Post on John MacArthur's money: answering objections...

Back on January 30th, we ran a post updating readers on the latest IRS Forms 990 filed by John MacArthur's non-profit companies and what they show about his annual income. Since the post, several commenters have questioned whether MacArthur really had any say over his study notes being packaged with the neutered New International Version, whether we're saying MacArthur's income is sinful; and if so, what specific sin we're accusing him of? Here are some responses to those questions and challenges:

Brothers,

I've been out of the loop for a while. I appreciate others who have responded to some of the more recent objections to this post. Now, a couple responses of my own.

First, John MacArthur himself had absolute control over whether or not to package and sell his MacArthur Study Bible notes with the neutered Bible now sold under the name New International Version. It was his decision and he alone is the man who could have stopped it. His elders board did not make the decision.  Zondervan doesn't control MacArthur's study notes. John MacArthur controls John MacArthur's study notes. This is how publishing works.

John decided he didn't want to lose out on one of the largest Bible markets in the English-speaking world, so after negotiating royalties (which unlike John Piper's royalties, remain a secret), he signed an agreement with Zondervan to sell his own study notes in the text of a Bible that everyone knows has gagged God's words for the sake of pacifying the feminists.

There's no debating these simple facts. Readers may differ concerning the reason MacArthur did this, but it's certain he made the decision to sell the neutered Bible he had previously opposed because of its unfaithfulness to the text of Scripture.

Second, the Bible commands us to exclude men from ministry who are greedy:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Timothy 3:1-7)

Each prohibition above must be discussed in connection with pastors and elders. We must make a sincere effort to judge whether Tim Bayly is greedy or not? Pugnacious or not? Controls his household well or not? Hospitable or not? Gentle or not? And so on.

Normally, these discussions happen in session meetings prior to the nomination of a certain man for the office of pastor or elder. Over the years, though, these criteria need to continue to be applied. A man who is gentle may be elected an elder but, after many years of faithful service, he may become violent. A man who, when elected an elder, does not love alcohol may, after many years, become enslaved by alcohol. A man who starts out poor and humble and not loving money may, after many years of faithful service, become rich and proud and greedy. Evaluation of pastors and elders is not a once-and-done.

Most commonly, these evaluations are done by fellow elders and the moderator of the elders board. Healthy elders boards exhort and rebuke and admonish one another all the time, although it happens in the context of their work and thus is not as embarrassing as when the man is vetted originally for possible election to the session.

But what about a super-rich and super-famous man whose living mostly comes from selling his work to others outside his church under the claim that it's a non-profit work?

That man functions as a bishop or archbishop or cardinal or pope over many outside his geographical area and thus he is accountable to other pastors and elders outside his own geographical area. He is teaching and preaching our flocks and our flocks pay him for his teaching and preaching. The national source of their non-profit's profit is the reason our IRS requires these men to divulge whether they fly first class (MacArthur does) and whether they have their own relatives on their governance boards (MacArthur does) and whether their organization pays a relative money as a business transaction (MacArthur pays his son-in-law $650,000 per year for video work) and how much they get paid by their non-profit ministry (MacArthur's non-profits pay him just about $500,000 per year, and this amount doesn't include his church pay or royalties).

My father-in-law had books providing royalties that dwarf John MacArthur's books and royalties, plus he and his wife owned Tyndale House Publishers. Yet Ken Taylor was never accused of being greedy. He gave all his money away and everyone knew it because everyone was the recipient of his gifts. Tyndale House's 990s are there for all the world to see and they could not possibly be more different from John MacArthur's. John Piper's 990s are there for all the world to see and they could not be more different from John MacArthur's. (And yes, I'm aware John Piper would ask me not to make this comparison.)

It seems beyond argument that John MacArthur's annual income from peddling God's Word is something around $1,000,000 per year. His organizations and his personal contracts with publishing companies pay him this money. It's my conviction this is good evidence of the love of money and MacArthur's boards and elders should admonish him and appoint a blue-ribbon committee to take over control of his organizations and royalties, scale his income back to around $200,000, do open bidding on his organization's video work, and stop paying for his first class tickets.

John MacArthur's accountability is as wide as the scope of the sales of his epistles.

Tim Bayly

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

Comments

I am curious how the $200,000 number came about. Is it right for Clearnote to decide how much a preacher outside it's circle makes? What reasons are behind that?
I am disappointed that John McArthur seems to have compromised. I will call GTY and ask about that.

I was actually fine with much of what was written here (perhaps this is surprising?). It is primarily in the last paragraph that our different approaches to this situation are most apparent. I would offer the following suggestions for what they're worth:

It seems beyond argument that John MacArthur's annual income is something around $1,000,000 per year. His organizations and his personal contracts with publishing companies pay him this money. It's my belief that this may be evidence of the love of money and I would therefore respectfully suggest that MacArthur's boards and elders review this situation, especially as it relates to his overall compensation, including royalties and income, the contractual relationship with his son for video work, as well as any other financial related activities that would be inconsistent with pastoral ministry.

Inasmuch as this information is in the public domain, and may lead to questions regarding the ministry of John MacArthur, Grace to You, Grace Community Church, and the Master's Seminary, I would also respecfully suggest that an increased level of transparency be considered in order to minimize concerns in these matters.

My rationale for the changes are to properly respect the oversight responsibilities that these boards have rather than prescribe specifically what they should do. As you know, admonishment is a formal step in church discipline and would most likely require an ecclesiastical trial or review of some kind before that step could be taken.

>>rather than prescribe specifically what they should do. As you know, admonishment is a formal step in church discipline and would most likely require an ecclesiastical trial or review of some kind before that step could be taken.

Dear Mr. McCarthy,

Your changes are good. I have no objection to them replacing ours. Thank you for challenging us in this way. My suggestion of $200,000 as a fair annual salary is just to put something on the table. If they chose to go with $250,000 or $300,000, I have no objection. But from what I've been able to gather privately, none of this will happen. Having not been required years or decades ago, it's impossible to conceive of it happening in John's valedictory years.

As for an ecclesiastical trial, one significant failure of Reformed churches today is that they think of "discipline" only in terms of trials. Discipline Biblically done and evidenced across church history starts with incidental conversations and sermons, moves to more intense conversations, then even more intense conversations with more than one man involved, then moves to the elders board discussing the matter and sending representatives to the man, then to them calling the man in to a meeting of a subcommittee, then to asking the man to meet with them as a whole, then to private admonishment, then to trial (if no self-accusation), then to a verdict, then to definite suspension from the Lord's Table, then to indefinite suspension from the Lord's Table, then to excommunication. It's a seamless and several year process before it comes to formal charges and trial. When we avoid these private admonishments in incidental conversations, we think in rigid ways that end with us believing that there are only two choices: either a man is perfect or he needs to be brought up on formal charges.

When a man gets to be a Reformed celebrity, it's almost unheard of for him to have any friends or fellow elders who stand up to him and admonish him. This is what leaves us with a man selling a neutered Bible  and pulling down $1,000,000 per year.

Love,

Hi Tim,

I knew nothing about John MacArthur but his name before your series of posts. After checking his church's website (http://www.gracechurch.org/) it appears that his church is nondenominational. Wouldn't that mean that any church discipline could remain private (until he was asked to resign as senior pastor) and not overseen by any higher-level church organization, such as a Presbytery, Synod, or Diocese?

>>Wouldn't that mean that any church discipline could remain private...

Dear Sue,

Sure, but dealing with this money issue would be the work of a moment if his session spoke to him about it with resolve. The work of a moment, that is, if he's cultivated a relationship of mutual submission with them. Otherwise, they'd simply blindly defend him, which is what we've seen so far from Phil Johnson of Pyromaniacs fame. Johnson is MacArthur's right hand man at Grace to You.

The question of denomination is a non-issue, really, since every church has bylaws and disciplinary procedures, as well as other churches's pastors and elders who are able to function as a presbytery to them.

Love,

I recently taught on the topic of contentment in Sunday school and used the 17000 square foot mansion of a prominent mega-church pastor profiled in World as an example of how NOT to be content--my pastor had respected that pastor until he learned that, and that he didn't have a board of deacons or elders to keep him accountable, but rather a board of other mega-church pastors.

And regarding an upper bound for pastors' wages, I'm thinking that if the pastor is living better than a typical doctor or lawyer, you're at a turning point. Take care of his needs, yes. Let him live in relative comfort, yes, and provide for the years when he'll no longer be able to pastor full time. Absolutely.

Luxury beyond the dreams of 99% of those he might shepherd? Um, no. Speaking as a quality engineer, I think it's OK to set the spec limits there. :^)

$650,000 a year for video work? I would gladly do it for half of that!
;)

Pastor Bayly

What exactly is the issue you take with John McArthur - how much he makes or that he sold out to a "bible" that is neutered (I assume that means that all male references to God have been gender neutralized) and that the practices of accountability and oversight are somewhat on the squirly side? It seems like you are more concerned about the ladder but still put a dollar amount suggestion in your critique. If the issue is elder oversight, and selling out to a bad bible translation would it not be sufficient to address those issues? If the elders of his church took to seriously admonishing him about these practices and he submitted to their counsel - is the dollar amount really that significant? Our pastor makes 60 some thousand a year. I think he deserves more. I know people who would think that is too much. I am sure there are people who think you make too much as a pastor. Isn't that irrelevant when you have the blessing of your elders and the church? Why would it be different for John McArthur? To put a dollar amount on his salary seems arbitrary and somewhat judgmental. Isn't that a distraction from the real issue at hand?
Also, have the elders of his church responded to Clearnote's accusations/warnings? What are they saying about all this? I tried to call over there but no one was available.

Dear Aarin,

What needs to be written has been. Search and follow the links.

Love,

Bert Perry mentioned spec limits for a senior pastor (or a rector in Anglicanism). I've heard this rule of thumb: The senior pastor should receive a total compensation package roughly equivalent to a high school principal in the school district where the church is located with similar years of experience. Our rector's compensation seems to be within this guideline.

All church members get to vote on our budget, so his compensation package, along with our other church staff, is readily available to us. We also post the budget in an area accessible to visitors and regular attenders.

I'd be interested to know how many megachurches do this.

How about I come visit and we have a quick chat about it.

Likely something no tithing member of Grace Community Church nor donor to GTY can expect from pastor MacArthur. Thomas Nelson can, however...and Crossway...and Zondervan...and...

It is astounding that men claim John MacArthur, who is by this time almost certainly a multi-millionaire, who publishes and holds conferences for the sole purpose of calling out other men for prosperity preaching cannot be scrutinized over what is very obviously a high income, from multiple revenue streams, and the man is in his mid 70s still doing it for money.

Where's the baton passing? He's an elderly man with multiple ministries tied to the centrality of his presence. I hate to say it, but his death will give us some indication of his baton-passing. If the Head of the Church, Jesus, prepared men to pass the baton to before He left His earthly ministry...how much more-so, John MacArthur? Yes, yes; we don't know what discussion go on behind closed doors. And yet we do...publishing, conferences, and granting hefty pay increases to an already wealthy and elderly man with grown children.

These are indicators no elder or pastor should ignore. Again, John MacArthur is more than willing to point out the obvious with other men, and he shares the same fallen nature "those" preachers have. 

There are some men who preach another gospel. There are others who preach the gospel for sordid gain...even if they started out well. God is so kind as to inform us of this, and how none of us are exempt from it. That's why we need others to encourage and admonish us. Sin is deceitful, and we're dupes:

Hebrews 3:12-13
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

It is still called "Today" for John MacArthur.

For the umpteenth time, let me remind commenters that our house rules require them to sign their full first and last names when they get personal in their criticisms. John MacArthur should not be criticized by anonymous bloggers nor should bloggers or named commenters be criticized by anonymous commenters.

Anonymity is the bane of Biblical orthodoxy, today. We all hide our doctrinal commitments and this is the reason basic Biblical orthodoxy is becoming illegal. Confess your faith. Stand for God's truth. Be missional. Be a Gospeller. Be a witness. Sign your name.

With love,

I hope I am dead wrong about this, but there is the possibility that mega-church pastors, like pro athletes, have burned through their cash and quite frankly need the money. Don't want to make that accusation of MacArthur, but I would heartily recommend that his board of elders/deacons inspect this. In my own church's life, I'm gently watching to make sure my own pastor is taken care of. He's emphatically at the other end of the income scale from MacArthur, though.

And regarding the idea of paying a pastor like a high school principal--suffice it to say it ain't happening at the churches I've attended!

I'm pretty sure John MacArthur hasn't burned through his cash. He's done a significant amount of teaching on money, so I think it's safe to assume he builds wealth rather than burns through it.

He has a trust through which he owns at least one piece of real estate (also verified through L.A. County Assessor's site). He was also able to help his son-in-law buy a house.

None of these things necessarily indicate that he is using his money unwisely nor sinfully; but it shows he's well aware of the use of money...and as it has been pointed out, he obviously wants more of it.

Sorry. Just read the rules. Here is my full name.

Thanks, Aarin.

Thought I'd post a tweet by one of John MacArthur's employees, responding to this post:

Love, 

"When a man gets to be a Reformed celebrity, it's almost unheard of for him to have any friends or fellow elders who stand up to him and admonish him."

This could also have been written about a certain celebrity pastor a couple states to the North ...

The post says: "It's my conviction this is good evidence of the love of money and MacArthur's boards and elders should admonish him and appoint a blue-ribbon committee to take over control of his organizations and royalties, scale his income back to around $200,000, do open bidding on his organization's video work, and stop paying for his first class tickets."
I like the specificity of these recommendations. I'll add a couple of thoughts.
1. It's tough for the boards and elders to admonish Pastor Macarthur, because they're as much to blame--- actually, more to blame--- than he is. I doubt he threatened to quit unless they paid him that much. Probably the board directors decided to pay him that much, because they want him to feel kindly towards them and they think that the way to show a pastor how much you appreciate him is to give him more money. If they were really loving, of course, they'd realize that paying large sums just to show personal appreciation is bad stewardship and is a temptation to a pastor, not a blessing. A man's value in God's eyes is not his money earnings, nor should it be in ours. Pastor MacArthur should have refused their generous offer, however, and he didn't. Plus, I gather that his church salary is secret, something I can't think of any excuse for.
This ties in with Pastor Bayly's point that in our time, The Church isn't as tightly organized as in some eras. Really, it's more like in apostolic days, when some local congregations are close and help each other (e.g., Paul founded a group of them, so they all have him in common) and many congregations without formal ties still regard each other as Christians. It's important for outsiders to notice what's happening, because there's no presbytery or bishop to watch whether a board of elders is doing its job properly. If we don't have a national church organization, we need national public opinion.
2. First-class air travel is a different issue. That isn't just a form of pay; it affects the employee's productivity. Just as a tightfisted boss would air condition his Texas factory because that helps the workers to work faster, so a thrifty board might have their star employee travel first-class so he can work better on the plane.

I assume Kamilla is talking about John Piper. I've got friends who go there, and one interesting thing noted (rightly or wrongly, I can't state it clearly) is that Piper is trying to goad the BGC, to which Bethlehem belongs, into an open debate on open theism, if I remember correctly. And he's just resigned, no, so at least he's got some idea of succession.

Nearby, Fourth Baptist Church (formerly of Minneapolis, now in Plymouth, I was a member for 7 years) has struggled to deal with the legacy of "Doc" Clearwaters. More or less, Clearwaters got a lot of things going--a camp, FM radio station, seminary, a Bible college, a school--that more or less required the pastor to be himself. Amazing accomplishments by the man, but he didn't do well at delegating. Hence the church has had to sell the FM station and the camp, and the Bible college in Owatonna has been closed--basically foreclosed, sadly.

In London, Charles Spurgeon faced the same thing, I think.

And a final note; as someone who sits fairly tall, but not wide, I've never understood the appeal of first class or business class travel. The seats are still designed for someone who sits a few inches shorter than I, and so you still spend a few hours after the flight ironing out the kinks in your back. Oh well.

Bert, I can assure you that Kamilla is not referring to Pastor Piper. Think northwest.

I bet Kamilla is referring to Pastor Mark Driscoll.

It could refer to a bunch of people, whomever our dear sister is trying to refer to. Which is why I mention more minor "celebrities", since we can fall into the trap of thinking "we" don't fit this pattern.

For that matter, I've seen pastors with average attendance of about 30 make things very difficult in terms of compensation and succession--really guys who ought to get an honest job driving a FedEx truck, but persist in pastoring because it's easy money. Sad.

Where's the "like" button around here? David and Patrick have it right, Bert. I meant due north of Pastor MacArthur. David Wegener and Tim Bayly, along with others, suffer with much grace my complaints about Driscoll.