After receiving criticism for the financial perks charismatic televangelist and bestselling author Joyce Meyer obtains from her $95 million-a-year television ministry, Meyer has announced plans to take a reduced salary in 2004 and personally use more of the income derived from her outside book sales.

"The Joyce Meyer Ministries Board of Directors elected to make this change so partners and supporters know that the majority of their gifts to the ministry are going directly to our outreach and programs to help hurting people," ministry spokesman Mark Sutherland told Christianity Today.

Until January 2004, Meyer received a salary from her organization and donated all her book royalties back to Joyce Meyer Ministries. She now will retain royalties on books sold outside the ministry through retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, amazon.com, and Christian bookstores, while continuing to donate to her ministry royalties from books sold through her conferences, catalogs, website, and television program.

Meyer's book royalties in the past several years have more than doubled what she and her husband, Dave, earned in salary. The popular author and speaker has written more than 50 books, including the bestseller Battlefield of the Mind. Sutherland said the majority of Meyer's book royalties come from inside ministry sales.

Meyer's decision to take a reduced salary could strengthen her position with the federal government if it chooses to respond to a Christian financial watchdog group's request that the Internal Revenue Service investigate Meyer's ministry. Wall Watchers, a Christian non-profit group that monitors the finances of large Christian organizations, is asking the IRS to investigate Meyer's successful television ministry, Life in the Word. Wall Watchers founder Rusty Leonard believes Meyer may have been compensating herself at such a high level that her ministry is violating its status as a private, tax-exempt organization. "There seems to be evidence of private inurement here," Leonard said.

Federal law prohibits religious groups such as Meyer's from giving excessively to anyone who heads a ministry. Wall Watchers is asking the IRS to investigate several other charismatic televangelists as well.

While Meyer's previous salary is unknown, a recent series of investigative articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed Meyer's ministry purchased for Joyce and Dave a $2 million home, a $10 million private jet, and houses worth another $2 million for the couple's children, who also work for the ministry. The articles also outlined Meyer's recent personal purchases, including a $500,000 vacation home. Meyer, 60, lives in Fenton, Missouri, near St. Louis.

Leonard also is concerned about the configuration of Meyer's board of directors, which includes Meyer's children and close friends. "Before we're going to encourage anyone to donate money to Joyce Meyer Ministries, I would call on Joyce to have an independent board that excludes members who are paid by the ministry, along with an independent committee that decides her compensation," Leonard says.

Meyer says her attorney—not her board—determines her and Dave's salary range. The board then decides within that range what to pay the Meyers. "We do not spend irresponsibly and are prudent in the way we manage our ministry, returning 85 percent of all unrestricted donations back to help hurting people around the world," Meyer told Christianity Today. "We do not agree that the ministry is in violation of any law. If the IRS were to investigate, we would fully cooperate."

Meyer says her ministry donates funds to 119 different outreach programs worldwide each month. Her ministry receives millions of dollars yearly from donors around the world. Her television and radio programs can be seen and heard across the United States, as well as in parts of South America, Europe, Africa, India, and Asia.

Leonard believes Meyer's decision to take a reduced salary is a cautionary step. "She's drastically reducing the amount of money coming into her pocket from the ministry and increasing the amount she's getting from outside the ministry. That positions her better for an IRS investigation," he said.

Joyce Meyer Ministries spokesman Sutherland said, however, that the board began considering the decision to change Meyer's salary long before Wall Watchers called for the IRS to investigate. "There's never been any concern with the IRS finding anything other than a ministry run with integrity," he said.

Concerns regarding Meyer's financial situation have impacted at least one of the televangelist's partnerships with a Christian television network in the Midwest.

Larry Rice, director of New Life Evangelistic Center Incorporated, which operates Christian television and radio stations throughout parts of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, said the debate over Meyer's financial situation and the makeup of her board of directors has made him uncomfortable airing her television and radio programs on his channels.

Rice sent Meyer a letter last December stating he did not plan to renew her contract for the Sunday evening slot she'd previously purchased with his network for her Life in the Word program. He also told Meyer he was considering canceling her weekday slots as well. Meyer responded by canceling the contract for her weekday program herself. "We are constantly evaluating our media options in each of our markets and it is not uncommon to make changes following these assessments," Meyer said of her decision to cancel the contract.

Related Elsewhere:

Joyce Meyer's Life in the Word has a response on its web site.

The St. Louis Post Dispatchseries is available online.

Wall Watchers has information on its activities online.