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.


Melanie Reed said...

Your title question - "How much is too much?" - I agree is a very good question to ask. Its one that I have found, in my experience on this earth, too few ask. They are as uncomfortable asking it as they are in hearing scriptures like "Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor" (advice to the rich young ruler who obeyed all the commandments) or "The love of money is the root of all evil" or "Know this that in the last days there will be terrible times to deal with for people will be lovers of selves, lovers of money...". I get the impression that we are reading these without any practical application to the economy and our part in it as least here in America. I know you have often cited the church about these things, but as Christians, aren't we the body that make up that church? And so, I have trouble on that point alone for any Christian being ok with a salary that allows them gargantuan amounts of disposable income whose actual source is never considered. Why is it never considered? Because of the perpetuated belief that A) there is lots of money, a bottomless pit of money, to be made out there in the economy and where it actually comes from we don't know but if everyone works hard, he/she can get it. And B) If we do get those large salaries, we have participated in a fair market economy and it is a personal result of "working hard". Both of these beliefs have quite a few convenient holes in them that allow an even more convenient blindness to set in about how we are all responsible for a chain of money exchange that actually only works by impoverishing greater and greater amounts of the population - people I might add, who have never stopped "working hard". An honest audit of any university's econ courses, frankly, should appall the honest Christian. We teach how to take advantage of others through shady higher math. We encourage the creation of worker classes based on the very thing God told us not to do in valuing one another: "The foot cannot say to the hand: 'I have no need of thee." And yet, we allow the valuation of certain jobs over that of other jobs. We tell fast food workers they are "unskilled" and because of that, no amount of hours on their feet or exhaustion in dealing with a difficult and demanding public, skill in food distribution operations, or other effort will make these "workers due their wages" because we all know - wink, wink - the corporates who own the chains, will pass the cost of decent wages on to us in order to keep their higher profits. Triple digit thousand Salaries are needed for us to be "..content with sustenance and covering." Of course, one could argue that existing in an economy based on usury and fees for just about everything make it necessary to make more than one would need for "sustenance and covering", but that recalls your title question: How Much is Too Much? C. S. Lewis made some rather pointed observations about an economy, ours, that is based on Usury, a practice condemned by God but which seems under the spiritual license of the "law of love" we seem to think is "ok" in God's eyes now. But here is what he says: "There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest....I should not have been honest with you had I not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life." I could go on about why this idea of "disposable income" is at the root of a number of evils all contributing to appalling conditions in our own country here in the US and where it comes to making a witness but that would be a whole essay in itself.

Melanie Reed said...

Let me just observe out of many comments that leave my mind on a sort of tilt, that I often hear a number of Christians who actually believe that God gave them an expensive vacation because they were just under too much stress to handle life. When that kind of comment passes through my little grey cells, I get a mental picture of our medieval counterparts praying for hours in some little chapel or monastery or some hovel they might have been living in (and as an aside, I know of no mundane condition beside poverty that creates more stress with little recourse to escape it) and those prayers constituted their "vacation" from stress to God. Am I condemning vacations per se? Not at all. But the entitlement to them leaves me wondering. This is just one of many examples where I find myself doing a comparison of the way they lived then with the expectation of life now and its bearing on just how much disposable income we think we need. Because disposable income does not trickle down back to the working man/woman who has performed a necessary and beneficial job to the "village". No, it’s negotiated with, and horded, and often used for trivial things and pursuits that rob the legitimate hardworker of a necessary job of his/her just wages. Why pay my serviceman or web designer or - insert job here - a solid wage if I can negotiate them down so I can take my disposable income and spend it on an $800 game bundle my son has to have for Christmas? Its me that has to have to large salary out of that finite economic pie so I can pay for that game. So I lean on others and cut them short so I can have more. So my point being is that none of these large salaries are gotten just because someone "worked hard". There are a lot of people working hard, but they do not receive commiserate wages as the Bible tells us we should treat them. In the case of institutional jobs, they are gotten because some college student has to pay a tuition that puts him/her in debt. It usually can't be paid out of pocket. Or some Bank who owns mortgages puts the "owner" in debt because it can't be paid for out of pocket. Or some vehicle puts the owner in debt because it can't be paid for out of pocket. The list goes on but you get the picture. The majority of the people think they can get more of their "fair share" by leaning each other to grab as much as they can without thinking about how this all actually works on a daily basis, how it affects our brothers and sisters. The three things without which most of us can't function adequately in this society all are obtained by putting others into debt to us. In debt to pay those large salaries. In debt to pay the usury attached to the loans. Because we think we are worth it. And of course, that's not taking into account compulsory taxes and fees and other expenses that rise through a monetary system that plays with higher math to rob even more money out of the pocket that doesn't have it to live as part of the machinery we call modern life. The simplistic word for all of this also appears in the Bible and its name is greed. It is a word that most who support the current economic theories ridicule and replace with other words like inflation, etc. but God seems to keep bringing us back to it and I firmly believe, he has a point to make by using it.

Bethany W. said...

Thanks for the wake up call, Arthur (and Dave Black).


Neil Braithwaite said...

Shepherding Backwards?

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." John 10:11-15

Unfortunately, today's corporate church model has the biblical shepherding concept completely backwards. Under today's corporate church model, the needs of the shepherd and the institution supersede the needs of the sheep.

Under today's corporate church model, the sheep meet the needs of the shepherd and the entire corporate entity first, and then, budget permitting, the needs of the sheep can be addressed. And to that extent, the needs of many in the church body go unmet. And that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul referred to as a "burden" on the church.

Under today's corporate church model, many people view the church as no different than any other secular corporate business, with the pastor as the CEO - working to grow the business and make his way up the financial corporate ladder. And to that extent, many lost souls want nothing to do with the "church," while thousands continue to leave the church every year, sighting the corporate model as being more concerned with maintaining its existence and image than helping the needy members of the body of Christ. And that's exactly what the Apostle Paul referred to as a "hindrance" to the gospel.

No amount of justification can dismiss these two grievous realities of the corporate church model, or the tragic negative effects they continue to have on the gospel and body of Christ today. And that's why the Apostle Paul went so far as to say that he would rather die than ever take a salary for preaching the gospel - and also why there is NO evidence in the New Testament of today's corporate church model.

“The idea of being a servant is lost. It’s just a job and they try to make more and more money, and the congregations are losing out. It just infuriates me. It’s the opposite of the pastor being the servant and feeding the sheep, the pastor’s eating the sheep.”
Ole Anthony - Trinity Foundation President

Vondo said...

Have you been to Africa? You give $5,000 to 1400 different Ethiopians and I don't think you would get 50 buildings actually built. Our Malawi missionary built the village a pond. Filled it with fish that would have reproduced forever and fed hundreds. He was gone for 2 weeks and when he came back they had taken every single fish out of the pond...face palm. So you need to hire AT LEAST a team, to go set it up and contract the labor. Then you need someone to help set up the church and visit regularly because 2 days after you leave, the village chief comes and takes the pastorate and appoints his family as leaders. My point is, it isn't even remotely that simple.

Arthur Sido said...

I have not been to Africa Joe, have you? The brother I am quoting, Dave Black, has been to Ethiopia. A lot. You can read about his experience here:,%20ethiopia_files.htm

I am not suggesting, nor is Dr. Black, that we fly over Ethiopia and scatter c-notes across the landscape in the hopes of churches springing up. Certainly there needs to be oversight. The point however is that for what we spend in America to make church as convenient and comfortable as possible, lot of work can be done in the mission field.