The deceitfulness of riches...

Again and again David and I have warned against the corrupting influence of money inside the church. We've warned about the large profits Evangelicals haul in through royalties, conference speakers' fees, copyright licensures by publishers and Bible societies, salaries of pastors and missionaries and parachurch staff workers, donor gifts; and the list goes on. We've proposed that everyone disclose their profits, pay, and perks for all to see.

We know men hate for us to write about church profits. We feel their anger.

University of California, Berkeley is an odd place to turn, but maybe it has something to teach men of God...

From the LA Times today, this summary of a UCBerkeley study on the corrupting influence of riches:

The rich really are different from the rest of us, scientists have found — they are more apt to commit unethical acts because they are more motivated by greed.

...Because rich people have more financial resources, they're less dependent on social bonds for survival, the Berkeley researchers reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As a result, their self-interest reigns and they have fewer qualms about breaking the rules.

There are men of God who have addressed this danger by refusing to get rich. John Piper is one of those men. It would greatly encourage the people of God to know who else has avoided the deceitfulness of riches.

Comments

I believe Randy Alcorn would be another.

I'm sorry, but I wouldn't believe a study on a topic like this when it comes from UC Berkeley.

When did pastors start getting paid a "salary" vs. "tent-making" or having some other income source? In Bible times you could count the number of cattle a brother had. His wealth was obvious. Now with bank accounts, who knows the many income streams a full-time pastor has?

As members of one PCA, the pastor had a much better home than any of us could ever afford. Not the best "pastoral" approach -- especially when times are hard.

>>the pastor had a much better home than any of us...

I have a much better home than most of my congregation. My congregation knows this and I think it's good for those who read Baylyblog to know it, also.

It is a gift that came out of the kindness of our dear Aunt Elaine.

Love,

Rich, surely we don't need a secular study to convince us that the deceitfulness of riches needs to be guarded against, do we? Hasn't God already warned us of the danger in His Word? No, we already know that earthly riches are deceitful, and the UC Berkeley study just shows that even pagan unbelievers see it (while in the evangelical world we don't).

For those skeptical of UC Berkeley, there's also the Holy Spirit:

"Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?" (James 2:6b, 7)

Love,

Tim,

I remember spending an afternoon in your home, just about a year ago. You had opened your home to a couple of families in town for a wedding so they would have a comfortable place to have a meal, chat and visit with each other.

Yes, you do have a nice home. But it is well used in the service of others.

Brothers, I hesitate to add to the discussion for fear of taking anything away from your most scriptural warning to Christian leaders on the deceitfulness of riches. A thousand amens.

But for every warning against greed with regard to prosperity for ourselves I also want to hear a warning against envy regarding the prosperity of others. There certainly are Christian leaders who have hit the jackpot, so to speak, but for every one of them, I could find you ten pastors who are underpaid by their congregations out of some grotesque principle. These are the pastors who are fearful of taking their wife out for a nice anniversary dinner (on a gift certificate from Aunt Elaine) because they don't want their dinner at Antoine's to be brought up during the next congregational discussion of the budget.

In addition, prosperity usually comes associated with industry, intelligence, and hard work. Envy is always free.

Or how about this?

“For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” -Luke 18:25

>>pastors who are fearful of taking their wife out for a nice anniversary dinner

On the way to the cemetery today, Mary Lee and I discovered it's our anniversary, so I'm leaving to take her out for a nice (read $$ice) dinner.

Thanks for the push.

Love without (I hope) ressentiment,

Doug (and Bayly's),

As a tent-making Reformed pastor preaching out-of-bounds for five years now, I'm very sympathetic to the point the Bayly's have made here. I've been working a full-time job and pastoring (and discipling 5 children with my wife) this whole time on less cumulative income than most of my parishioners make annually. And the pastor at our home PCA church where we are still members makes a six-figure salary for 40 hours of work per week. I've battled the tempatation to covetousness, but by the Lord's good mercy (as He truly is the all-satisfying source of all good and joy), I and my family have been able to be content with what he's given me. Praise be to God! So pastoral greed is a real problem, but pastoral-salary-envy is another. God hates them both.

#8 Concur - #There certainly are Christian leaders who have hit the jackpot, so to speak, but for every one of them, I could find you ten pastors who are underpaid by their congregations out of some grotesque principle.#

The Christian background I come from had a notorious reputation for underpaying its pastors, and this had all sort of negative consequences. I thought it was "just us" until my Fundamentalist blog of choice made exactly the same point about churches in their own tradition.

On balance may I suggest that the situation of underpaid clergy is more common than we realise. The workman is worthy of his hire!

The problem with many evangelicals on this subject (including to pastors of smaller--and therefore, lower paying churches) is that many of the pastors who have hit the big time are heroes to them.

I also remember that back in my seminary days, dozens of guys would sign up for church openings in the big suburbs or university towns vs. one or two for any opening in Piddleville< Kansas. I would bet my life that the guy who gets the ministry in the "more desireable" location soon adapts his message to the people who are paying the bill (especially the college-educated women in the congregation who tend to be feminist and less likely to respond well to messages from the Old Testament). These preachers, like Tim Keller, butcher the book of Genesis; I fear they do that to maintain a large following.

Not a pastor, but a close friend of mine and sometimes commenter on this blog is an outstanding model of refusing to be "rich" by our standards. Fifteen years ago, he was given a major promotion that doubled or tripled his salary (in his early 30's no less). At the same time, he and his wife felt called to start a Christian school in the area - something lots of folks think about doing. What most people NEVER do is decide to give 1/3 of their income every year and all of their savings to said school over a 10 year period and deny themselves a great deal. Not of necessary things, but of "that's easily within our grasp" things... if we'd just quit giving to others.

In spite of being a CEO/COO, his family hasn't taken a family vacation in a very, very long time. Until recently, they drove a '98 Suburban with enough dents and scratches to make it utterly odd (unique?) in our well-heeled suburban context. Their mother provides clothes via year-end sales (a size too big?) and they are models of hospitality and generosity.

Recently our school made some tough financial decisions. Two very well-compensated families made public and private comments about tuition... in spite of the fact that they make a salary that must put them in the top 1% of Americans, drive late-model cars, and live in enormously expensive homes.

This put my friend's generosity in context. Tim - you know who I'm talking about. It's noteworthy when pastors say "no" to $$$ and "yes" to the Kingdom... but it's kind of expected, isn't it? It's even more impressive, to me, to find examples of other men who live far, far below their means when the world (or the their elders) wouldn't bat an eye of they didn't.

Sorry for swiping your thread... but I took "men of God" in a more general sense. :-)

I think part of our discomfort with pastors earning high salaries is that the salaries are partly financed by donations from poor people. The widow's mite pays for the pastor's first-class airline seat. Even if the widow gets good value in return--- even if she gets wonderful sermons, personal exhortations, and wise counselling--it doesn't seem right.

Most other salaries are the result of buying and selling, so we do not feel so bad about the industrialist who sells the widow heating oil for her mite. And, I think, we are not as concerned about a pastor becoming rich off of his book royalties. It may be that the royalties are bad for his soul, but wouldn't the problem be the same for any rich Christian?

Maybe this also relates to the old-fashioned professional idea of providing services for free (pro bono) to the poor. Doctors would charge poor people less, or nothing at all; lawyers still do pro bono work, tho I fear it may nowadays all be free work for political activism rather than for the unglamorous poor.

In our parish, our budget shows everyone's salaries from the rector to the sexton. Our rector has a pretty good compensation package once you consider his housing allowance, fully-paid health and dental insurance for him and his family, and contribution to his pension, and you consider that he has been a parish priest for 20+ years.

Our current location is in a pretty affluent, rapidly growing suburb where the homes cost at least 2x as he and his wife's home does. So in comparison with the local community, his salary is probably not excessive. In addition, he has not received a raise for the past three years and the year before that he gave his raise back to the church.

WRT to the issue of clergy compensation, my former denomination used a guideline that a senior minister/pastor should be have a salary roughly what a high school principal was paid in the community where the church was located. This would provide some adjustment for cost of living in different communities, but still allowed for other factors, such as the size of the church, the average income of the parishioners, and the years of experience the pastor had.

To end with an anecdote -- back in the late 1970's, I was a member of a church with a solo pastor. He and his wife had two children, both in school at the time. The pastor's wife told me that several older members of the congregation were unhappy because she had accepted a 3 day/week permanent substitute teaching position and was setting a bad example for other younger women in the church. She said she wished she could have told them, "I'll quit my job when the church raises my husband's salary enough so we can balance our budget without my income."

>>Sorry for swiping your thread... but I took "men of God" in a more general sense. :-)

No swiping of the thread at all. What a wonderful witness this man of God and his wife are. I thank God for them.

Love,

Here's a project I'd like somebody to do:

Take a town with 30 or fewer churches (to make it manageable). See:
1. Which churches publish their membership/attendance and salaries to their congregation.
2. Which ones publish salaries to the general public.
3. WHich ones will tell you their salaries over the phone.
4. What those salaries and sizes are, for those that tell them.

It would be interesting to see the transparencies and salaries, and how they correlate with size and doctrine.

This would make a great high school or college term paper. In fact, you could make a good PhD dissertation out of it, on a larger scale.

Eric, your idea is tempting me and my love for numbers, but for many reasons I am not the right person for the job. However, a thought crossed my mind that I would like to add to your suggestion -- that if someone wanted to take on such a project, it could easily be made "larger scale" by getting volunteers in other locations to do some of the "calling" or data collecting. For example, we live in a large Texas city and there are more than 30 churches, but I would be willing to make some calls -- if someone else was gathering/compiling the data. If the researcher designed a script to take out all possible variables and some kind of uniform data-tracking document, I would imagine there are other people that are not high school/college/PhD who, like me, would be willing to help with the calling.

Eric, FWIW, here's one non-randomly selected church (the Anglican church to which I belong) for your survey.

#1a: All clergy and staff salaries are line items on the budget included in our Annual Report made available to members and regular attenders.
#1b: # of members/regular attenders also included in Annual Report.
#1c: Attendance for all 3 services for the last week, as well as average attendance for the year to date is published in the weekly bulletin, so it is available to any visitor or first-time attender who attends our church on a given Sunday.

#2: In the 6.5 years since I've been a member of our parish, this has never been mentioned and it doesn't seem like something that our rector and Vestry would be inclined to do.

#3: Doubt this would be done for salaries, but probably would discuss membership/attendance size over the phone to someone who expresses sincere interest in our church. If someone wanted to know about salaries/budget before joining, I could see our Rector or Associate Priest providing this information to someone in person.

#4: Covered in #1.

Thank you, Jessica and Sue. Maybe someday I can get one of my PhD students to do this for a dissertation.

Add new comment