Engaging Culture

TV Evangelist Salaries and Perks – The Defense

I had so many people respond on both sides of the issue, I wanted to explore the subject a little deeper and take the time to look at both sides of the issue. First – let’s look at how the mainstream media might be wrong – and actually has been – with many of these issues. (see the attached .pdf at the end of this post).

Using a private jet for “personal use:”  No one in a non-profit situation should make this a habit of course, but if you’re preaching in Hong Kong, you have to stop over somewhere, and Hawaii is as good as anyplace. Plus, pilots have to rest at certain intervals, so it’s not always a matter of simply stopping for gas. On long haul flights, the FAA requires that pilots have a decent sleep interval, so stopping over for a day or more is not unusual. So while some stations (like the ABC affiliate in Dallas) attempted to criticize Kenneth Copeland for using his jet for personal use, it could easily be explained away as stopover time.

As I’ve discussed before, I defend the use of jets in global ministry. Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer are going to get mobbed at airports, and security and logistics becomes an issue for their travel. That doesn’t make it right for everybody, but in certain cases, using private air travel is just good business.

High Salaries: For an organization as large as Billy Graham, Joyce Meyer, Feed the Children and others, we have to pay salaries commensurate with the position. Anyone leading 100 or more people (some ministries have more than 500-700 employees worldwide) needs people with remarkable skill and expertise, and you don’t get that for minimum wage. So there are many places where salaries that some would consider high are OK with me.

Trinity Broadcasting’s $300 Million plus bank account:  20/20 reported that TBN has more than $300 million stashed away in bank accounts. Actually, that’s fairly common knowledge, so they’re obviously not trying to hide it. By implication, they’re trying to say that TBN should stop their telethons and fundraising because of all the excess cash in the bank. But the truth is, that’s what building an endowment is, and colleges and universities do it all the time. Harvard has far more than that amount in it’s endowment – in fact, Harvard could easily live off their endowment in perpetuity, but that hasn’t stopped them from fundraising. Closer to home in the religious world, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association built a massive endowment as well, but continues their fundraising. In order to ensure a ministry can continue well into the future – particularly if you perceive a loss of funds after the death of the founder – then building an endowment is critical.

Those are just some of the “perks” that most people could support when it comes to a large ministry. There are plenty of other questions with some ministry leaders – a garage full of luxury cars, yachts, millions hidden away in personal bank accounts, the percentage of income that actually goes toward ministry, and more.

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  1. Having a personal jet is a much more common thing in the corporate world nowadays than even, say, ten years ago.  I think it's a better to compare the salaries/perks of ministry leaders with corporate CEO's and see where they fare…as you said, it's the lifestyle excess (should MTV be doing an episode of Cribs on the homes of well known evangelists?) that conjure up stereotypes of what a media-evangelist is.

  2. Phil, I don't buy your argument of TBN building an "endowment" as reason to have $300 million in the bank while conducting 2x a year telethons. It comes down to integrity and wisdom – is this really about building the Kingdom of God? My guess is to TBN this "endowment" is really about having a war chest to buy stations and fend off lawsuits and scandals. Paul Sr is an old school German who believes in paying with cash and having money in the bank. Lots of it. That said, TBN's way of treating people and conducting business is a nest of vipers that this blog can't begin to untangle. So I, certainly, won't try. Cutting to the chase – I have a feeling you're being way too kind with TBN because you have to do business with them. Afterall, they're the Big Dogs when it comes to distribution. I can buy the argument that they need to have a reserve…but come on, $300 mil? Especially when Paul Sr brags on the air – and proudly – about how little he pays his staff. I was there when he said it, because he was looking into the camera I was running. I remember I had a little vomit burp at that moment. 🙂

  3. Needless to say the question really comes down to "what would the Lord have us do?" Why have so many in ministry ended up looking like the latest rock band on tour? When 20/20 begins to ask questions of ministers and their apparent lack of concern for others when their wealth is growing substantially I think the question needs to be "do we look like Jesus to the world?" If the answer is no I believe the Lord is telling us to change.

    The "world" and Christians themselves are looking for people of integrity. We all want to see that person who is standing for honesty, unconditional love, concern for others, and self sacrifice. Those people exist and many are the unsung heros of ministry. May the Lord grant us many more of those people.

    We all need to be accountable! If you have a ministry get some people on your team that disagree with you. Let them ask the hard questions of what are you doing and why.
    Is a private jet okay? Maybe or maybe not…..but there is little question in how it can appear to those who are giving their money to your ministry.

    Why aren't there more ministries that exist solely from the sale of products and services. There is something to be said of a Christian ministry that makes money and then gives it to others that is very appealing.

    I did not see the 20/20 story that this blog is based on but I am concerned that the perception of Christianity in America by this news organization is one of scandal/selfishness and not one of unconditional love. I believe that this report should lead us to self examination. God is calling each and everyone of us to reflect Him in our lives and ministry. Needless to say we are not able to do that very well, only when we move out of the way and let Him shine through can that occur.

  4. Phil thanks for your blog. I came upon your website from another blog that was commenting positively on you article on assitnew.net, "The Truth About Christian Fundraising." Great article. Regarding salaries and perks of Christian ministry leaders, we have neglected to mention the need for an objective board of directors/trustees. Of the ministries mentioned in this blog, to my knowledge only the BGEA has a real board of directors. THe other ministries have boards consisting of family and close cofidants. The former is simple not acceptable and something that was mentioned in the blog that linked me to your article. Beyond an objective board, an annual audit by an accounting firm that was made public upon request, and membership in ECFA would also lend credibility to some of these groups. Also not operating under the guise of a "church" where there is little to no outside scrutiny (unless they were audited and had at least an objective board).

  5. I agree with you Rick when we're talking about a church. But when it's someone's personal ministry that's where we get into a tight rope walk. I've seen several ministries destroyed by a board making an important decision contrary to the minister's vision. A minister built his ministry with his sweat, blood, lots of prayer and fasting, and support from friends and family. It's hard to trust others that don't share at least part of that commitment. Usually his family (that was with him through it all) do understand and thus why they're on the board (but I've seen them be the opposite as well). Plus, volunteering for assistance and submitting to an audit is one thing but when you start a work for God do you want to be required to have an "objective" (is there really one?) board that tells you what to do when you're trying to obey God's direction. Wouldn't that be more unacceptable?

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