Tuesday, March 9, 2010

#135 Concealing the pastor's salary

Most Christian churches don't have a problem disclosing their financial records to whomever asks. Many of them make a point of providing a public record of every cent they give away and how much is spent on materials and staff salaries. Other churches aren't that forthcoming. Like the Mormons, they have pretty tight control over their financial disclosure policies.

Maybe these churches conceal the pastor's salary because it is embarrassingly low. This is definitely the case for many pastors...actually, most pastors. And maybe the churches that don't disclose their pastor's salary do this because it is high. But how high? We'll probably never know, but we do know from his new rims and Dsquared jeans that it's above the poverty line.

There are certain traits that predispose a church to maintaining salary secrecy. If a church:
- is remarkably large
- is multi-site
- is touted as one of the "fastest-growing" in America
- has a "lead," "teaching," or "founding" pastor
- is Acts 29
then there is an increased chance you'll have a hard time getting their unabridged financial information. Having these traits doesn't automatically mean they conceal staff salaries, of course. They just help.

Here is a fun experiment you can try with any church of your choosing. Ask to see their yearly financial report. They will either ignore you or provide you with a Word document. If you receive a document it might have one big number covering all salaries and you have no way of knowing what each staff member is paid, let alone their patriarch. Now here is where it gets interesting. If you inquire further, there's an excellent chance they will bristle and then shame you for asking. Stand strong. Maybe they want to avoid the fate of Anaias and Sapphira, and who could really blame them.

If a church has a tight reign on their spending disclosure, they often claim that their church financial records are accountable to a board of trustees. If you press further, you will likely find that said trustees live out of state and also pastor their own megachurches. What was that? My spidey sense is tingling! Or maybe it was just my imagination. No wait...now the lead pastor is getting into his Escalade and heading home to his gated community. Yeah. That was my spidey sense, all right.

This post originally appeared at Beliefnet, the original post and its comment thread are here.


brianoverholt said...

Most churches that I know of will make such records readily available only to church members, or people who are tithing to that church, because those people have a right to know how that money is being used... and the church needs to be held accountable for the financial choices it makes. Any church that does not do this is shady... in my opinion.

However, pastors salaries are a touchy subject, because it seems like EVERYBODY scrutinizes the pastor's salary... no matter how little he/she makes.

I have sat in on many church-wide budget meetings and listened in disgust as many people asked if the pastor (or youth pastor) really NEEDED to make this much money... which was comparable to your average teacher's salary... only without the awesome benefits.

I just wanted to tell those folks to shut up and think for a second about how much the pastor's work is WORTH! Not how little we can pay him/her and get away with it. Do we really need the pastor distracted with trying to pinch pennies at home? Most pastors only get one actual day off most weeks, for crying out loud!

Anyway, I'm sure that pastors like Mark Driscoll make ridiculous amounts of money, and could stand to make less. I do tend to think that pastors of large churches probably are deserving of higher salaries... to a degree... but it seems like some pastors like Driscoll might have seriously exceeded that degree.

But it's because of experiences like the one I mentioned that I tend to be forgiving when a church doesn't like to broadcast its pastor's salary to the world.

brianoverholt said...

Ugh... that was long and boring...

I know... I can be a tool sometimes. :)

daniellaprice30 said...

A pastor is a church worker and whatever amount he's receiving, I think it's none of our business. I think we can't get to spend our time to look or search at online payroll services just to know how much their getting.

jr. forasteros said...

I'm a teaching pastor :D

I actually think pastors' salaries should be 100% open. But I've never been at the head of the orgs that employ me, so that's never been my call.

I see a lot of those behaviors. And I agree, they're really problematic. There's not always something going on. But why hide it if there's not?

Cassie said...

I'm a pastor's kid. Not only does my dad have a huge church, but we make shit money. Absolute shit money to the point where I may not ever be able to make it into medical school. All I want to be is a doctor. Just like the owner of any company, people don't normally tell everyone how much they make. And the Bible never once spoke against having money. It says the LOVE of money is the root of all evil. Not having money. Jesus had to have a treasurer. What does that tell you? He had a ton of money. We're supposed to give to the poor and not keep all of our own money for our own pleasures. As a liberal, I agree with that. But if you own a company and it's doing well, I don't really understand why people are doing something wrong. It's not hypocritical to be rich. I don't really see why me becoming a doctor to finally stop having to buy clothes at consignment shops is being hypocritical because I'll be a Christian but have money.

Anonymous said...

Businesses are different from non-profits, do not cavalierly equate the two. That said, executive compensation is public information for a publicly traded company.

If any of a non-profit's finances are concealed, it's a warning sign that you shouldn't donate to them.

Susan said...

Cassie, you don't have to be a doctor to shop somewhere besides a consignment store. Are you working your tail off and applying for scholarships?

Anonymous said...

Cassie why don't you do what I did and serve in the marine corps for 4 years to earn money for college? Bonus: access to fresh cadavers for study.

Anonymous said...

For Furtick's new mansion, there should be a parody website constructed. If I lived in NC I would fly over the construction site in an ultralight and take photos of the building progress. We could post pictures on the parody site and everyone can post opinions as to the various structures depicted - "Ah that must be the kiddie porn dungeon."
That's right, I went there.
Ach du lieber;, it titillates.