It is not possible to have earnings as a minister of the gospel under federal tax law prior to being ordained, licensed or commissioned as such. Assuming your son was commissioned as a minister of the gospel under his home church’s governing structure and polity (i.e., that the commissioning resulted in him being considered a minister by his church according to his church’s bylaws and other governing documents), and assuming that his duties after commissioning comprise duties in the exercise of ministry as defined in the Internal Revenue Code and related Regulations, his earnings as a minister began after his commissioning. The nomenclature used to describe his work prior to commissioning is not determinative, nor is the manner in which such earnings were reported for Social Security purposes (employment or self-employment).
Accordingly, there is no reason to believe, based on the facts you have provided, that his earnings as a minister began before 2009. Your son should be encouraged, however, to carefully read the requirements for Social Security exemption on Form 4361 before filing it to ensure that his basis for claiming exemption is legitimate. He should also carefully weigh the implications associated with exemption, as the election is irrevocable under current law.
This information is current as of December 2009 and is not to be construed as tax or legal advice.