Monday, December 23, 2013
How Much Is Too Much?
As someone with a strong, and growing stronger, libertarian streak I have no issue with someone making a lot of money, whether than person is an orthodontist or the CEO of Wal-Mart or a Peyton Manning. In the private sector where income is based on demand for an individual's talent and experience you should get paid as much as your employer is willing to pay you. I don't buy Denver Broncos jerseys or attend their games. It is none of my concern how much they pay Peyton (and for the record I declared him washed up and Denver fools for giving him another chance in the league. He just set the single season record for TD passes. 51 touchdown passes with a game to go. I will now eat my hat.). On the other hand I do shop at Wal-Mart and I know the CEO makes a ton of money and I have no problem with that. Private sector pay is not a Kingdom issue.
When it comes to the church? That conversation changes. It must change.
Dave Black posted something interesting Sunday morning:
The Chronicle of Higher Education has just listed the compensation packages for college and university presidents in the U.S. (One example: Liberty University, where the president is compensated $504,490 annually. The head football coach makes $429,993). For Religious Non-Profits, go here (e.g., Samaritan's Purse: $612,884). None of this is illegal or (in my opinion) immoral. My point is simply that God has clearly provided more than enough money in the U.S. to meet all the evangelistic and church-planting needs in the Two-Thirds World. It costs about $5,000 to build a very simple meeting hall for believers in Ethiopia. Which means that a church sanctuary built in the U.S. for, let's say, 7 million dollars could build 1,400 meeting halls in Ethiopia. That same amount could practically guarantee that the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to an entire Ethiopian state -- or even some smaller countries of Asia. Please, I am not speaking out against these salaries. I am saying that to whom much is given, much is required. As we respond to the needs of the Great Commission around the world, and as we do what we can in the name of Jesus (and each of us can do something), others will hear the Good News of forgiveness from sin through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and entire nations will be blessed. My heart breaks when I think of how I have hoarded God's blessings. My earnest prayer is that, in my own life, the love of Christ may be shown in tangible ways that draw others to the Savior. Jesus desires that "the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:5). If that is not accomplished, we in the West have failed.
I acknowledge that individuals have every right in our economic system to earn as much as they can. I also know that Franklin Graham at Samaritan's Purse runs a very large organization that sends out tons of fund raising letters. I usually just pitch them in favor of giving to local ministries or ministries like the Haiti Orphan Project with virtually no overhead. As the head of this organization which ran a deficit in the most recent reporting year according to their disclosure on the website of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Franklin Graham made over $600,000. Do you think people who read that at the Huffington Post are more or less inclined to donate to Samaritan's Purse? You might say that people who read the Huffington Post wouldn't be inclined to donate anyway but I know of a decent number of Christians who do read it on a regular basis.
How we deal with money in the church impacts our witness. Even Paul, an apostle who often functioned as an evangelist and church planter and as such had the right to expect financial support, declined that support as an obstacle to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12). When the world sees our leaders, and the world doesn't distinguish between Franklin Graham or Charles Stanley and rank apostates like Paul and Jan Crouch, it sees quarter million dollar salaries that place the recipient in the top 1% of wage earners it understandably makes us seem like we are more interested in bank accounts than saving souls, more concerned with how much we bring in than in how much we give away.
It sometimes seems that our cultural attitude about money and the Kingdom imperative to make disciples run head-first into one another and the former too often defeats the latter. Dr. Black's point about the relative cost of a new "sanctuary" versus 1400 simple gathering places in Ethiopia is a powerful one but it holds little sway over an American audience. We think we honor God by our opulence, our palatial church buildings, wearing our Sunday best and being on our best behavior. many Christians walk out of multimillion dollar "churches" to freshly blacktopped parking lots and climb into brand new SUVs with little thought to Christians who have what would seem like rags to us to wear, walking to the gathering of the church with no shoes and meeting in a building devastated by an earthquake or bombed by Islamic radicals. Sure we give lipservice to the persecuted church but there always seems to be the unspoken "glad it is not me" that goes along with it.
Billions of dollars spent on buildings and clergy. Hundreds of millions spent on fundraising. Top 1% salaries. These realities have a negative impact on our witness. As the cultural American style Christendom religion fades and the money spigot starts to shut off, how we think about and treat money will become ever more important. We can no longer afford to talk one way about money and then act in the exact opposite way. The world is watching and has been for a long time. What the world sees should embarrass us.