Published June 13, 2013
NORCROSS — David and Shay Tanner knew they needed to make some big decisions. Their life together was good after five years of marriage. But they were also wise enough to know that life circumstances could bring major changes.
Each had seen the unspeakable – unexpected death – happen to family and friends. So instead of putting off what an estimated 70 percent of Americans seemingly choose to avoid, the Tanners chose to create a current will that meets their wishes and the needs of their family.
Their church made that decision simple. As members of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Norcross, they welcomed the services of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC), which offered a Legacy Planning seminar at their church. The seminar served as the impetus to focus on end-of-life and estate issues.
Theirs is a blended marriage. David has five sons ages 36 to 16. Shay had nieces and nephews for whom she cares greatly. Blended or not, each knew that families often struggle with the final arrangements of their loved ones, and that confusion and conflict can ensue without clearly written instructions.
Now they have documentation that designates how to settle their estates. Without those wills, the state of Georgia would determine those decisions.
GBC state missionary John Bryan applauds the Tanners’ decision. They represent a growing number of Georgia Baptist families who are making estate decisions, but also knowing how those decisions can benefit their church and the Cooperative Program (CP).
Bryan served as pastor of Curtis Baptist Church in Augusta for 17 years and later as pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs. Out of his pastoral experience, which included as many as 43 funerals in a one year, Bryan has too often sat with surviving family members who suddenly discovered that their deceased loved one had not designated a clear estate plan. That missing communication can create a financial and emotional mess.
Among Bryan’s assignments with the GBC is working with churches to provide estate planning services. He begins by working with a church leadership team. Often, that leads to an information seminar that invites church members to begin working on their wills, designating the power of attorney, and creating living wills.
For young families in particular, the will is important to designate guardianship of their children. Grant and Melissa Newman of Duluth didn’t want to leave that issue unsettled. Members of First Baptist Church of Duluth, the Grants knew they needed a well-defined plan for their three children, ages 14, 12, and 10.
“You hear horror stories of families that end up fighting about what to do,” Grant said after recently studying in Genesis how Jacob left his family instructions concerning his death and burial. “It seems so unnecessary if we just take the time to do what God has instructed us to do.”
When Duluth First Baptist sponsored a Legacy Planning seminar, the Newmans’ children attended and had questions concerning who would care for them should their parents die. Their 10-year-old son, Cameron, even began to write his own will.
“We do a church-wide event that takes the pastor out of favoritism or the potential for showing favoritism,” Bryan said of the seminars. “It gives the entire church family the opportunity to participate regardless of the size of the estate.
“It’s a non-prejudiced, non-threatening, wonderful opportunity for the extension and implementation of ongoing missions.”
The GBC has contracted with Georgia attorneys who in turn offer their services to families at a reduced rate. The families then meet privately with the attorneys to communicate their wishes. Bryan does not participate in those meetings, nor is he compensated directly based upon the outcome of the services.
“I’m not a fund raiser, and I’m not an arm twister,” Bryan said. “I’m a pastor with a missions heart.”
The wills reflect the priorities of the participants. Though not required, participants have the opportunity to designate an endowment gift to their church. Participating churches in turn agree to forward an amount, usually 10 percent, to the Georgia Baptist Foundation’s Cooperative Program Endowment Fund. Bryan estimates that 35-40 percent of participants choose to include their church in their estate designations. Thus, the faithful can remain faithful as those who have supported missions during their life can continue to support an estimated 11,000 missionaries, 16,000 seminary students, and other state, national, and international ministries through CP.
Carlisle Driggers, pastor of Lake Country Baptist Church at Eatonton, brings a unique understanding to estate planning. Before retiring to Georgia, Driggers served as the executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
“Estate planning is certainly important for individuals and families in keeping with a commitment to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ both far and near,” Driggers said.
Bryan serves churches of all sizes, and the size of the church doesn’t always indicate the outcome. One medium-sized church in east Georgia recently had about 163 participants pledge an estimated $2 million to the church.
In a smaller church in central Georgia, an 85-year-old participant decided that his church didn’t just need money after he died. The church needed a new parking lot now. He presented a check to the pastor the following Sunday.
In yet another rural church, a never-married schoolteacher gave 100 percent of her estate to the church, which had ministered to her for years.
“Their current level of generosity usually follows their desired level of generosity,” Bryan said. “I see an opportunity for people to continue in their faithful giving, to bring new life to people in the years ahead.”
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming and the bivocational pastor of Suwanee International Fellowship, in Suwanee. Churches can contact John Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on Legacy Planning seminars.
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