FreeGoodNews.com (Series: "Christian Greed")

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Greed: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Bernie Dehler
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Matthew 25:21 (Jesus Talking)
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'"
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OVERVIEW
The Bible is clear that we are to be good stewards of our resources (time, treasure, and talent). In a parable (Mt. 25:14-30), our Lord Jesus taught us about how God has given each of us various degrees of resources. We will be held accountable for what we do with them.

Regarding our money, we have choices to spend it on pleasure, profit, or for the Kingdom of God. If we spend it for the purpose of Kingdom building, then we also have the responsibility to know that the organization that we are supporting is living up to its mission, and is behaving responsibly. It turns out that nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporations are required by law to make their form 990 tax returns available to the public (however, Churches, denominations, and religious orders are exempt from filing a tax return).

I looked into a few that claim to be Christian Ministries. In my opinion, here is a summary of some of the "good, the bad, and the ugly." For this article, I will be looking just at the aspect of executive compensation, as this in itself may be a reason to disqualify some "ministries." I will also be mentioning only some of the larger well-know organizations.

The best place to find the tax returns for any nonprofit is at http://www.guidestar.org/, if you know the nonprofit name exactly or have their Federal EIN number. This is a free service.


GOOD

First the Good. These are a pleasure to report. I would like to offer three. Click on their name to view their actual form 990 tax return.
-- Focus on the Family. Various Christian topics and Christian education. Dr. Dobson receives $0 in salary (evidently, he lives off of the royalties of many of his books). He is the Chairman of the Board and works full-time for the ministry.
-- NW Medical Teams. Doing good works (especially medical assistance) in the name of Christ. A great role-model for very reasonable executive salaries. I think this is the best role-model I've seen from the very large nonprofit Christian organizations.
-- Compassion International. Relieving children that live in poverty. They even post their form 990 tax return on their website.


BAD

This is disappointing for me to report. These ministries do great work, but the executives seem to take advantage of their organization by getting paid too much.
-- BGEA (Billy Graham, $445K per year)
-- Samaritan's Purse ( Franklin Graham, $358K per year)
-- Christian Research Institute (Hank Hanegraaff $280K per year, not including unknown (very large) income from royalties paid directly to him from ministry-produced and ministry-advertised materials. His wife, Kathy, also is the 3rd highest paid emploiyee, at $130K, which is twice as much as their seminary-educated staff members.)


UGLY

While the BAD get too much in executive pay, the following ones are outrageous.
-- Global Evangelism Television (John Hagee, $900K per year; that's $430 per hour!)
-- Trinity broadcasting Network (TBN- Paul ($403K) & Jan ($361K) Crouch)
-- World Church (Benny Hinn). His pay is unknown since he is employed by a "church," but estimates range from $500-$1 million per year (story). Personally I think it's a scandal for his operation to be organized as a "church." I think it should be regarded as a parachurch organization (not church) since his contributors don't "attend" his church (if he were a parachurch organization, he would be required by law to report his form 990 tax return).


SUMMARY

It's good to find out as much information as possible about the ministries that you support with your time, treasure, and talent. Most likely, what you will find will both disgust and encourage you. The end result is knowing the ministries, that you partner with, better. By checking, you will encourage these ministries to be more accountable for their actions. Gone are the days when you could just "trust" those who claimed to be working for God (if those days ever existed).

For a parting positive note: the more I look at these tax returns, the more I am impressed with NW Medical Teams (mentioned above). They really stand out as a beautiful role-model, financially and in their work of serving others:

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Matthew 5:16 (Jesus Talking)
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

8 Comments:

Blogger Glenn said...

For missionary, pay is minimal, you are directly supported by the ministry. For the running of a ministry, I think that pay needs to be accountable to a board and reviewed with other similar size ministries and non-profit organizations that are also supported by donations. The total compensation should be in line with the size of the ministry. A good executive of a ministry is a good executive - and has value, in generating revenue, as well as managing a large organization, even beyond your recommended $150K. However, the ministry appears to be small, and your recommendation may well be in line with similar size ministries.

10:57 PM  
Blogger FreeGoodNews.com said...

Responding to this comment, once again it shows what a great role-model NW Medical Teams is:

NW Medical Teams Revenue: $80M
Top Exec. Pay: $119K ($57 per hour)

Global Evangelism Television Revenue: $17M
Top Exec. Pay (Pastor Hagee): $900K ($432 per hour)

NW Medical Teams has almost 5 times the revenue of Pastor Hagee's group, yet Hagee gets more than 7 times the pay.

However, I don't think corporate revenue really matters. Regardless of income, both ministries have the same amount of time to work (24 hrs. in a day), and have the "same but different" kinds of stresses.

I thank God for role-models like NW Medical Teams, and I hope they continue to grow because of their witness and effectiveness. Truly a fine example of being "beyond rebuke" as we are called to be as Christian leaders.

11:46 AM  
Blogger PatM said...

Is Wealth a Sin?

Giving is a spiritual gift. Romans 12:6-8 says, "Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."

Note that not everyone has this gift, so it is not talking about tithing. This also is not restricted to financial gifts. But God always equips his people to exercise their gifts. The true expression of the gift is to give with liberality. Therefore the test is not how much someone makes, but if their "giving liberality" factor matches it. God seems to evaluate the heart, not the checkbook, and I believe we are on thin ice to link them together.

10:54 PM  
Blogger FreeGoodNews.com said...

Pat says:
"God seems to evaluate the heart, not the checkbook, and I believe we are on thin ice to link them together."

It's true that the Bible doesn't say what dollar amount people should be paid. But to turn the brain off and say it doesn't matter will lead to all kinds of sin, such as Pastor Hagee making $900K and people not seeing anything wrong with it. We should still be able to determine what is reasonable and unreasonable.

This is one of the major reasons why I'm writing on this topic, to confront errors in belief like this, which are very pervasive, even among mature Christians.

If Pastor Hagee needs $900K to support his lifestyle, then he has a serious problem. If he gives it all away, then why draw it from the ministry? The ministry received the money to fulfill their mission. If his ministry doesn't need it, they shouldn't ask for it.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$225K of Billy Graham's "income" was health benefits - he probably doesn't have insurance and his condition is being paid for by the ministry, which is alright in my book

2:11 PM  
Blogger FreeGoodNews.com said...

"$225K of Billy Graham's "income" was health benefits - he probably doesn't have insurance and his condition is being paid for by the ministry, which is alright in my book"

Does the rest of his staff get the same benefits? No. Just him, because he's a celebrity. This is taking advantage of the situation. Billy Graham is no more important or valuable than a Christian missionary in a foreign field giving his life for Christ. The income to the ministry is not his; he's just the steward of it. Likely, a donor wants to give him this gift, and launder it through his organization for a tax deduction. Sometimes they do that with cars and other gifts.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Billy Graham doesn't take a dime in royalties from his books - a simple salary instead for heading a world-wide ministry for over 50 years. It's estimated that he has sold over 70 MILLION books - the royalties on that would be mindboggling. But no, he puts that into the ministry. So James Dobson can look like a saint for not being paid by the ministry, but he makes MILLIONS in royalties - is that really BETTER? Get real and use your heads people.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Bernie Dehler of FreeGoodNews.com said...

Dear Anonymous-

How is $445K compensation for Billy Graham seen as "a simple salary" ???

5:07 PM  

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