The Market Cost of Discipleship

Historic and influential Riverside Church in New York City installed its new pastor Sunday, despite a congregational conflict that ended … Continued

Historic and influential Riverside Church in New York City installed its new pastor Sunday, despite a congregational conflict that ended up in court and exposed the new pastor’s annual compensation package to public scrutiny.

According to news reports, the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton, who follows in the laudatory footsteps of James A. Forbes, William Sloane Coffin and Harry Emerson Fosdick, will receive an annual base salary of $250,000, a monthly housing allowance of $11,500 (the Braxtons are living in a luxury high-rise), monthly entertainment and travel allowances, and free tuition at the church’s day school for his 3-year-old.

It’s not investment banker money, but who knew preaching the gospel of a man who told his followers to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor could pay so well? Should it?

Congregation members, embroiled in controversy since Braxton was selected last fall, are divided again on whether the church’s board is paying their pastor too much.

“Where’s the social justice in this?” said Diana Solomon-Glover, a member of the church choir and one of the petitioners in the suit, told the New York Daily News. “We have an economic crisis in the country, and none of the church staff are getting raises this year, but a few people at the top are getting these huge salaries?”

Dr. Billy E. Jones, council chairman of the 2,700-member congregation, said in a statement that the new pastor’s compensation was “in line with other religious leaders in Manhattan who minister to congregations of a similar size and scope.”

Scott L. Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research told the New York Times that the average base salary of 105 megachurch pastors surveyed in 2008 was about $150,000, with the highest-paid receiving about $300,000. That doesn’t include compensation from TV or radio programs, book sales or stadium shows.

Again, that’s not CEO or rock star or pro athlete money, but should it be Christian ministry money? In a world where 25,000 children die every day because of factors related to poverty, should Christians be paying or earning $11,500 a month just for one family’s rent? In a world where a billion people live on less than $2 a day, should Christians be paying or earning the same annual salary of 125,000 other people?

Associated Baptist Press published a fascinating story on the subject of pastor pay back in 2007. Ohio pastor Steve Clifford argued that gospel ministers should be paid even more than pro athletes and CEOs. “What value can you place on someone who regularly leads others to eternal life?” Clifford asked. “Ballplayers and Wall Street executives get a lot more money for doing something that’s not nearly as important.”

Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, on the other hand, pays all of its staff members the same annual salary of $26,400, plus $400 a month for a spouse and $275 a month per child for up to four kids. “Our view is that God doesn’t value the work of the pastor more than he does the secretary because God called us all to use our spiritual gifts,” Jeff Abshire, Antioch’s administrative pastor, told ABP. “Aren’t we all called to fulfill the Great Commission? Aren’t we all called to preach the gospel?”

In his sermon Sunday, Braxton, 40, said critics of his pay package were “mistaking molehills for mountains.” He told the congregation that his priority would be “the sacred business of moving mountains.”

It seems his moving expenses are covered.

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  • hodedofome

    It’s the congregations fault for not knowing the salary of their pastor to begin with. I would never tithe to a church that pays it’s leaders like that. The apostles did not live lavish lifestyles so how can these folks justify it. Anywhoos, the congregation has a right and an obligation to know the finances of the church – they should have known the salary going into this. If the leadership says it’s a private matter then I would leave the church and join something more transparent and open.So other pastors in the area get paid the same huh? Does that make it ok for CEOs to get paid ridiculous salaries and bonuses when their stock dropped 80% because other companies do the same? Is it ok for mutual fund managers to allow their fund to drop 50% because the other funds did the same? Gimme a break, stop comparing yourself to other churches and use the Bible as your guide. The New Testament Christians sold all they had and distributed it to those in need, these guys are just a bunch of jokers.

  • homesower

    People are free to leave if he is not worth his money. However I have a question for this pastor. Are you tithing on your salary? Did you give the 10% back when it hurt to do so? Did you pay the price to justify your salary while asking those who go to your church to go without?I won’t prejudge his answers. He may end up sowing back most of what he gets into the kingdom, but I expect there are many in his position who havent, who don’t and who won’t. And that is wrong.

  • DavidBarron

    Pastors should get paid the same as any other entertainer, and their agent should get 10%.Perhaps church-goers should consider giving their money regularly to an actual non-profit rather than their social club.

  • beforegod

    A LIFE (made of PHOTONS) is “PRICE-LESS”!So his Human (no matter what title) should count “How Many LIVE/LIFES HEW/SHE , directly or indirectly, saved during one LIFE (Phononic-ESSENCES’s) “TIME” via Holy-i TEMPerature awarenes; JUSTLY for a Clock-‘time’!A.K.A.; When WE [i] YE goeth, inevitably Soeth, WE [i] Never Count the “Material” only the :L-O-V-E!

  • kwbinMD

    @40acres A point of correction. Priests do not take an oath of poverty. Nuns do that. Priests are paid a salary. In the case of my parish, our priests are paid by the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.

  • gce1356

    What would Jesus charge?

  • gce1356

    “You have turned my father’s house into a den of thieves!”(Didn’t someone famous once say that?)

  • Anoutsideview

    As a preacher’s kid, I earned more than my father the day I started my first real job out of university. And of course, my parents tithed to the church and gave to other charities as well. We lived a comfortable, if basic, life. My parents could certainly have earned more in other professions but they, like most of the many ministers I have met, were happier than many of those with much larger incomes. Both Riverside and Rev. Braxton might want to consider why they are paying and getting the money under consideration.

  • awatts1

    Tithing was under the law. There is no Israel today. You are in the dispensation of the grace of God where there is no Jew or Gentile. We are one in Christ Jesus. We are to be cheerful givers. That being said, if that’s what a church agrees to then by all means. It is just what happens when people are lovers of themselves and think they are the ones that should get the glory and not the Lord Jesus Christ. No one wants to study the Bible to know what it really says. People want to read all the great stories about Israel and about how they were blessed but oh don’t give them their curses! If people would study their Bible righly divided, people could understand scripture and wouldn’t need these ego driven people that have no clue what the real gospel is that’s found in 1 Cor 15 1-4.

  • rrbranch

    First, it’s nobody’s business what a private organization decides to pay its leaders. Having said that, I would add a pastor’s salary should reflect the economic circumstances of his congregation. If they are poor, he should be content to be poor too. If they are rich, they should be willing to pay him well. The point being, there being so many possible sources of contention in the pastoral ministry, money should not be one of them.

  • katavo

    I’ve never really been to a church, except the ones converted to museums in Europe maybe. Do people in a megachurch do the wave? Are there guys walking around on the floor with giant rubber bands flinging bibles into the pews?Are there scantily clad young ladies doing the bump and grind during half-time?Hot dogs, get your red-hots.

  • tampaguy691

    As a general rule I feel that all these so called “mega church” pastors are shameless hucksters fleecing their ignorant, gullible parishioners for all they are worth and the people that allow it are fools. All organized religion is a fraud intended to line the pockets of the “leaders” of the cult. People are such idiots.

  • schaeffz

    Preachers, like other professionals with education, etc. should be paid accordingly. Take the average of the top 10% of congregational wage earners and pay the minister that wage. As fortunes of the congregation rise and fall, so does the minister’s wage. If the minister does a bad job and loses members, especially the higher paid members, then her/his salary goes down. Likewise, the other way.

  • elwoll

    Je$u$ $oul$ $alvation

  • CCNL

    All pastors, preachers, rabbis, clerics/imams, priests, bishops, and popes should be “pink slipped” and replaced with large screen high definition TVs.

  • hemnebob

    even though the article states the obvious,

  • AustininDC

    Christians “should” pay whatever they want to pay their pastor. Christians can associate or not associate with churches that are open about salaries or not open about salaries. We may question their wisdom, but their choices are amoral.

  • clearbeard

    If these people want to pay this man that much money, and maintain him in such a lavish lifestyle, then by all means they should. They are only hastening their own descent towards damnation by choosing someone for whom the love of money is that paramount to lead them. Just where he ends up leading them is something else entirely, but let them keep their delusions if they wish.

  • Dremit97

    The hustler preacher is a long tradition in the black community. People go to church for entertainment as much as anything else. These preachers are half standup comedian half motivational speaker and all hustler 24/7. As long as it’s all out there and in the open, it’s all good though.

  • onestring

    Disgusting. You cannot serve both God and mammon.Mother Theresa worked a lifetime of service to the poor while in poverty herself.I’d like to know how much the overpaid pastor donates to charity each year. Somehow I doubt it is anywhere near $250,000 a year, plus 11,000 for housing each month.Since when is it appropriate for a pastor who is paid by congregation donations meant for the poor to seek such lucre?DISGUSTING!

  • Revcain777

    Yeah, I am not wild about him getting that sort of dough, either. But, most pastors in the USA earn a school teacher’s salary or less. Pastors as whole are far from rich. But, insofar as this church. We have freedom of religion. If people want to attend a church were the pastor makes $250k, then they are free to do so.

  • Plix

    After reading these comments, the amazing thing to me is that as a godless heathen, I apparently understand the messages in the Bible better than most self-professed Christians. I know you have to be a little dimwitted to buy into archaic superstition as indisputable fact, but for those of you missing the point: fleecing the flock for over $350k/year while the homeless eat out of trashcans is definitely NOT WWJD-type behavior. Only an idiot would profess to believe the tenets of the bible while supporting the gluttonous lifestyles of their “spiritual leaders”…

  • patriotleft

    There are several considerations here. I like, “anout sideview” who posted above, am a Preacher’s kid who grew up in a loving family with only basic accomodations. I also made more than my Father at my very first job out of school; he definitely did not get into the ministry to make money. Therefore it is a bit of a shock to see what some of these mega-church preachers are making. On the other hand, those who think the Minister should just wear sack cloth and ashes are misguided as well. My Father had to pay for his college education and graduate school (seminary). He worked all hours of the day and night preparing sermons, counseling couples for marriage, visiting the sick, burying the dead, etc. Not to mention the management task of having a staff and many volunteers to coordinate for daily church events. It was a bit hard to take when some of the congregants would complain about my Father’s (meager) salary, while they were making vast sums taking advantage of others at their stores, car dealerships, and law firms. I agree with the poster who said the minister should be paid in line with the other professionals in the congregation – after all, here is a well-educated, hard-working man or woman who needs to support his family just like the rest of the people in the church. I would venture to guess that very few of the Manhattan congregants live on much less than 500k a year – just a guess.

  • mnlennon

    This outrage isn’t about Religion, it’s about good old fashion scamming the Fools. As P.T. Barnum once noted, there’s a new fool born every minuet and These Leeches that call Themselves “Men of God” are simply Businessmen preying on the Gullible. They are exactly what Jesus ran out of the Temple of Moneychangers. As long as the Fools keep buying the scam there will be Hucksters there to help relieve Them of Their cash with the promise of Eternal life They can never deliver on. To call Them Men of God is a misnomer, Their Pure, unadulterated Thieves, not unlike the Bankers on Wall Street selling subprime mortgages. They aren’t helping Anybody to Heaven, Their filling Their Pockets for Their Own Earthly Pleasure.

  • whocares666

    Pa$tor$ using the Lord’s name in vain.

  • t_seitz_brown

    The salary compensation package seems outrageous compared to that embodied in the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus…and perhaps this can become an opportunity for us to examine the plank in our own eyes instead of the specks in our neighbor’s eye. For we who are critical of the pastor’s salary, what are WE doing to embody the Jesus who preached good news to the poor?

  • mudd94

    I used to feel the same way as many on this form, but I and another Christian spoke about this in depth and we concluded that the pay of a pastor is and should be relative to the congregation size and wilingness to tithe. So if you have a church with thousands of members with varying ranges of income giving an average of 7%, then one could expect a pastor to have a significant income. Now the 7% comes from an estimate of the amount of laypeople giving 10% or more and folks not giving 10% or not giving at all. Say you have a church of 100 people and one person is a millionaire, then that person gives 10%, well that would be 100K. Now of Course tithing money does not all go to the pastor but you should my point.

  • mudd94

    And to the comment about the church in Texas, the cost of living there is much different than the cost of living here in the northeast. Therefore, if the optimal situation is to not have clergy work, then in this part of the country that salary would not be substainable. I know this because my wife went down to Harlingen for a Christain fellowship and I looked at the housing prices there. What 100K buys you in Texas doesn’t get you much in Conn., NY, PA, or NJ.

  • floralindsay-boston

    My My MY…. As Marvin Gaye would say what’s going on.. Maybe if these mega churches were required to pay property taxes on these mega churches like home owners do, they wouldn’t be able to pay these big “A” salaries. They take up tax base property and are 100% tax exempted. Lets look at these laws and maybe we can changed them to help the working poor. Yes give then a tax break, but not 100%. Ok elected officials what do you think? or maybe I’m out of touch? We need to work together. Tax payers are asked to give up raises, cut back,etc. so how about the chuches giving something back. I think the minsters could get to work in a chevrolet as well as he/she can get to work in a Mercedes, etc.

  • thegraneys

    He should earn whatever the going rate is for a big job like that…so long as he has to pay taxes like the rest of us.

  • billy8

    Wait… these guys get paid??? Do catholic priests get paid??? I guess I assumed those preaching the word of god did so for free…

  • KennyBoy

    Although $11,500 for rent seems outrageous consider also that a decent studio apartment in NYC goes for $3,000 plus fees. It is an expensive place to live. None the less, I could live very, very comfortably in New York on what the good pastor earns.

  • Wallpass

    Questions like these never have a ‘one size fits all’ answer. Too many variables involved. But the way the question is asked, it alludes to the answer that the questioner hopes to hear and that is, ‘yes, they make too much money’. Which it shouldn’t. What do you think the cost of maintaining the ministry of the Pope costs on an annual basis? A lot, most likely. Is that unreasonable for a leader of millions of followers? Depends.

  • jkoch2

    Religion is a sub-division of marketing, preaching is a brand of sales pitches, and churches are no dissimilar to crowds of sports fans, movie-goers, Las Vegas tourists, or Wal-Mart clients. The CEO (Chief Evangelizing Orator) will naturally be compensated much like any executive or celebrity. It’s a business. All that nonsense about the blessed poor or the trouble about rich folks getting into heaven is simply a clever pitch to persuade the congregations to render a greater share of tithes to their worthy CEO. Corporate exec-comp boards do even sillier things.

  • katavo

    It’s all about what the market will bear. If this pastor can trim the suckers for a quarter million a year, plus living expenses, who’s to say the pastor doesn’t deserve it?You know the suckers deserve it. Only wish I’d thought of it first.

  • forgetthis

    A pastor’s salary is church business, and it should not be a secret. Our church’s expenses are public information. That’s the way it should be. And 11,500 for a monthly housing allowance? Unbelievable! That’s one of the reasons I’m having a hard time paying my tithes. The pastor at the church I’m currently considering leaving has bragged about his private plane that he owns and the airport where he parks it. He has also bragged recently about a free trip to Hawaii and said that he didn’t want to say anything because of the ‘haters’. I was appalled at such behavior. I don’t mind other people having more money than myself, but a little humility please! I shudder at the thought my tithe money is paying for the fuel in his private jet. That’s why I’m waiting ’til I find a ministry more worthy of my hard-earned dollars.

  • 40acres

    Whatever happened to the oath of poverty? I guess it was only meant for priests. These ministers are taking advantage of their church members and gaming them. I will not tithe to a church with a high power minister. It’s absurd. We have to remember that “some people are called to the ministry and others GO just to profit”. Folks just to figure it out and not support or attend churches where there are extravagant ministers and lifestyles. Apparently one does not have to have a conscious when knowingly ripping off a church.

  • kjohnson3

    “In a world where 25,000 children die every day because of factors related to poverty, should Christians be paying or earning $11,500 a month just for one family’s rent?”The first half of this sentence holds up for scrutiny the complete hypocrisy and absence of integrity on the part of those Christians who are anti-birth control and anti-abortion.They scream loudly and long about protecting the rights of the embryo while ignoring the plights of the more than 9 million children in this country who die every year due to poverty-related issues.Yet another aspect of Christianity that would thoroughly appall Jesus.

  • paris1969

    He is getting $11,500 per month housing allowance? … what? … bet he can’t wait to get to heaven and be equal to all others!!

  • CCNL

    The following should be posted on the doors of every Catholic and Protestant church and then the doors should be locked forever:(for those eyes that have not seen) Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, On Faith panelists) via the NT and related documents have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus’ sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects. The 30% of the NT that is “authentic Jesus” like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus’ case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.Current crises:Pedophiliac priests, atonement theology and original sin!!!!Luther, Calvin, Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams et al, founders of Christian-based religions, also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of “pretty wingie thingie” visits and “prophecies” for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).Current crises: Adulterous preachers, “propheteering/ profiteering” evangelicals and atonement theology.

  • bianca3

    As a former member of Riverside, it makes me sick to see the church’s name dragged through the mud over all of this. Without going into details of the current conflict, I’d like to clarify for Patriotleft who posted above that the vast majority of Riverside congregants certainly do not make $500K per year. Most people in NY don’t make that kind of money, and certainly most residents of Harlem, from which the church draws many of its congregants, do not. To put this in perspective, the salaries for the new senior minister and his second in command will consume about 90% of annual pledges, which will almost certainly result in cuts to programs that serve the community. That, in a word, stinks.

  • snowed1

    My prayers for a most difficult situation; in examining the “whole” package of benefits paid to the Pastor, be sure to check on retirement contributions, home equity support, gym membership, domestic help, professional development, private club memberships which may be hidden from view. What are the value of each of these; the IRS counts all of these items as “income” and so it is.