You cannot serve God and wealth...

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No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. - Luke 16:13

Recently we've spent time on Guidestar downloading and reviewing IRS 990s filed by various Evangelical ministries including Ligonier, Grace to You, Grace to You/Masters College and SeminaryInsight for Living, and Desiring God.

Like accountants, our Internal Revenue Service holds to a high doctrine of original sin--much higher than today's Reformed pastors and congregants. Taking money and conflict of interest seriously, the IRS requires nonprofits to file Form 990 answering a whole host of questions the government believes should inform the giving of those inclined to support these ministries. Then the information collected through the 990 is made a matter of public record. 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...

The IRS makes this information public and it's clear they're right to do so. We should be accountable for our use of gifts given in good faith for the work of the Kingdom of God--and often solicited from widows.

  • What is your salary?
  • What do you pay your wife through your nonprofit?
  • What do you pay your son or son-in-law's business through your nonprofit?
  • Do you use your nonprofit's money to buy first class airline tickets?
  • To charter airplanes?
  • How much do you pay your public relations man (spokesman)?
  • Does your nonprofit pay you royalties on your books they sell for you?
  • Does your nonprofit pay you royalties on your sermons they broadcast and/or sell for you?
  • How much does your nonprofit pay your professional fundraiser?
  • How much money does your professional fundraiser make for you over and beyond what you pay him to write appeals and count and deposit receipts?
  • Who are the people who control your nonprofit and how many of them are your relatives?

If you support one of these ministries, you would do well to examine its IRS Form 990 carefully to see what they spend your gifts on and whether their answers to such questions give you confidence in their Godly use of that money. For your convenience, at the bottom of this post we've provided the 990s for the ministries owned by better-known personalities of the Evangelical world. And although Guidestar doesn't have Clearnote's own 990 up and running yet, I've put a PDF copy of it for you to download, also. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the duckling.

Here's a few of the things we've found.

Most of these men live handsomely on the gifts given to their ministries. We'd guess most have a household income of more than $400,000 per year; and in some cases, much more. We can't say precisely how much more, but if you provide yourself $200,000 per year in salary from your nonprofit, you vote yourself $45,000 from another of your nonprofits, you get a church salary of $200,000 (churches don't have to disclose pastor's salaries, but this is a very conservative estimate of what these men are paid by their congregations), your travel expenses are paid by your nonprofit (including first class and charter), and you're paid advances and royalties of $100,000 to $400,000 per year on your ministry books (again this is a conservative estimate for what best-selling Evangelicals make from their books each year), we're up to over $500,000 per year.

Keep in mind that this amount pours in year after year (in four years you've taken in $2,000,000), and that it doesn't include the money you pay your best friends, in-laws, and relatives, nor the speakers fees and honoraria you command for all your itineration.

The Apostle Paul reminded the New Testament church that the Old Testament command, "You shall not muzzle the ox" (Deuteronomy 25:4) applied to pastors (1Corinthians 9:6-11). Which prompted Samuel Johnson to make the observation, "It might as well be said, 'Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.'"

The business of Evangelicalism is quite lucrative--particularly publishing--and this is why Rupert Murdoch has bought over 50 % of the Evangelical publishing market. This means the majority of Evangelical publishing is now a division of Murdoch's News Corporation.

That said, we single out John Piper for commendation.

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?


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 well as all their employees who are content to be paid as humbly as John and Noel are.

* * *

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)

(DB & TB, w/thanks to the IRS)