In the epic tale All The President's Men, the secretive informant known as "Deep Throat" badgers Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward to "follow the money trail." Deep Throat, who we now know to have been Mark Felt (the #2 man at the FBI), was convinced that if people knew how money was spent by the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) they could figure out exactly what happened, who did what and when. The same is true in the church. I believe many churches are not forthright about how they spend money, for a number of reasons.

Two sad snapshots

I served for three years as the executive pastor of a mid-sized congregation with a $3.4 million budget. The business administrator of the church was strident about reminding the congregation that 10 percent—a whopping $340,000—went to missions each year. We wore this truth as a badge of honor.

However, as I followed the money trail, I learned that included in the $340,000 was the $64,000 salary of the missions pastor and the $30,000 salary of the mission assistant, along with a variety of office expenses. So in reality the church "gave" about $230,000 to missions, and perhaps less.

The second money trail relates to the ever-sensitive matter of senior pastor compensation. I consulted with a church some time ago where the senior pastor's base salary was $111,000 with another $21,000 in benefits for a total package of $132,000. The next highest paid staff person—an associate pastor who had served at the church for 15 years—earned $70,000.

On one occasion I asked the administrative pastor of the church about this gap in compensation. He explained that he estimated that the senior pastor brings in excess of $1 million in tithes and offerings each year due to the fact that he was an incredible preacher. "When Patrick preaches the offering is 25 percent higher than when someone else preaches." I asked if the congregation was made aware of the salary scale of the staff. Aghast, the business administrator told me the congregation could not handle that information well.

Where your treasure is …

Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there will be your heart." I think this applies to churches too. Consider these real-life examples of churches and where their treasures reside:

  • The church that spends $3.6 million per year ($57,000 per week) to professionally produce their worship services (think, "lights, camera, action").
  • The church in which the budget is $500,000 per year and the senior pastor's compensation package is $100,000 (about 20% of budget).
  • The church in which the budget is $1 million per year and the congregation gives away an increasing percentage each year.

A while ago I was helping a church that was in a major crisis, one that would cause it to close its doors six months later. "How must we change?" asked the interim senior pastor. "The first thing you need to do," I said, "is to do one ministry very well. And that ministry should be toward people who are outside the congregation, preferably people who are in great need, such as the homeless."

In that instant I could tell the pastor wrote me off. He tried to be polite and thanked me for my input. Realizing that I no longer had very much credibility with him, I pressed further. "In order to do that one ministry well you will need to make much deeper cuts in staff. And I think your compensation should be first. You make $75,000 per year. You will need to take a cut to $50,000 at most." From that moment on the interim pastor was always cordial with me, but not once did he ask for my opinion again. Three months later the elder board forced the interim pastor to resign due to mismanagement of finances.

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