John Piper steps down...

But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. - Proverbs 4:18

On the occasion of Pastor John Piper preaching his final sermon as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, I take this opportunity to salute the man for his financial self-discipline. We need to learn the lesson this man preaches through the way he handles his money.

First, the back story.

Some time back, David and I co-authored a post revealing the huge amounts of money Reformed men pull in through their church salaries, conferences, speakers fees, sermon and video sales, book royalties, and the salaries they pay themselves through their nonprofit businesses. We spent time on Guidestar downloading and reviewing IRS 990s filed by various nonprofit businesses including LigonierGrace to You, Masters College and SeminaryInsight for Living, and Desiring God.

The Internal Revenue Service holds to a high doctrine of original sin. They take money and conflict of interest seriously, requiring nonprofits to file Form 990 which asks a whole host of questions the government believes should inform the giving of those inclined to support these nonprofit businesses. Here are some of the questions they ask:

  • Briefly describe the organization's mission:
  • Did the organization report a total of more than $15,000 of expenses for professional fundraising services...
  • Was the organization a party to a business transaction with one of the following parties: a current or former officer, director, trustee, or key employee; a family member of a current or former officer, director, trustee, or key employee? If there are business transactions involving interested persons (relatives, for instance), provide name of interested person, relationship between interested person and the organization, amount of transaction, description of transaction...
  • Enter the number of voting members of the governing body...
  • Did any officer, director, trustee, or key employee have a family relationship or a business relationship with any other officer, director, trustee, or key employee?
  • List the organization's five current highest compensated employees who received reportable compensation of more than $100,000 from the organization and any related organization. (fill in number of hours they work per week, total salary, total other income, etc.)
  • Check the appropriate box(es) if the organization provided (first class or charter travel) for a person listed...

If you support one of these ministries, you would do well to examine its IRS Form 990 carefully to see if they are Godly in their use of the Lord's money. For your convenience, at the bottom of this post we've provided the 990s for the nonprofit corporations owned by some of the most famous preachers. I've included a copy of Clearnote Fellowship's own 990 believing what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gnat.

Form 990 information is a matter of public record. So what to learn?

Most of these men have a household income of more than $400,000 per year: they are the wealthy who will bear the brunt of our civil servants' latest tax increase.

Let's drill down into one of the more popular Reformed luminaries:

  • $45,000 salary from one of his nonprofits
  • $100,000 to $400,000 per year advances and royalties (an estimate: our background is Wheaton publishing)
  • $150,000 to $250,000 salary from his church (an estimate: most megachurch pastors refuse to disclose their salaries)
  • $200,000 salary from another of his nonprofits

A conservative estimate of this man's riches earned per year is $500,000, meaning every four years he takes in $2,000,000. This doesn't include the money he pays friends, relatives, and his son-in-law, nor his speaker fees and honoraria.

This business of Reformed preaching, speaking, and writing is lucrative, hence Rupert Murdoch's purchase of over 50 % of the Evangelical publishing business. The majority of Evangelical publishing is now a division of Murdoch's News Corporation.

Now then, back to John Piper and God bless him!

John votes himself no salary from his nonprofit, Desiring God Ministries.

In fact, unlike the others, John Piper doesn't own his nonprofit; his church does. Each year Bethlehem Baptist Church appoints the leadership of Desiring God Ministries. We challenge any of these other men to follow John's lead and place their nonprofit under the authority of their elders board. What an excellent example John is on this.

Then because Desiring God Ministries is under the authority of Bethlehem Baptist Church and John is an employee of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Desiring God Ministries has to put into the public record of their Form 990 how much money John is paid by Bethlehem Baptist each year. We see that John's 2010 church salary was $120,000.

Brothers, two things to note about this: first, it's unheard of that any of these men would allow their chuch salaries to be known, publicly; and second, this amount John receives is very, very low for a senior pastor of his position. But of course, John still has his royalties to live high on the hog from, right?

Wrong.

Next to Desiring God Ministries in Guidestars list of nonprofits is a foundation titled Desiring God Foundation. It has three officers: John Piper, Terry Kurschner, and Noel Piper and they don't pay themselves a penny from the foundation. They simply give money away.

How much and to whom? In 2010, Desiring God Foundation made the following grants:

  • $205,000 to Desiring God Ministries
  • $70,000 to Bethlehem Baptist Church
  • $75,000 to Bethlehem College and Seminary
  • $30,000 to Training Leaders International

Where did this money come from? Well, add it up and you'll find these gifts total $380,000 and the Pipers' foundation received income from John's advances and royalties during 2010 of $391,000.

Learn this lesson well, brothers and sisters in Christ: as John said recently in a Sunday evening sermon, he knows his own heart and he disciplines himself financially. Think about it: John and Noel use their royalties to fund a foundation that provides their church most of the salary they are paid each year. Then John turns around and gives his elders board the authority to govern Desiring God Ministries.

May God bless John and Noel Piper as they move into the next phase of their service to the Church.

* * *

Clearnote Fellowship IRS Form 990 (2011)

Desiring God Ministries IRS Form 990 (2010)

Desiring God Foundation IRS Form 990 (2010)

Grace to You IRS Form 990 (2010)

Grace to You/Masters College and Seminary IRS Form 990 (2010)

Insight for Living IRS Form 990 (2009)

Ligonier Ministries Inc IRS Form 990 (2010)

(TB, w/thanks to the IRS)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

Comments

It is wonderful to see John Piper setting such a good example.

It is also sad to see what an exception to the rule that he is (among those who have become famous). Among many other things, I am struck by the fact that the leaders (and family members) of these non-profit organizations list their working schedule as 40 hours per week even though they are also pastors. When do they pastor?

This is a warning to all of us. Of all the types of deception in the world, self-deception is the most common.

Have you been following what Richard Dawkins is doing trying to expose pastors living lives of luxury? I say he does the true Church a service!

Have you been following...

Dear Sean,

No. More details?

Love,

Perhaps I'm missing something and someone can enlighten me.

Should there be some kind of cap on what the heads of these organizations are paid? If so, why and how much?

Matt, I don't think anyone is proposing such a thing, certainly not in any legal sense.  And it is a common error many, including myself, have made to assume that there is a spiritual command to pastoral poverty--don't muzzle the ox, etc.  The Baylys are not trying to propose any kind of policy, rather to point out that one of the great temptations and obstacles facing reformed churches today is a culture of celebrity pastors that is extremely lucrative for the pastors and the publishers and ministries who publish them.  The word of God teaches that love of money is the root of all evil, and we are foolish to assume our pastors are free from this affliction, any more than a doctor or attorney earning $500,000 per year (which may be a very fair salary, let me hasten to point out).  

Roger,

Thanks. That was more or less my hope. I'd wholeheartedly agree the pastors with a $250,000/year salary are not in any way immune to the love of money. I'd also submit that the guy making $20,000/year flipping burgers is just as susceptible.

>>the guy making $20,000/year flipping burgers is just as susceptible.

He's not.

Jesus warned about the deceitfulness of wealth and explicitly said it's harder for the rich man to enter Heaven than a camel to get through the eye of a needle. The rich man is rich.

Too, the Apostle James said it's the rich that take us to court, and he commanded we are not to show them any preference.

Too, the man who seeks riches and fame by "peddling" the Word has all the reward he will ever get--in this life. Which is to say grabbing wealth through teaching and preaching God's Word is rightly called Simonism and condemned across church history, starting with the New Testament church.

Balaam would have died were it not for his donkey.

Both rich peddlers of God's Word and those who pay them to scratch their ears deserve one another. But one may cross God's green earth before hearing either side admit the deception forming the heart of their pact. And both will go across Heaven to make converts to their own most-excellent brand of doctrine.

For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. - 2Corinthians 2:17

Scripture says things and means things.

Does this clarify the post, dear brother?

Love,

PS: My dear wife says she doesn't want people to read this and go, "Well, well, well, what about this and that and the other thing?" And she wants me to warn about the dangers unique to the poor man. And so on.

But here's the deal. Ever last man reading this blog and every one of us writing here is the richest of the rich across history. Very few of us have anyone earning the wages or doing the work of the burger-flipper anywhere near us when we're in church, and proof of this is the fact that one burget-flipper in our church would give his right arm to earn $20,000 per year!

Because John Piper accepts a salary of $120,000 per year, I will not condemn anyone peddling the Word of God for that price. And because another pastor friend of mine accepted a salary of well over $160,000 per year, I will not condemn anyone peddling the Word of God for that price. And because I accept a salary of $75,000 per year, I hope you will not condemn me for peddling the Word of God for that price.

Pretty soon, we've qualified and personalized and relativized Scripture's condemnations and warnings into oblivion and they apply to nothing and no one.

But of course, that's the point, isn't it?

Having no fear of God, we must eviscerate His Word of every last one of its terrors. 

While these sorts of details aren't available in the UK, I gather that a pastor here earning more than $US90,000 per year (£60,000), would be very, very rare. That said, if anyone knows more than I do?

I was a new believer in 1993 (I came to the Lord through Christian radio).  It came as a shock to me to learn how much these people make through their ministries since quite a bit of their radio time is filled with requests for financial donations.  They hold out their tin cups to ask for money from most people who make substantially less than they do.  If anything good comes from this I think it's that we look to Jesus who was the only One who knew His own heart and His heart was only good and free from any greed.

It seems like this type of post is rare in the Reformed World.  Most of the posts on the topic of greed always say that the poor are just as greedy as the rich, and to top off being greedy, they're not only greedy, but envious.  And lazy too.  Too lazy to work hard like the rich do.  Sometimes that's true, but most of the time IMO it isn't. 

My husband and I go to a Reformed Church that ministers to a local Mens Rescue Mission (one of our pastors is on staff there).  Try talking to men who have come to the Lord through a Rescue Mission.  It will encourage your heart in the Lord, give you awe at His amazing grace to save all kinds of people, and give you more compassion for the poor.  Many of them come out of backgrounds that would break your heart. 

God bless John Piper and Desiring God ministries!

Blessings,

Nancy

Re: Tim and the $20,000 burger flipper (who, if he makes minimum wage and works 40 hours per week, 50 weeks a year is more of a $14,500 burger flipper), I would submit that the burger flipper is just as subject to the love of money as the rich pastor--the key difference is, the rich pastor has the money.  The standard preacher trope is that the eye of the needle was the gate into Jerusalem and you had to unload the camel to pass through it.  I grew up in upper-middle class privilege, even for these United States, and my fiancee grew up in a much more budget-essential house.  Neither of us makes a great deal by American standards, but she is much more frugal, much more willing to discipline herself to save, much more able to go without her little luxuries than I am, to my shame--not because either of us is more justified or righteous or morally developed, but because the lack of money in her upbringing gave her less opportunities than I had to grow accustomed to little luxuries and more opportunities to see and participate in self-denial.  It is no fault of the rich that money has the tendency, if we don't deal with it biblically, to become an idol, a thing we turn to to provide us with comfort and the illusion of self-sufficiency, but it doesn't change the fact that money does do precisely those things, and the more of it you have, the more likely that thing is to happen.

Well said--what a challenge it is to have an idea of how much is enough in terms of income.  I know that I'm very happy with my wage now, and that I have no clue whatsoever how I'd spend the wage the CEO of my company makes. 

Wow. I'm amazed at how Reformed men seem to be clueless about what it is to be poor. Not temporarily out of a job and tight on money or back in school having to live on a shoe-string budget...I mean, "I don't know what to do I can't get a job that pays more than $28,000.00 and I'm married and have a college education." It's even more difficult for the poor man who is a dropout.

Most poor men aren't afraid of losing money. Most poor men are happy to just meet their bills. Most poor men are dumbfounded that others seem to easily acquire modest means to fund a modest lifestyle. Most poor men are embarrassed that they're poor and don't like to talk about it but might have to when they back out of plans because they had a $500 car repair come up and they can't afford to go out for dinner unless you pick them up and pay for their dinner.

Rich men are afraid of losing money. Rich men are happier when they can meet their bills and have play money to spare. Rich men are dumbfounded that poor men remain poor. Rich men complain about not having enough money. Rich men complain about how the poor don't take advantage of opportunities like they have...opportunities that a poor man is never offered.

Saw this in the grey lady this morning and thought it apropos of this post...the president of Uruguay says he is still searching for God, let us pray he finds and is found by Him--but also what an example!

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/world/americas/after-years-in-solitary...

Wow. That's a great article. I am sure it would embarrass JP but it is a story worth telling!

Dear Roger,

I try never to give the Times my eyes, but this article is why sometimes I give in. Beautiful. Every last one of our founding fathers would commend President Mujica for this: "'We have done everything possible to make the presidency less venerated,' Mr. Mujica said..."

Self-deprecation is what our own Gov. Mitch Daniels gave himself to here in Indiana, and God bless him for it! We'll miss him.

Love,

Nancy, I'm not trying to contradict you, and I know this is off topic, but I was thinking that you'd said you came to the Lord through the witness of your sister.  Was that part of it?

Hi Malorie,

I'm not sure who you're thinking of, but it wasn't me as I have no sister.  I came to the Lord in 1993 listening to Harold Camping (I know.... of all people, right???  The Lord works in mysterious ways!)

Blessings,

Nancy

Malorie, different Nancy Wilson

When I'm in danger of going broke, I'm devoted and diligent. When my bank account is fat, I pray less and I rely on God less.

This is a sin, and something I'm not proud of.

When I'm making more money, I can go longer between periods of financial stress. I imagine I could feel secure even longer if I were pulling down 500 g's.

I was just talking the other day to my husband about John Piper and how I admire him for the way he stands out from the crowd in integrity and godliness. Thanks for posting this. Credit where credit is due. (Although he, along with most of us, would say that the credit goes to the Lord. But I think you know what I mean.)

I appreciate what was said about Piper's integrity, and certainly understand the potential in me, as a fallen man, to make "godliness a means for gain."  At the same time, I think we need to be careful about rushing to judgment in our assessment of the financial statements above.

For instance, Dr. MacArthur, as I look at both statements, makes a little more than 6 times what I do.  That said, I don't know what he gives away, and I am hopeful that he is an open-handed man.  I also know that he is living in an area where a very modest house costs an exorbitant amount.  A friend of mine purchased a two bedroom bungalow in that area, under 1500 sq ft, in a modest neighborhood, about 8 or 9 years ago, and paid $750,000.  All of that to say, I want to hope, without being naive, that this is a brother intent on honoring God.

As for the thought that Dawkins is providing any kind of service to the church, I doubt it.  As believers we want to call for integrity and provide accountability, but I have no reason, ever, to rejoice when the unrighteous attack the Body. 

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