Jan 272014

I confess that I have an uneasy relationship with money. And having spent a decade of my life preparing for being a pastor, I’ve given these related topics more than the average Joe or Jane. (This blog post is more of a stream-of-conscience thinking-my-confusion-out-loud, so the ideas here may not be entirely coherent and should not be quoted as such in publications or what have you.) And, granted, I live in a privileged first-world context where I have been blessed with the luxury to contemplate about money, instead of having to use all time and energy living from paycheck to paycheck, or worse.money

With recent media exposure of pastors making a lot of money from churches and Christian ministries and books and conferences (cf. Preachers of LA reality television show, scrutiny about Pastor Steven Furtick’s new home, Pastor Ed Young Jr.’s reality TV show in the works, ad nauseum), it stirs up my own discomfort with money, and what I mean by that is, those examples tend to reinforce my discomfort and dislike for money. And it’s also been noted by our US government: Large churches have come under severe criticism for being impersonal and motivated by money. In 2008, several megachurches came under IRS scrutiny due to the wealthy lifestyle of the pastors, and some of those pastors resisted investigation.

I’ve realize that many (or most?) people who like money, or love money, and want to have more of it, even working hard for it, or whatever it takes, even in ministry. But that’s not me. That’s not to say I don’t need money; I do need money because I have bills to pay and I am not financially independent.

The Bible has a lot to say about money, how the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Timothy 6:10), how a person cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13), and your heart will always be where your treasure is (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34). Those don’t resolve this dilemma for me, the desire to have good motives and then what to do with money.

There is clear biblical justification for a person to do the work of Christian ministry and earn money from it, by being financially supported by others, as it is written: “… the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14) There it is, it’s biblical to have paid pastors.

Getting paid for doing ministry is a right, a good thing, but it’s not a necessary thing. The minister can choose to opt-out. First example of this is the bi-vocational Apostle Paul, who did the work of ministry (and it is work, hard work) while funding it by himself in the tent business. He explained it in 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, “But I have not used any of these rights… that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

And when a minister does opts-out and does ministry without getting pay, that’s commendable, and it gets unusual attention from everyone. Newsweek (in 2005) noted that Pastor Rick Warren returned ”.. his own salary back to his church, retroactively, for the past 25 years… and to “reverse tithe”: he gives away 90 percent of what he earns.” (Disclosure: I attend his church, Saddleback Church)

When money is taken out of the ministry equation, it’s a whole different game. Getting money out of the way is one way to ensure altruism, or at least, to get the motive of greed crossed off the suspect list. Money does muddle motives but it doesn’t have to. There you have it: one way to unmuddle motives, the money motive anyways, is to opt-out of getting paid for ministry. A second way, is to take a reasonable salary commensurate with the average member in the congregation. And then there’s Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. Since its formation, the church has paid all of its staff members the same annual salary, which is currently $26,400. The only difference in pay is compensation for dependents.

What do you think? Add a comment with other good ideas to keep the money motive in check, both for the spiritual health of the pastor as well as a more effective public witness for Gospel proclamation.

Aside: Recently, Cameron Lee (Professor of Family Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary) posted a more thorough treatment in his blog series “Money and Ministry” with 4 posts– part 1, 2, 3, 4.

(photo credit: thomashawk)

Mar 302012

Today’s humongous $540 million jackpot for the Mega Millions lottery could really mess with someone’s or a group of someones’ finances. The odds are slightly better that several people will split the winning rather than one solitary person; even though it’s statistically impossible to win, someone does.

And what if I were to win the lottery and a large chunk of change? Here’s what I’d do (and by blogging it I’m going on the record, so that means you could call me on it if I deviate off plan)  –

  • Set aside half for tax purposes
  • Set aside 10% for as my faith expression of obedience of giving to God’s kingdom. It would go into a charitable fund and I wouldn’t give it all at once
  • Do the math with a financial advisor to set me and family on a course of financial independence based on the standard of living we currently have (debt payoff implied)
  • Set aside a world travel fund to go to 20 world-class cities around the world
  • Set aside a hospitality fund for local & regional gatherings of all sorts – conversations change the world
  • Launch a web-based webcast/netcast network for next generation voices– Asian, Latino, African American, Middle Eastern, multi-racial — to delve into real-life issues of family, race relations, mental health, vulnerability/shame, vocational empowerment, think pieces, social commentaries, globalization (not entertainment, not fashion, not celebrity gossip, not tech, not gaming, not politics)
  • Launch a R&D “skunk works” lab for non-profit innovation with a bias for long-term impact over short-term results
  • Start a publishing digital imprint for next gen leaders that need to be heard, not (only) those who can sell books
  • Establish a giving circle / community fund for the dreams of next gen Asian Americans
  • Host annual summits for gathering thought leaders that can advance needed change in: faith & race issues for evangelicals; next gen faith for minorities; minority philanthropy

Am I idealistic? You betcha!

Here’s the thing. You gotta play to win. I didn’t buy a lottery ticket. So this blog post is entirely hypothetical. What would you do if you won a large amount of money, hypothetically?

Oct 012011


Some people get paid to do what they’re great at doing, some don’t. Getting paid doesn’t mean the best performance. The thing can be whatever: singing, speaking, teaching, blogging, marketing, managing, etc. Here’s the random thing I’m thinking about this Saturday.

How does excellence in performace stack up against one’s skills and paid status? I drew up this diagram to illustrate– those who are gifted (by an act of God or some other metaphysical explanation of your worldview) will always perform better than the best paid professional. This means the gifted have an innate advantage to performance greatness. No amount of money can buy that.

Most professionals will do better than an amateur, because they’re getting more time to hone their skills and performance. The unpaid amateur doesn’t get as much time to get better at what they love to do.

Some are passionate about doing something, but don’t get paid for it- reasons vary. In an ideal world, people should get paid for their passion and skills; in a market-driven economy, money is more a factor of market conditions. Some amateurs are no good at what they do but they sure love doing it. No point bursting their bubble.
What other corollaries or insights do you get from this chart?

May 162011

I love free. I love to give my time and money away for free as an expression of faith, generosity, serving others, loving neighbor, etc etc. There’s a lot of altruism and theological and biblical reasons supporting my practices. And I demonstrate it here on my blog by keeping it advertising-free. [disclaimer: while the blog itself is ad-free, there are ads on the web pages here and affiliate links for some books etc]

So this blog is free to the readers and truly & purely free, brcause it is freely given by me without financial support by 3rd party donations. Its “sustainability” rests on my life, as long as God gives me life and breath, and does not depend on an organization or donors. It does depend on my finding other sources for financial support, since I am not financially independent, and in Christian-jargon, “tentmaking” or maybe akin to “tentblogging” (?).

I’m often confronted with the question of how a non-profit org / ministry / business / higher educational institution could possibly sustain itself if they are giving away its content for free? There are some great orgs that do give away free content, like Desiring God and Lifechurch.tv . What’s confusing and elusive for me is how they can afford to do that, to explain the sustainability question.

I am personally comfortable with the truth of God providing when we serve others well by doing something like free content. But being an ideas-guy, I need help translating that into everyday reality in an organizational context. The answer I’ve heard is that the foundational theology and biblical truth and primary principle is that “God will provide” and we should be generous. So how does that actually work? Seems like overtheologizing and overspiritualizing if that’s all that’s taught and said.

In 1 conversation where I’m asking how their org gives so much away. The guy kept firm on the importance of biblical truth and theology, and yet, that’s where I’m stuck. That answer is NOT helpful. After some tenacious pursuit for the truth behind the truth, the guy finally relented and briefly said that they’re supported by donations from donors. Sigh. Can we be real, please?

Apr 252011

The recurring question of the times in 21st century America is: “What is the church?”

My flight is cancelled. That gives me time to blog. As I’m trying to get to Orlando for a couple of days at Exponential Conference with 4,000 other church leaders getting invigorated about church planting, there’ll be quite the mix of questions in its partnership with the Verge Network, where the conversation will veer towards more about being the church, and that typically looks different than a weekly worship gathering.exponential

One question in the rethinking church subtext that’s rarely ever discussed is: if the church isn’t about the weekly worship gathering, who gets paid? (And, along with that, what kind of buildings are needed?) On the one hand, ministers who are doing the work of pastoring can be paid and deserve it. In, he Apostle Paul explained that laborers deserve to get paid, but he decided to not exercise those rights. (cf. 1 Cor 9:13-17)

At this inflection point of the church, and there may well be an increasing number of churches that would no longer have a weekly gathering. And since the church is the people and not the building, so the thinking could go, there are other ways for people to stay connected, other ways for worship to be done. Meaning, there may not be a need for a full-time paid minister. At least not a pastor as we commonly know of one as clergy. With thousands of people who have invested years in seminary training for professional ministry, if the format of church changes, what happens to their livelihood? Bi-vocational work is one option, but there’s got to be other options. New kinds of ministry jobs may well emerge.

As someone who has worked as a paid pastor, this isn’t a hypothetical question. Just thinking out loud.

[update] and found this timely post in one of the Forbes blogs about “The Seminary Bubble” by Jerry Bowyer, where he describes “the prospects are worse clergy than for other forms of professional education…” and how all that seminary training doesn’t really hone the necessary skills of preaching and leadership.

Dec 022009

As your children become teenagers, not only do you have the new adventures of her/his growing into adulthood and all that comes with that, for many it is also the financial challenge of affording college. It’s a question that’s surfaced in my own family as a parent of a teenager.

Recently I recorded this video with John Tung, who shared how his 3 kids went through college without a 529 savings plan. His kids were all born within a 38-month span, which meant he had 3 kids in college at the same time with 2 of them going to private colleges at that.

John Tung is the English Pastor at Chinese Bible Church of Maryland, so it’s not like he had the kind of salary to afford college costs. (aside: although I did overhear an unnamed source speak of an English Pastor in an ethnic Asian church with a 6-digit compensation package — a rumor yet to be confirmed)