do it for a lifetime.

Stay on the journey with us as we learn and experience the Retirement Reformation.

And by the way, pass it on!


Unique insights and time-saving decisions


My grandfather once asked me, “Bruce, why is experience the best teacher?” When I look befuddled and said, “I have no idea," he responded, “Because it is the most expensive!”  Wow, what a clear insight into reality, how things really work.

If experience is the best teacher, and the most expensive, are there any shortcuts that can take us to “a better place” more efficiently and effectively? Let’s explore a sampling of the options.

Learning from others

The alternative to learning from our own painful and expensive experiences is learning from others.

Some of the ways we learn from others include:

  1. Professional journals
  2. Conferences and webinars
  3. Classes and courses of professional study
  4. The experience of others

One of the important ways we learn from others is digesting the aggregated information collected from peers about any given subject.

One useful way information is gathered and digested is through surveys.

Most of us are deluged with survey questions. It is important that we set some criteria for which survey we will answer, and which ones we won’t.

Here is a list of criteria for you to consider: 

  1. Is it timely?  We are all busy and sometimes we can prioritize, make the time available, the time, and sometimes we can’t. Simply acknowledging that reality is helpful.
  2. Is it relevant?  Does the topic and content of the survey fit into a subject category that ties in with either my responsibilities and/or my priorities?
  3. Are the results important?  Will the results of the survey inform me in a way that will be helpful either professionally or personally?

If the answers to all three questions are “yes," then participate. If not, “pass."

Applying the 3 criteria to the example

  1. Is it timely? If you are either a retirement plan administrator or have some oversight responsibility for your plan, or a member of an organization that thinks you need a plan, you will make time to answer a 12-minute survey on these topics. If not, you won’t.
  2. Is it relevant? Clearly, if your ministry responsibility includes benefits or the finances associated with them, you will answer yes. This includes the key members of an executive team, down to the pastor or administrator of a very small ministry. It is relevant. You will participate in the survey and look forward to learning the results.
  3. Are the results important? Knowing what others are doing provides a benchmark to evaluate and help define best practices as you consider implementin a new retirement plan. It also provides a gauge to measure what you are currently doing.

Keep in mind the three criteria the next time you are asked to take a survey:

Is it timely?

Is it relevant?

And are the results important?

You can get helpful, time-saving information from surveys. You can also waste time if they don’t fit the criteria. The unique insights are an important way to leapfrog the pain of your personal experience. Applying the criteria is a way to save time.

So, happy learning from the experiences of others.

- Bruce Bruinsma