I bet you were told that to make it in life financially, you should go to college, find a good job with a reputable company and work hard. Or, you may have been told to get a good education and start a business of your own. Well, you were told wrong. There is an easier way to make a six figure income and you can include your family too!
And no, it is NOT Amway. Get into the ministry! Yes, you heard me right. The ministry. Yes, I know, I have heard all the stories about poor ministers and they are still out there. I know a few, too. But, we have a new crop of ministers and administrators in churches and para church organizations that are doing quite well. They are even wealthy by American standards. Many are in the top 10% of income earners!
Some of you may be thinking, well, there is nothing wrong with paying the workman his wages. And you would be right about that. But, we do need to ask ourselves a few questions: 1) What is fair and just as a wage for ministers and administrators of God's Word and, 2) Should the these expositors of God's Word make 4-5 times more than what their average congregant or donor makes? (In some cases it is 10x more)
Let's take a look at some figures so we can get our facts straight. First of all, what does the average (median) family in the United States make? There are, of course, considerations for location. In Alaska, you might pay $5.00 for a tomato in the dead of winter so we have to make adjustments for location. Here are some Census Bureau statistics on incomes in the United States:
Real median household income in the United States between 2004 and 2005 is: $46,326.
That means that as far as household incomes in the United States: 50% are above $46,326 and 50% are below $46,326. This figure includes New Yorkers, Californians, Alaskans and those from Piney Bluff, Arkansas.
Chances are you recognize that figure. Those reading this (all 10 of you) will make, for the most part, anywhere between $30-80,000 as personal or family income. We know this because of the breakdown from states when considering a four person family that probably has two income earners. Source:http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/4person.html
So now that we know average incomes of families in the United States, let's take a look at a few para church salaries of some well known ministers and their administrators: (There is a link below to enlarge the chart)
Source of graph: http://drbrooker.net/?p=521 Running Well Blog. (With permission)
The chart incomes does not include: Book royalties, CD sales, materials or speaking fees. (In case you did not know, the 990's are what non profits file to the IRS and do not include church income)
Now, there are some disturbing trends here. One is the large salaries that are way out of line with what the average American family lives on. But, the second most disturbing aspect are the family member salaries. For Ligoneir Ministries, the President Tim Dick, is R.C. Sproul's son-in-law. So that makes three family members in top management making over $500,000.00 combined. As I understand it, his wife is the only paid board member. This was reported on the 990. (Update: Tim Dick recently resigned)
The most surprising was Chuck Swindoll who makes a paltry $55,000 but then we see his wife is making up for that low salary with her six figure income. And, his daughter is doing pretty well, too.
Billy Graham takes the cake at $405,000. One only hopes that a big portion of this goes right back into BGEA. I was a bit shocked to see his income only a bit less than Paul Crouch. We expect that kind of income from the Word-Faith folks....but Billy Graham?
I can hear the rebukes and arguments as I write this. So why am I doing this? No, I am not a socialist. I am a capitalist in regards to business but not in ministry. I am writing this because there is a disconnect between these ministers and their sheep. How can they relate to the challenges of a single mom who makes $20,000 year with no health insurance when you live on 10x that amount in a luxury gated community?
I am sure many pastors started out poor but after 10 years, a large income starts to become normal and we all know how it works; your lifestyle starts reflecting your income.
There is a danger in living so much better than your sheep. With these kinds of salaries you tend to live in areas with other higher income people. You eat where they eat, shop where they shop, your kids go to school with the higher income kids, etc. It becomes a "Group Think" mentality. Money does that. It is hard to be real humble when you are raking in 250 thou a year.
But what is the real harm here? The harm is that their donors and tithers (Is that a word?) are, for the most part, the $20-60,000 a year people. The kind of people whose lifestyles, challenges and limitations they cannot relate to. The very same people they expect to pay up in tithes and donations so they can live well.
I am not advocating the return to poverty level pastors! But, I am advocating a bit of normalcy and a dab of humility.
Is there a love of money here? I have to wonder because the salaries are so far out of line to the average American. Except for Alistair Begg, who interestingly enough, comes from Scotland. I wonder if there is something to that? Not being an American, I mean.
Salaries are one area where I have to give some (not all) Baptists credit. Some Baptist churches make their detailed budgets public knowledge. In these transparant churches, most everyone who cares, knows what the pastor to the secretary makes. You know he is making $50,000 a year when he gets up to preach. This is why the situation with family members on the chart is a disconcerting. You may not realize that a minister's wife's role in his radio/tape ministry is bringing the family an extra 150,000 a year unless you are searching the 990's. And please do not tell me the board members know and that is enough. The boards of most non profits rarely meet and when they do, they bring their rubber stamps. And most of them are in the six figure range which is why they are on the board! Sadly, it is the same with many elder boards.
Another result of these large incomes is that we are turning ministers into celebrities with books, tapes, speaking engagements, etc. Celebrities start thinking about image. Who is going to follow a guy who drives a rattletrap? Who wants to be under the teaching of someone who lives in a 3 BR ranch with one bath? And, their peers think "well, I better be careful speaking out on a certain issue or I may offend him and he won't blurb my book". That kind of thinking really happens. I have personally witnessed it.
But hey, just because they are ministers of God's Holy Word does not mean they can't live well. Right? The question is: How well?
Why did God decide to bring Jesus into the world as a lowly blue collar peasant? Our Master had no where to lay His head. He owned nothing in a worldly sense. Many 'shepherds' have forgotten this as they negotiate six figure salaries and drive home to their gated communities.
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Matthew 6: 24
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Folks, we are seeing quite a bit of unfruitfulness these days.
I think it is great to make a lot of money...for business people. They can give tons for the Lord's work. What concern me are ministers and administrators, which many times are family, living high on the hog with money from those who can't and who happen to be their sheep.
As Mammy in Gone With The Wind said, "It ain't fittin, It just ain't fittin".