Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mir Rant: Overpaid Christian Executives and Charity Recommendations

I've felt a bit sad this past year as I've found out the pay (individual and family) that some ministry leaders get while routinely asking for donations to keep their ministries going.

Here's one blog that addressed the topic earlier this year in a 10 part series: FreeGoodNews.Com

I last year decided to stop giving to two ministries after looking at the compensation for the heads and, in cases, their wives and children. I also decided to stop giving to one--though I don't know how they compensate leaders--because they were keeping 50% of every dollar I donated to a missionary's work in the Middle East. The missionary found a church that would take donations and give 100% to his work. No administrative cut.

I consider that good stewardship.

And I'm really bummed about stuff I've read recently about the salaries of ministry leaders.

I figure if you're out there calling it a ministry and asking for charitable donations from folks who are almost certainly making the US median wage or lower, then there has to be a sort of accountability and humility that is not expected of strictly business folks. A ministry is not a business, even if it functions like one. If it relies on donations (not manufacturing or selling a product the way companies and corporations like, say, Microsoft or Mattel or Marvel or ABC or Ethan Allen do), and if the purpose is "kingdom-oriented"--ie for the salvation of the lost and the equipping of the saints--then there has to be something that overrules the lure of the personal profit motive. Greed has to be taken out of the ministry equation.

When I see that good men and women who teach and live soundly in so many way, who don't see a problem with accepting wages putting them in the top 1 or 2% of American income, when that very income comes from asking widows, poor folks, middle class folks to donate, I wonder why that is. Do they really accept that quarter million salary plus without a single twinge? Is that possible?

Come on. Is it rocket science? No minister should be making many times what his average congregant makes. No ministry leader taking up costly air time for donation pleas should be making 4 and 5 and 6 and 10 and 20 times the US median wage.

Sorry. Makes my eyes cross!

How does a minister justify taking a quarter of a million, a third of a million, half a million, even a million and plus in salary when he's also asking retirees and working moms and others to give donations? I have issues with this. I just can't see Paul or John or Christ doing this. Sorry.

And when you add in family members into the ministry staff pot, a family could be seeing compensation as outrageous as that of, well, look it up yourself. (eg. One famous pastor got $1000 per hour for a 16 hour work week in a year that additionally included a huge pastor's salary of a 1/3 of a million as per a 2003 tax return.) It just takes a couple googles or a visit to Charity Navigator to begin to get an idea, though CN doesn't always include all family members benefitting from, well, some godly nepotism.

I did add Gospel for Asia to my "offerings" list. They promise all the donation designated for the mission field goes to the mission field. Nothing of that allocation is used for administrative expenses. Advancing Native Missions also has a 4-star rating. Over 92% of donations go to native missions. Their CEO earns a bit over 41K. That's quite, quite modest. Another fave of mine is Voice of the Martyrs, also a 4-star rated one.(Go here to browse other 4 star rated religious charities, excluding media/broadcasting ones.)

Of course, for the Christian, the main place to give is one's church, but even there, be a good steward. If your church isn't one that regularly holds budget reviews and membership votes, then ask to see the budget. Find out where the monies go. How much are leaders paid? Is it fair? If not, give more in order to pay them more! If it seems outrageous, say so: take it to the elders. How much and what percentages go to good works for the poor and for missions, for the sick and imprisoned? How much is used up in less important stuff, for fluff?

Hubby and I left our interim church after a year of asking for a financial statement was fulfilled by the barest bones of a budget that served no real useful purpose. We decided that was a symptom of some underlying problem. If a church can't keep its budget clear and straight and open for inspection and feedback from those who give their hard-earned monies to support the church--then, okay, I'm outta there.

(And kudos to Pastor Brian Pipping, my fave pastor of all the men who shepherded me in my adulthood, for his accountability and openness and humility and responsible fiscal behavior during the time he pastored our wee Baptist Church in Miami Lakes, FL. He set an example other pastors should follow, imo. Frankly, he deserved a better salary than he got. I still thank God for the honor of having known the man who didn't think cleaning a church restroom was beneath him if it was a job that needed doing.)

And mind that, really, you don't have to give money to any large organization in order to give to the kingdom or advance the gospel: help your needy neighbor right where you live. In times of food-inflation, groceries may be very welcome. A drive to the doctor for an elderly church member, which with the price of gas is a gift, for sure. A $20 slipped into the Bible of someone who just got laid off and you heard is struggling. Buy up inexpensive New Testaments and pass them on as the Spirit moves you. Start a home Bible study and buy study books to share with newcomers. Help out at a food bank. Meet someone in your home church who wants to be a missionary, and fund their home or overseas work directly. Mow a disabled neighbor's lawn. Stock your car with clean socks and wet wipes and non-perishable eats with a few useful tracts and pass them out to any homeless person you come across during your treks in the city( better than giving cash, which you know they'll almost certainly use for substance abuse). Keep a couple of gas gift cards with you on Sundays (the pre-paid ones that look like credit cards) and if you see someone at your church who routinely gives rides to church to those without transportation, like youth or the eldery--give em a gift of fuel so they can keep their "ride ministry" going.

Times are tough. Looks like they'll get tougher, maybe for a long time. Be wise in how you give. Make your gift go as far as it can to do the good you want it to do.

At the heart of it, I think some of these Christian executives need to really spend some long, hard time in reflection before God. If it really comes down to wanting big pay--go secular. Go join a regular corporation and bust your butt to make CEO salaries and get stock options and the big house, etc.

If it's about the kingdom, though, and you're taking the widow's mite and the retiree's mite and the single mother's mite and the two-jobs to make ends meet father's mite, then reassess what you take as your pay. I think it's shameful to make pleas for donations and make more than 99% of Americans.

Maybe they need to read a few of these articles linked by Finding Jesus blog in their post titled "God and Finances."

I know I need to re-evaluate, too. We always do. Hubby will be starting a new job with a nice salary (not as nice as those Christian executives!), and we need to be more responsible than ever in a time when so many are suffering and doing without. For the Christian, there is no excuse. Giving is commanded. Greed is not supposed to rule over us--compassion and humility and generosity are.

I've got lots of work to do, battling my own selfish inclinations and American-bred materialism.

So do many of our religious leaders, clearly. And not just Christian ones. All our religious executives and ministry heads need to reflect on this.


Bernie of said...

Nice post- I agree 100%!

Diane G said...

It's true. Also, it's one of the things that non-religious people will point to, and judge Christianity by. I think that in this secular age, when many people are losing their faith, it's important for Christians to be good witnesses.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out Mirta. Cleaned a bathroom at church this weekend during our children's ministry event. Thankfully the salary is a bit better 12 years later. Love you guys.