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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Ministry Compensation

I don't know about you, but I've been more than disappointed to learn of Franklin Graham's compensation from Samaritan's Purse (the ministry he founded) and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (the ministry his father founded). Combined, these two Christian non-profits paid Mr. Graham more than $1.2 million in 2008.

This made him the highest paid executive in any Christian ministry anywhere. And while his compensation was slightly less in prior years, it still topped $750,000 in years 2005-2007 ... making him the highest paid executive in any Christian ministry anywhere in those years as well.

To coin a phrase here, "WWJD?" What would Jesus do? Do you suppose Jesus would have been comfortable living so large on the backs of two ministries that have a stated (and government sanctioned) intent to feed the poor and save the lost? Franklin Graham's compensation puts him in the top 1% of household incomes on earth. Are God's people supposed to live that way?

Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with being rich. The Bible is replete with examples of godly men (and women) whom God blessed richly with material goods (amongst other things). But those blessings came from their business endeavors. They had successful farming and other business operations through which God blessed them. They did not siphon the money off of ministries whom people had tithed to support. They did not divert money from feeding the poor or saving the lost to build their palaces (at least not with God's blessing).

So Mr. Graham, when is it that you and your boards decided it was more important for you to live so large than, for example, it was to fund missionaries or feed the starving children? When do you believe God spoke to you and said to ignore your mission and ask people to "prayerfully consider" donating their own hard-earned money to your ministries so that you could be wealthier than most people on earth? (If you detect a bit of doubt in my mind, you'd be right!)

World Magazine ( is one of my favorite reads. Recently it reported on a survey run by another of my favorite reads, The Chronicle of Philanthropy ( It is an annual survey of Christian non-profits and what they pay their top executives. According to this survey, not only did Mr. Graham out-earn virtually all of his peers (in Christian ministry), but he beat them by a pretty wide margin.

Consider, for example, Paul Crouch, the head of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) who earned $419,500. He was the next highest paid executive in Christian ministry anywhere - yet Graham earned over 186% more than Paul Crouch. Do you suppose that really reflects the contributions those two individuals made to Christian ministry ... or even the impact of their respective ministries?

In terms of dollars and percentages, Franklin Graham excelled in another category as well. Often Christian ministry executives have their compensation measured as a percentage of the ministry's overall budget (donation and grant revenue received). Mr. Graham bested them all - by a wide margin.

The compensation that Franklin took from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association represented .68% of that organization's total revenue for the year. No one else came even close to that. Paul Crouch at TBN, for example, was paid just .18% of his organization's revenue for the year.

In fact, very few of the top-earning Christian executives in the Chronicle survey were even in the double digits ... most earned less than .09% of their ministry's total revenue for the year. Rich Stearns, for example, who heads World Vision with considerably more revenue than the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), earned just .03% of his ministry's total revenue for the year.

Now to be fair, when the news media reviewed the Chronicle of Philanthropy's survey and started gasping at Franklin Graham's compensation level, he did respond. Mr. Graham asked both ministries to suspend contributions to his dual pension plans. Later he acquiesced further and said he plans to give up his salary from BGEA.

We can only assume he meant that will take place at the beginning of the new year. It will leave him with just one salary and just one pension, from Samaritan's Purse. His salary from Samaritan's Purse was more than $500,000 in both of the last two years - so we probably don't have to worry about how Mr. Graham will support his family.

Now you might think that this blog is about Franklin Graham. I don't think it is. Rather Mr. Graham is just the poster boy for what's wrong with Christian ministries everywhere. What were the boards thinking when they concluded that he could work full time for two ministries simultaneously? Who is on these boards?

The Billy Graham is still on the board of BGEA. At his advanced age though, and in such poor health, it's probably safe to conclude that he doesn't play a very active role in the decisions about how to run that ministry any more. He took a salary of $204,607 as Chairman of BGEA in 2008. Is that really a reflection of his contributions to the ministry these days? Does he not have a ministry-funded pension (like his son has)? Can he not live on that pension and his book royalties?

The Bible has much to say about money. Interestingly, money has much to say about character. And whether what money says was intended or not, people read into it what they will. One thing spiritual leaders are supposed to do is "live above reproach." I am reasonably confident that would include how one lives financially.

I can only pray that if I am ever the head of a Christian ministry, my board will take care of my physical needs with the ministry resources - but go no further than that. That is Biblical. Beyond that is probably straying into some very dangerous territory.

Our church has already launched our annual drive to give to Samaritan's Purse so that it can "make Christmas special for needy children." But I'm thinking that I could never give enough. In fact, all of the people in my church together could not give enough to even match the salary paid to Franklin Graham.

So will my giving to Samaritan's Purse this year really make Christmas special for needy children? Or will it make Christmas, retirement and all of life really special for Franklin Graham?

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