Creative Leadership

The Coming Debt Burden for Media Ministries

Something that might be worth talking about is the increasing debt that a number of major media ministries currently carry. When allegations of mismanagement were made against Richard Roberts as President of Oral Roberts University, one of the revelations according to local news sources was the school’s approximate debt of $55 million. Recently, another major Christian university was about $23 million in debt, and was only saved through a life insurance policy after the death of the founder. But a life insurance policy isn’t a long term donor development plan. Others that are considered popular in religious media are shouldering mountainous loads of debt – most likely, ministries that you wouldn’t realize. Is this a problem? And if so, what does this tell us?

First – we know that donors and supporters don’t give to erase debt. They give to build, expand, or otherwise accomplish a mission, but few people will give to eliminate debt. My experience is that they feel, “Hey- you got yourself into it, so get out on your own.” They also don’t feel erasing debt accomplishes anything positive, so the bottom line is, when you get into the red, you have to raise money for other projects and use some of it to keep your debt at bay.

Second – it tells me that some leaders haven’t been sensitive to changes in the culture. Right now, we’re going through the greatest generational shift in a long time, and many ministries who were very successful a generation ago, are struggling today. For instance, for the last generation, all you had to do was build a building, and people would give. But not so today. In spite of that, some older leaders still build, even though the money has dried up. The truth is, change happens. And if churches, ministries, and non-profits aren’t aware of those changes, they will suffer.

Third – It’s interesting that some of these ministries are the ones teaching prosperity. Apparently it works for the leader, but not for the organization.

Fourth – What do we do about it? I’d love to hear your suggestions, but here are a few thoughts:

— Don’t be afraid to liquidate and close the ministry doors. Nowhere does it say that a successful organization has to continue to another generation. One leader was famous for saying, “Success without a successor is failure.” Who says? Why can’t God raise up a great work for a particular generation and stop it there? Have the courage to say we’ve done a great work, and accomplished our assignment, and now it’s time to move on. But the problem with this thinking? Too many people are on the payroll. Too many are making a living off the donations of the partners. In those cases, the ministry has ceased to be mission driven and become payroll driven.

— Don’t be ashamed of scaling back. Evolve. Needs change, and perhaps your organization needs to change to meet those needs. Change. Scale back. Downsize. Nothing wrong with that.

— Re-think your purpose. Esso became Exxon. Cingular became AT&T. Bill Gates started out to build hardware, but when those doors closed, shifted to software, and changed the computer industry. Each generation is gifted in different ways. The problem is the founder needs to realize that, and value the gifts and talents of his or her children. Allow your strategy to shift as the landscape changes. Don’t be locked into a 30 year old vision.

— Get new insight. Leadership expert John Maxwell calls it “fresh eyes.” Sometimes it’s important to get outside opinions, advice, and expertise. Get a consultants opinion. Find someone you admire and hear them out. Never get so big you stop listening to smart people.

— Consider new leadership. If your organization is in serious debt, you need to radically re-think the leadership. How did that happen? Who on the board approved this? Being a spiritual leader doesn’t always make someone a good organizational or financial leader. The spiritual leader either needs to get a great business person he or she respects, or consider stepping down.

— Look for a new model. Bigger isn’t always better.  The future is focus.  Niche organizations to accomplish specific assignments.  Create, do the task, dissolve.  Don’t build a dynasty.  Study movie production companies.  They create a company for a specific project, and then dissolve it, and recreate one for the next one.  Lean, mean, and controlled finance.

Tags

Related Articles

25 Comments

  1. By chance do you have an example of an old, established Christian organization that got large in the last generation and successfully scaled down out of necessity in recent history?

    I would think that when considering these issues, they all go hand-in-hand. No way is the founder that took the organization to it's current large size going to see it through to a successful scale down. New insight, new leadership, new size and new purpose all have to happen at once. In effect, it's a new organization. With that said, you might as well just close up shop (as you suggested) and start a new organization afresh. Just a thought….
  2. The worlds economy is changing – no doubt about it. My parents and grandparents generation could buy a block of land for about six months average wages. Today you can add another zero, AND spend about another 3-5 years at university just to earn an average wage, AND spend another hour to get to work, AND pay a few tolls getting to and from work. Many economists believe the post war "boomer generation" was the luckiest generation to ever live. As they die off, the traditional donor base dies with them, and you are left with people struggling under massive mortgages. Ministries will have to adjust to this. Debt can be a real killer for families and churches alike.

  3. This rings true on several different levels.

    One of the more difficult things I had to learn as a younger man in ministry was that rejuevenating old Churches in general didn't work.  Organizations, Churches in included, tend to have a life cycle.  Beyond a certain point, the effort required to turn around a declining or dying church and organization is more than that of starting a new one.

    Sadly, some churches and organizations focus at the peak of their financial success in establishing endowments and investments that provide perpetual operating funds that at the time seems wise and prudent.  What happens sometimes is that it keeps alive a ministry or church that effectively died years before maintaining the property and operating expenses and is placed in the hands of caretakers whose motivation to move outside the routine matters can be limited.

    It's harder in larger organizations where the assets are greater and the stakes higher.  Unless there is perceptive leadership that sees the need for change and adaptation before atrophy sets in the vision of the founder becomes institutionalized and the sea change shifts needed to keep the organization moving with the changing needs of the future may be missed. 

    Yet another reason to have a strong, changing board that is more than just a rubberstamp for a strong leader.

  4. I actually agree with all the points made by Phil in this section. But it needs to be governed/undergirded by the spirit of love and truth especially when you want to change new leadership. There are novas and there are supernovas all in ministries. One thing we must remember that in the life we live here on earth, nothing is forever and therefore we must be willing to let go at some stage of corporate or ministry growth. We must be willing to make place to release and not hold on forever. In fact the only thing that is eternal is our personal relationship with God and the people brought into it. If Churches operated as small families that grow together and released their children in ministry to their own lives it would be more freeing for the pastors/leadership to have less burdens to carry.

  5. Be sure you know how your sheep are doing, and pay attention to the condition of your cattle. Riches will not go on forever, nor do governments (or crowns) go on forever. Bring in the hay, and let the new grass appear. Gather the grass from the hills. Make clothes from the lambs’ wool, and sell some goats to buy a field. There will be plenty of goat’s milk to feed you and your family and to make your servant girls healthy.

    When the ministry is facing financial challenges just some practical advice to apply. This is how good families come out of financial challenges or difficult economic situations. Understand God, trust His Way, budget well and create room/opportunities for growth.

  6. I re-read the original blog post by Phil, and with the point: “First – we know that donors and supporters don’t give to erase debt.” – I couldn’t help but draw a similarity to taxes. I for one have a serious problem being taxed by the government to a degree that hurts, when it appears that their spending is often wasteful, and sometimes in complete disagreement with my beliefs. A church that balances their budget, that pays for growth as it is occurring, and does not accumulate debt is a much more palatable place to put my money… And of course a more palatable place to belong and serve. When I see our government paying more for something than what a private company would pay, it bothers me. This happens all the time. When companies bid on government work, they know that they can cause over-runs, that they can throw in a lot of extras later, and that there are ways to increase their income. And it is allowed to happen. When things go over budget, and there is no money to cover them, we borrow or slow-down. I want to see the government handle my hard-earned taxes better, and if I think that my church is being wasteful, then I want to see that get better as well. Debt is not a place that a church needs to be. I also agree that a church should not be overly investing money for the future. Invest money for a project, keep a reasonable amount on hand for growth, but don’t lay up treasures on earth… as mentioned… funds that are intended to keep a church going and allow lethargy to thrive.

  7. Debt has been the "American way" for decades and is a part of capitalism…look at the bankruptcy rate nationwide.  In the 40's and 50's, my mother could go to the local department store and buy on credit.  There was no interest and this encouraged the consumer to buy.  But you better stay current on your bill or no further credit allowed.  Credit cards changed all that and, now, very few Americans live without some kind of debt.  My Dad borrowed to the hilt at the local bank to buy land, cattle and expensive machinery but he paid it off over time.  I, too, incurred education debt but paid it off within 10 years.

    Now, lending institutions allow you to buy a home three times your yearly gross salary.  That is insane…personal, economic suicide.:-)  We want what the Joneses have and more, whether we can afford it or not.  We live way above our means and are encouraged to by banks, credit card companyies and lending agencies.  No one wants to take responsibility for the fix they are in.

    With a few problems at a private Christian university and the WOF police, we now have media coverage of sensational proportions which makes for nonstop "trashing" of selected nonprofits.  Forget the cults, abuse of women and children; forget politicians and their corrupt practices and abuses of power; forget Hollywood and the XXX they exude; not to mention the many insurmountable ills of society.  But, lets tell the church where they have "all gone wrong" because they are "worse off" than the world.  Just remove the church at large from society and then we will have real problems to squall about.

    Debt…it is a global problem, will remain and will never be solved /or eradicated until Jesus comes.  Yes, the church tends to mirror society but we all need to shoulder the responsibility of selfrestraint, stewardship and judicious oversight.  Remember, this is a global issue affecting us all.  It serves no purpose to have a Nazi, prejudicial mentality that unfairly singles out the population "we don't like."  The impression of "legitimate concern" is given but the forum under which it is presented says otherwise.

  8. "No where does it say that a successful organization has to continue to another generation."  Phil, I could not disagree more with that statement.  Proverbs 13:22, conveys the idea of a continuation of inheritance and assets to successive generations.  When did the church start using the world as our standard?  I understand wisdom, common sense, and a multitude of counselors.  However, "seeking first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you," should be our first order of business.  Our problem is we do not know how to pray and hear from God.  We aren't half as spiritual as we think we are or should be.

    Whose to say an organization will go south after the founding father steps down.  Growth is a process of sometimes 3 steps forward and 2 backwards.  Our family farm and ranch of 5 generations took on many faces depending on economics and management.  I'm thankful during the tough times we did not resign to the pressures of high costs and low prices…not to mention those who would have rather seen us fail.  The alternative was big corporations and loss of our family heritage.  I also am thankful those like Joel Osteen did not "faint" and turn back because the patriarch passed on.  We have lost many fine and valuable institutions because of changing times and a lack of commitment and leadership from successive generations.  I was born and raised Methodist, so I can say this.  The Methodist church of today is so far removed from what the Wesley brothers originally started.  Though still in existence, they nolonger even project a global message of, "salvation through grace by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ."  Should they close their doors?  I think not…many have returned to their roots with renewed faith and even to the manifestation of the gifts.

  9. Try as I might, I just can't get out of Proverbs 13:22 that a ministry has to continue to another generation.  That's a real stretch.  Great men and women of God throughout history have accomplished great things, and didn't seem to need a successor.  Trust me, if a qualified man or woman is ready to take it to the next generation, then I'm the first to say "Go".  In fact, I've been a part of the helping the transitions of people like John and Joel Osteen.  But if there's not a vision, and if it's just a matter of keeping the family on the payroll, then let's move elsewhere.  Bottom line – is the mission still there and are the successors qualified to make it happen?  Great.  But if not, be wise enough to focus your energy elsewhere.

  10. I once heard John Mawell say "The greatest potential for growth of a company is growth of it's people." Isn't the highest level of leadership building up and equiping people to become their successors? Isn't ministry supposed to be building up people and not just building a ministry? I believe that if ministries cannot build people than they have missed the point of ministry. What motivates and equips people?

    The center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro NC studied 105 successful executives and discovered:

    1. They admit their mistakes and don't blame others for their short comings.

    2. They were able to get along with people.

    3. They had strong interpersonal skills and were sensitive.

    4. They were confident and calm under pressure rather than volatile.

    What if ministry leaders became a model that others want to follow? Aren't we supposed to lead by example to mentor those around us to do the same.

    In closing I believe if ministry leaders have the skills needed to lead then having a successor wouldn't be difficult. Billy Graham is a fantastic example…

    Just a thought…     

  11. "Qualified man or woman is ready…"  The word, "qualified," is probably the hangup with many people and was in Biblical times as well.  Phil, all we have to do is look at Moses, David, Gideon and Joseph and none of these people thought they were "qualified," and neither did their counterparts.  Only until they were placed in position to be used (by faith) did they see the hand of God on their lives.  In my chosen profession, I shed many a tear of doubt and fear in my early years of education and even beyond that.  I simply could not see myself doing what I was supposed to do in practice.  It was a process just like Joseph and, today, I can humbly say I am a sought after practitioner in the area of cardiovascular anesthesia.  I cannot imagine doing anything else…it just flows and, yet, everyday is still new and challenging.  Were those like Abraham Lincoln to have given up after the first, second, third, fourth tries…we would never have had some of those great men and women.

    At least from a NT Biblical standpoint, whether it is the parable of the talents or the giving/sowing law of reciprocity, God is a God of increase, rather than a God of decrease/or retreat.  I think there is a scriptural basis for furthering the gifts, assets and talents of one generation to the next.  Inheritance is not a one time thing, as in "to inherit," but rather the implication of a continuation of those assets…to successive generations, if you will. 

  12. Jeanette, "…highest level of leadership is building up and equiping people to become their successors," hits the nail on the head.  We must be able to duplicate ourselves or we have done nothing…this is the good news of the Gospel…making disciples which are the ultimate successors of what we started.

  13. Note that some of the websites of the six televangelists under investigation are reporting pie-chart financials of where their donation money goes.  Not surprisingly some report only 52% or only one third goes to television costs.  The rest, where it goes…isn't hard to guess.  Their homes.  Their jets.  Their tithe to peer ministries.  They feel no obligation to spend the bulk on what they receive it for, which is television ministry.

     For example, if you gave me one hundred million a year to do a media ministry, say I spent only 52 million on the media end.  I could jet to my favorite international spot of need, say Russia — because the girls are pretty there — and I could wave, oh say, 18 million dollars a year in front of their poor ministry operations.  For 18 million dollars a year, I'd get the respect of a KING!  I'd be KING of goodness to those Russians that then depended on my 18 million dollar per year generosity. 

     It would be a HOOT!  I might even get to pick among a wide variety of good looking Russian Orthodox chicks.  I might jet one home to become my wife. 

    All these shenanigans would be so easy if I could but play with a PORTION of that hundred million dollar a year income, of which so much wouldn't be spent on television.  What a saint I'd be.  I just wish I thought of this before KCM, TBN, et al.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
Close

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker