I was put into a bit of a quandary by a recent article examining “The 8 Richest Pastors in America”http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/8-richest-pastors-in-america.aspx?source=NEWSLETTER&nlsource=7&ppc=. After all, I am a recently retired pastor of 20+ years experience. On the other hand, I never made more than $25,000 a year during my time at three churches. According to the article, the average annual wage for a pastor in the U.S. is $45,000. At my peak wage earning, I was at least $20,000 below the average. I knew I was low on the totem pole, but I didn't know how low until now!
If that strikes you as unusual, I have no explanation other than this. I started the process of becoming a pastor with prayer in response to a calling I believed the LORD put into my heart. I never thought about negotiating a salary,and never did. I never thought about a raise, even though each year the budget item concerning my wages was talked about and I was asked if I wanted a raise. I always replied that I was leaving the question of a raise in God's hands and what He might move the congregation to do. The only time I negotiated for a change in salary was when I voluntarily took a cut in salary in order to help the church get back on it's feet. The salary cut was my idea and I had to do some convincing for the church to go along with it. Our family survived because the LORD blessed us with two key ingredients. One was the generosity of God's people in the small churches I served. It would take far too long an article to speak of just a few instances when we were in dire straights and God brought people out of the woodwork who just gave us food and money without even being asked! The second was the blessing of a remarkable woman who worked inside and outside the home. My wife has been the true fulfillment of the biblical “help meet” described in the Bible, particularly Proverbs 31, and without her there would have been no “Pastor Dan”period!
I read the article cited above and several of the comments. I was dismayed by both. The article itself focused on the net worth of these 8, as well as highlighting the extravagant lifestyle of a few. I was surprised at the fact that the number one richest pastor had a net worth of 760 million dollars! I was astounded at large gap between first and eighth on the list, as number eight had net worth of just eight million dollars. An eight million dollar net worth seems like a lot to me, and I'm sure to many of you. That works out to about 20 times my own net worth. In comparison, the net worth of the richest pastor in the land is more than 90 times that of number eight! Additionally, in the article three of the eight identified as “pastors” were not pastors at all! According to the Bible (which invented the position of“pastor”), the pastor is always the leader of a particular church fellowship. They are not church pastors but are leaders of ministry organizations. The real dismaying fact was that of the remaining five actual pastors, only one, Rick Warren, actually preaches and teaches the Word of God and it's central message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
That brings me to the disturbing comments about the pastors identified within. I was disturbed that all of the comments were negative toward them. The simple fact that they were wealthy was enough to shower derision upon them. Even the modest lifestyle of Rick Warren was highlighted. He drives a 12 year old vehicle, has lived in the same home for 22 years, owns no boat or jets (unlike some on the list), and bought his watch at Walmart. Not only that but he 'reverse tithes', meaning instead of giving 10% to the LORD, as the Bible stipulates, he keeps 10% and gives 90%! Yet there were no positive comments about him. The article highlights some of the amazing work Billy Graham has done, even standing with Martin Luther King Jr. and having him preach at one of his crusades. In fact, he once even bailed King out of jail! Sorry, that is not enough to overcome the perceived sin of your 'wealth' Billy, and one of the comments excoriated him personally. One commentator tried to do a biblical take on the issue by claiming the Jesus 'forbid the accumulation of wealth'! That is simply not true. Besides, the comment is irrelevant because Jesus never talked about the office of pastor at all. The qualifications for pastor and advice to them came almost exclusively from the Apostle Paul, and he doesn't forbid accumulation of wealth either. He and Jesus both warn about the risks of accumulating much wealth, and not being rich toward God,which applies to all Christians. Thus the concern about money and the pastor should be not how much he makes, but what is done with the wealth coming his way. If one is financing, as much as possible, the spread of the gospel and the spiritual growth of believers with the wealth, I have very little to say but positive things about it. If you are teaching and preaching and evangelizing according to the Word of God, then I say more power and blessing to you, even if you are“wealthy”! If, however, you are not doing these things and are in fact, like the top two characters on the list, encouraging heretical teaching, then I say stop doing this, and will stand opposed to your efforts. I was dismayed that no one commenting considered these factors or even imagined how wealthy people, pastors or not, can sometimes be genuine and working faithfully for the LORD.