Third Time’s a Charm: Tom Bryant on His Return to RBI and Why He Wants to Help Pastors Through Retirement
Tom Bryant, a three-time employee of RBI, shares how he’s seen the organization and the PCA change over the years, why he keeps coming back to RBI, and what he loves most about serving pastors.
When Michael Jordan came out of retirement in 1995 to lead the Chicago Bulls on another legendary championship run, he announced his return to basketball by sending an infamous, two-word press release: “I’m back.”
Although there was no media coverage, Tom Bryant’s return to RBI for a third stint came as a surprise to many, including himself.
Tom never imagined he would come out of retirement to serve as a Benefits Advisor for RBI. In fact, he never imagined many of his life’s twists and turns. But God had other plans.
After graduating from college in 1978, Tom returned to his hometown of Atlanta to work as a high school teacher. Three years later he realized he needed a career change. At the time, he was a member of Perimeter Church (PCA), now located in Johns Creek, GA. Gordon Moore, then the business manager for Insurance Annuities and Relief (which later became RBI), walked up to Tom at a Sunday night service and offered him a job.
Although he had no previous experience or training in the field, Tom took the job and started working for RBI in 1983. What he lacked in technical experience, he made up for in denominational experience. Having grown up in a PCA church and graduated from Covenant College, he was very familiar with the denomination.
In his first role as Participant Services Representative, Tom worked with pastors and others to enroll and advise them on their benefits. A few years later, he became the Participant Services Manager.
After 11 years of working at RBI, Tom then took a job at a local bank in their trust department. Two years later, in 1997, RBI approached him with an offer to return as a Business Manager. Tom said yes.
“Most of my work here has been oriented towards pastors and their unique circumstances regarding their income and benefits,” he said.
Tom served as Business Manager for close to six years before a tragedy took his life in a different direction. Tom’s sister and brother-in-law Eddie Willis were driving back to their home in Charlotte when they were hit head on by another car. Eddie, an elder in their church and “a faithful man,” died the next day.
That left only two options for Eddie’s medical supply business: shut it down or bring in someone to run it. Since Tom’s sister was newly widowed and on the verge of being an empty nester, he decided the best way to support his grieving family was to move to Charlotte and take over the daily operations of Eddie’s business.
Ultimately, Tom’s dream was to return to Atlanta and his home church of Westminster. So, after 17 years of working in the medical supply business, Tom sold his house in Charlotte and moved back to Atlanta in May of 2020 to begin his official retirement.
But retirement wasn’t in the cards for Tom—at least not yet. He was approached to work at RBI for a third time, this time as a Benefits Advisor. Tom agreed and started back at RBI in April of 2021.
In an interview earlier this month, Tom discussed why he kept coming back to RBI, what he loves most about his role, how RBI has changed over the years, and what people say when they hear Tom Bryant is back. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What kept you coming back to RBI again and again?
There’s an affinity for the PCA—a familiarity with pastors, what they’re dealing with, what they’re looking for in terms of compensation and benefits, and various dynamics within the church. It’s always interested me.
It’s also a bit of a family tradition, you could say. My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister.
What do you love most about your role as a Benefits Advisor?
I had a call yesterday with a pastor that lasted an hour and 15 minutes, and 95% of the conversation was about personal things, not benefits. He felt free to unload, to talk about personal things. I think he sort of needed that outlet, and I was glad to accommodate him.
For me, it’s not just, “Here are your benefits,” “What do you need,” “Are you done?” You develop a deeper type of relationship with people. Some of them I’ve known since the 70s.
Ultimately, if we’re helping them not have to focus on financial concerns—freeing them up to do their ministry—then we’ve done our job.
What makes RBI unique in terms of the care and services it provides to its members?
I was speaking with a pastor who’s just retired, and his retirement fund is more than adequate to meet his needs. So, by sticking with RBI through all those years, investing, and trusting the trustees to do their job and make sound investments—it’s paid off for him.
When I started, the organization was only 10 years old. We’d never taken anyone from career to retirement. Well, we’ve done that and more. So, to see those people comfortably retired is a validation of the services that we perform and the ministry that we provide.
Having been gone for 18 years, I’ve been shocked to see the size and growth of many of these pastors’ retirement funds. That’s been very gratifying.
Of course, RBI also provides financial relief, and that’s very important because not every minister retires comfortably. Sometimes they wind up with an income that’s insufficient. Quite a number of people are aided by our relief ministry.
Tell us about a memorable story or relationship from your time at RBI.
There are many relationships you develop over the years, ones where a kind of trust builds between you. There was a former missionary who was very pleased to know I had come back for my second tenure.
She said, “I just feel so much better with you being there.” It comes down to who you talk with and who you’re comfortable with. A lot of people like to know the person they’re dealing with.
Obviously, the denomination is much bigger than it was in 1973, and the ability to know all 8,000 RBI participants is impossible. But sometimes on a call I’ll say my name and they’ll say, “I remember a Tom Bryant from years ago. Are you the same guy?”
“Yeah, I’m back.”
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