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"So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong." 1 Kings 3:9
Another church is now facing questions about its decision to spend $3.6 million to purchase a 3,100 square foot condo for a parsonage for its pastor in one of Boston's toniest real estate markets. This sum is more than twice the amount Elevation Church pastor Steven Furtick paid for his home and is less than half the size of Furtick's home as well. It would be easy to be outraged by this seemingly exorbitant spending, but there are some notable differences from the situation with Pastor Furtick.
First, the church is buying the home, not the pastor, as is the case with Furtick. While the amount being spent is undoubtedly enormous, the congregation that supports the church effectively owns the building. Should the value of the property increase in the future, the church will benefit, not the pastor. In that sense, there is not a transfer of wealth taking place from the church to the pastor as there apparently has been in the case of Pastor Furtick and Elevation Church.
Second, the property is located very close to Trinity Church, the historic Episcopal church in downtown Boston. The pastor, who has already moved into the new condo, can now easily walk to work, where he often spends 12 hours per day. The former parsonage was actually an 11,000 square foot home that was deemed to be too large for the pastor's needs and was turned into offices for the church. So, believe it or not, the church was actually downsizing from its previous parsonage when it purchased this new condo for its pastor's use.
Third, the condo is being viewed as just another investment in the church's $30 million endowment portfolio, which is funding a little less than half the purchase price. Given the upscale location of the condo, it would appear to be a good long term investment option for the church's savings.
Now, that all overlooks the fact that it is still $3.6 million being diverted away from other good causes the church could spend the money on. Moreover, some would reasonably question why the church would maintain a $30 million endowment in the first place given all the needs in its community, not to mention the rest of the world. Reports indicate, however, this theologically liberal church has many outreaches to the inner city poor already. Each church has to determine how to best spend the money given to it and, if nothing else, the church appears to be governed much more appropriately than Elevation church. Additionally, it appears there is greater financial transparency as well. While many outsiders would likely prefer the church spend more of its money on the good works it is already engaged in, at least in this case, it appears the congregation has some say in how money is spent and is not disputing the decisions being made. Still, it is hard to overlook the marked contrast of the pastor of Trinity living in one of Boston's most expensive neighborhoods while simultaneously seeking to serve the poor in the area. Clearly, the church as a whole, not just Trinity, could do much to improve its reputation with the communities they serve by dialing down the opulence factor and behaving in a more Christ-like fashion. Vows of poverty are not needed, but spending decisions that most can agree are reasonable would be helpful to the spreading of the gospel as multimillion dollar parsonages clearly will be a stumbling block to the faith of some. Moreover, once such a decision is made, it becomes easier for other churches to justify similar actions. This is exactly what happens in corporate America where such peer comparisons have led to unusually rapid inflation in executive compensation in recent decades. We would sad to see something similar happen in the church, thereby undermining our witness to the world.
Here is a link to an article in the Boston Globe about this situation: