18 August, 2016

Money and Ministry

I happened on a link to a website that listed an article on the incomes of mega-pastors... it turned out to be one of those link from photo to photo presentations with no indication of how many times you would have to go to the next page.  After more than two hours of trying to reach the end of the story pages, a pop-up informed me I was looking at a series of 70 links.  I was at 29... and deeply frustrated.  It was a horrid website, with photos and ads surrounding the main topic that would be considered pornography, slander, and more.   This is what we have to deal with now...

I didn't recognize many of the names, some of which were big in other countries.  I don't know how many are on TBN, the only Christian TV station I know of, but the text of some indicated they had global outreaches and relatively small numbers of supporters for the size of their incomes.  Others had very large followings and millions in net worth.  Many of the incomes were guessed... only a few were verified, and some were from many years back.  The intent was to say that people in ministry need to live as paupers... the motive for this is so they won't have a spiritual outreach to the lives of others.  Ministries need money, too.

Some made money through their book efforts, which is a legitimate income source for anyone, but seems to be an easy target for the secular (unfriendly) media.  This form of income is used by secular personalities as well... it spreads their message and their "brand" -- and it allows either income for them, their ministries, or both.  Each situation seems to be different according to the people involved.

The issue of money and ministry has been around for a long time.  Finding the balance is hard.  How much of our efforts are for our own personal future, how much for GOD?  I had to pray for many years about this issue myself... trying to find what would be a fair and reasonable balance for my life needs and the purpose of Working Together.  I knew that a global ministry like I was planning would create enormous sums of money. 

For myself, I created a for-profit corporation that was wholly owned by me (until it could be handed off to the next caretaker or developed into a better governing format).  This meant that I could allow GOD to do what He wanted in the income area as the SEC only requires a corporation to disperse 10% of the profits to shareholders, and that was my income goal :: me 10%, GOD 90%... it worked out fine for me.  It was also ideal because the income GOD provided through this source could be used to fund other projects that are equally important, but may not be Christian in nature.  It was suppose to be my retirement plan.

The issue of wages came up repeatedly in this series of ministry attacks... it is a big concern, especially in the current war on executive salaries in business arenas.  It is also a money and ministry problem.  How much is enough?  What is fair?  If the ministry is doing well, shouldn't the main focus of the ministry (the pastor out front) be compensated for his work?  The issue with ministry wages is the needs of the work... the more you pay the employees, the less there is for the reason it exists.

This has been another prayer issue for me...  Working Together is an unusual ministry focus, so the guidelines I chose may not be the same ones other ministries would use.  The End Times will be a time of great needs, people will be trying to survive, and we don't know what they will need to survive from.  I chose to make the wages fairly equal for all employees.  I guess I haven't fully decided about the responsibility levels of trainee, staff, management, but the differences I am considering are nominal financially. 

For now, the plan is to pay everyone by the hour, the same wage no matter your position or responsibility, making us equal, like we are in the Body of Christ.  If you have private income, that is your income, Working Together is only concerned about the wages it pays to its employees for work done on behalf of the organization.  In time, as we build, staff benefits will include housing, food, medical, and other basic survival needs as part of the wage package.  It is a permanent commitment to Christian members, who will make up the bulk of our employee base.  I hope that we will be able to create these resources in each region of the world, becoming self-sufficient in each place we exist, to care for the members in that region.

Ministries that deal in global locations have more money issues than those existing only in the United States.  How do you translate the difference in living standard into a wage?  It has been one of my concerns for years.  Gospel for Asia and Voice of the Martyrs employees in their local regions are going to have different economic needs than its US employee base, but the level of lifestyle is still a big question.  Do we value our wages at minimum wage, a decent wage, or in comparison to middle or upper class workers in each location?  The difference can be huge.  For Working Together I have developed a percentage option for housing and for food costs... but I am trying to figure out the base amount to use. 

When I was reading the different salary amounts other ministries provide their "executives," I had mixed feelings.  The costs of their lifestyles, their ministry-related activities, are not always noted in these wage figures... and they are always gross wages/salaries, before tax deductions, and with no indication if medical or other benefits are included in the figures. 

In my life, I have broken the $10K level of income only once.  Current minimum wages for full-time (40 hours a week) can range from $15,080  a year at $7.25 to Oregon's current minimum wage of $9.75, which equals $20,280  a year in gross wages.  The push to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour would make the yearly gross income of that worker $31,200 -- approximately $2600/month.  All of these minimum wages are a lot less than the $100 to $550,000 a year some mega-pastors were reported as receiving for a base salary.

What is fair?

Do ministry employees work any less hard than secular counterparts in business?
Is their salary an indication of GOD's blessings on their life and work?
How do we value the experience of ministry workers to the organization's mission?

It isn't an easy question to answer.  Ministry workers are often like employees in social services, community organizations, and other non-profit works that serve people with needs  --  all of whom seem to be notoriously underpaid, but choosing to dedicate their lives to a purpose greater than their wages.  The difference between small and large organizations is another part of this wage conversation.

So far, Working Together has not been able to hire anyone, even me.  It has been a challenge just to keep existing.  Praying through these money issues has been important for me.  I am more worried about GOD's opinions than the media's... I want to be at peace with Him, His blessings are the important part of this business-ministry hybrid. 

With that said, I'm not sure why GOD hasn't blessed Working Together already.  :-)   It would have been easier to have had a nominal income as one of its employees, to have had the finances to grow, to have built the resources Christians will need for the future, but that is GOD's domain.  My purpose is to keep trying to reach the Body of Christ with the message that the may not be "saved" by the Rapture they are expecting... that we will need to prepare alternatives for support and fellowship in a combative and violent environment... that what we have always known is not what is coming.

I don't expect to live too much longer, but I hope to see GOD provide for the real needs of His people before I go.  In the meantime, I keep praying for the solutions to our problems so I will be ready for that day.  I don't need hundreds of thousands of dollars for myself, I just need enough for my survival needs, for now and for when I can't do anything to earn my support, shelter, food, transportation, and personal income for a few luxuries.  I suppose being poor all my life helps me to be satisfied at the minimum wage level...  it is harder to go down the ladder of "success" than it is to go up.


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