Thinking Out Loud

February 12, 2011

Justifying Your Paid Ministry Position

I want to return to something that was in the link list on Wednesday; and I’ll simply re-post the item and then if you didn’t read the pieces you can skim them and we’ll meet back here:

  • Okay this one was overdue.  Fox KTLA’s report begins: “Crystal Cathedral’s chief financial officer –- who received a six-figure housing allowance from the now-bankrupt church –- has retired after 33 years with the organization. Fred Southard, 75, said he believed it was time to let someone else have a chance at his job, and that he wanted to help the ministry reduce expenses.”  Yes.  Definitely.  Give that six-figure job to someone else now that there’s probably not enough money to support a four-figure job.  Of course, Southward justifies himself as the job was once “a ministerial function” albeit in “the early days.”

So what was your reaction?

Richard Deitrich (click image) writes: According to the LA TIMES this is Fred Southward's home, so you can see what $132,019 in housing allowance a year can buy - must be a pretty expensive pool guy!

This is a job that probably started out, as stated, with “ministerial function.”  There was probably a lot of contact with other church staff and many opportunities to interact with parishioners.

And I’m 99% sure I know what happened next.

Everybody got really, really comfortable.

The paychecks kept coming in.  Or maybe, in this case, the housing allowance continued. The calls got screened. The travel junkets increased. And that became the status quo.  It then continued the way it had always been and since the ministry was growing and flourishing, there was no scrutiny, no belt-tightening, no need to rethink everything.

On the other hand, I love how the guy spins it so he looks like a hero in his retirement, “I have to do all I can.”   That of course, needs to be weighed again what 33 years at the church as brought him; note the statement, ‘He owns a home in Newport Beach assessed at $2.3 million, property records show.’

Nice non-work if you can get it.

Ever since King David mentioned the gladness of going to God’s house, actually getting to serve in the temple has been a privilege.  Should there be term-limitations?  An insistence that all ministry positions be bi-vocational?

In this story, you can’t miss the irony of this statement:

“The cuts made by the church were not done quickly enough and they were not deep enough,” he said Tuesday. “There were a number of factors that snowballed to get the church to where it is today.”

Remember, Fred Southward was the children’s pastor, no wait a minute, he was the choir director, no he was Chief Financial Officer.  If the cuts weren’t made fast enough, it’s because they weren’t made fast enough by him.  That was part of his job description. That’s what executives get paid (and get housing allowances!) to do; to see the trends, to forecast the budgeting, and to make the required adjustments. Ahead of time.

In the comparison of Crystal Cathedral staff and supplier winners and losers, Fred Southward was a winner.

Bankruptcy court filings also showed that the cathedral paid out more than $2 million to 23 insiders, mostly members of the Schuller family, over the 12 months leading to the cathedral’s Oct. 18 bankruptcy. The church’s revenue dipped by about 25 percent, more than 150 employees were laid off and numerous creditors went unpaid.

…So let’s return to this article’s title.

How many other people are there out there who are on the payroll of a local church or Christian organization who have a nice gig with a plush office and would have no problem if asked to justify their salary and perks?

Bible College students are graduating and — with no experience — walking into full-time Youth Ministry positions that start at $48K.  No salad days.  No need for a second job. No dues to pay.

No wonder it’s so easy to get your ministry motivation corrupted when you’re doing it for pay. Also, let’s face it, any one who starts comfortably will expect regular pay increases; they’ll expect future placements to come with more money and benefits.

The Apostle Paul continued to ply his trade while singlehandedly spearheading efforts to take the gospel to the farthest parts of the known world. He does ask churches to set aside money to support those who preach God’s word to them. But he doesn’t seem to, as the saying goes, quit his day job.

Pastors in the third world church know nothing of salaries and housing benefits. (‘Yes, I’ll travel for three days through the jungle to attend that conference, but it’s going to depreciate my sandals and I’ll expect a mileage allowance.’)

So why do we not only do it that way here in North America, but do it to excess?


  1. Just can’t wait to hear the C/Cathedral doors are shut tight! I cor. 13, 1.JL

    Comment by Joe Lambert — February 12, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  2. This is complicated. It wasn’t meant to be, but we made it that way. The blame, I think, belongs as much in the lap of the congregation as the ministers. Ours is a generation of professionals. We pay others to do what used to be a normal part of life (ie. cleaning our houses, painting our walls, tending our children, mowing our lawns)This seeped into the church. One pastor was not enough. We needed specialists and they cost more and more as they perceived the market need. We got used to just showing up in shiny well run buildings with nothing to do but sing and listen. Of course it is atrocious what this man was paid and for how many years. Christ must have cringed. But I sense a growing trend to going back to simple church…where the pastor is paid an average of what the congregation earns and every one pitches in to make it all work. At least I pray that is the trend!

    Comment by Cynthia — February 12, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    • A lot of people would agree with you. Small is the new big.

      I wonder what will happen to all those mega buildings?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 12, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

  3. “So why do we not only do it that way here in North America, but do it to excess?”

    Not in the Mormon church. It’s totally a lay ministry at the local level. Only the full-time “General Authorities” working out of the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City receive a salary (and of course their office employees at the church’s office building). They don’t even have paid custodians anymore. And full-time mission presidents who serve for three years do so at their own expense, often at great sacrifice leaving their businesses for such an extended period of time.

    I’m not the tooting the LDS church’s horn (I have my own personal reasons why I have no vested interest in doing that, really), so please don’t take it as pinning a brag tag on them. However, you gotta admit it’s pretty marvelous how they operate so effectively at a pretty high level as far as their churches, temples, and other facilities and programs go.

    Perhaps instead of being paid in the currency of money their leaders and sundry workers are paid in the currency of ego boosting.

    Comment by Paul — February 12, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

    • Your last paragraph notwithstanding, there’s absolutely no reason why some other church groups could not operate under the same model.

      But transitioning existing churches in this direction would be painful to do and painful to watch!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 12, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

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