Brandon and Amanda Leslie were high school sweethearts.
“We learned to drive together, we went to high school together, we went to college and were each other’s biggest supporter throughout life,” Amanda Leslie recalled. “We married in 2000 when I was 19, and he was 20.”
Twenty-one years later, one would expect the Leslies to be busy keeping up with their sons — ages 17 and 13 — planning on being empty-nesters in the next few years or even dreaming of retirement.
The Lord had other plans. Brandon, 41, a bivocational pastor in Oklahoma, died unexpectedly this summer.
Looking back on Brandon’s ministry, Amanda said it was easy to see how the Lord used both his love of teaching and his heart for the Gospel.
“We had a friend who was a pastor, and he asked Brandon to take on his youth ministry bi-vocationally,” she said. “It was a wonderful fit.”
Most recently, Brandon had served six years as the bivocational pastor of St. Louis First Baptist Church, located about an hour’s drive southeast of Oklahoma City between Ada and Shawnee. Amanda said the church had been an incredible blessing to the family. He loved the people, and the church family loved the Leslies.
“Everyone felt like Brandon was their best friend,” she recalled. “His primary goal was to be God’s hands and feet.”
Soon, Amanda would find someone else being the hands and feet in return.
Losing a husband and father is a terrible blow; not only is the family dealing with the emotional loss, but there are also financial implications that have to be faced sooner rather than later — and that can feel overwhelming.
But St. Louis First Baptist Church had cared for the Leslies in a way that was about to make a big financial difference.
Mark Dance, director of pastoral development for Oklahoma Baptists, reached out to Amanda in the days following her husband’s death to walk alongside the family in their hour of need. One of the pieces of news he delivered was, thanks to the church’s decision to contribute regularly to a retirement plan for Brandon Leslie, a survivor protection benefit made available between Oklahoma Baptists and GuideStone would be available.
Eligible church staff members who participate in the Church Retirement Plan — GuideStone’s retirement plan for Southern Baptist churches — are eligible for this survivor protection benefit. The benefit is a joint effort between Southern Baptist state conventions and GuideStone.
That benefit meant the world to Amanda.
“It is wonderful to see God’s provision for us,” she said. “It has allowed me to pay off my house and pay the taxes in full for the next six years, which is when my youngest will graduate from high school. We’ll be able to stay here until then. It provides a peace of mind and stability for us as we adjust to our new reality.”
Brandon Leslie had a secular job as well that provided some benefits, Amanda Leslie said, but the GuideStone benefits were an unexpected blessing.
“The care is a little different,” she said. “The people that work at GuideStone are people of faith and just understand things differently.”
While working through the loss of her husband and best friend, she said she is comforted by the outpouring of love she has received from the church, from Oklahoma Baptists and GuideStone.
Hance Dilbeck, president-elect of GuideStone and the immediate past executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists, said stories like the Leslies are all too common.
“Last year, GuideStone paid out $2.6 million to surviving spouses and children through the survivor protection benefits in the Church Retirement Plan,” he said. “Every pastor needs to stop and consider how he would provide for his wife and children should something happen to him, regardless of age or health. While the protection benefits are no substitute for other planning, they can be a significant help during a time of shock at the loss of a beloved husband and father.”
Amanda Leslie said that she hopes that other ministers — especially bivocational pastors like Brandon —will heed the wisdom of the St. Louis First Baptist Church family and set some of their income aside through GuideStone.
“They need to understand the resources available for the family’s benefit,” she said. “The people at GuideStone have been such a resource that’s been invaluable.”
For more information on the Church Retirement Plan for Southern Baptist churches, visit GuideStone.org/Updates/SBC-Church-Benefits.
Roy Hayhurst is the director of denominational and public relations at GuideStone.