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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Are We Paying Ministry Leaders Too Much?

And other questions related to our annual executive compensation lists

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will offer his opinion on stories in the week’s news or, sometimes, offer a behind-the-scenes look at how and why we do what we do.

MinistryWatch’s annual lists of highly paid executives (one for Christian ministries and one for colleges and universities), just published, are among our most read posts of the year. They also generate the most questions and comments. I’m going to take this “Editor’s Notebook” column to answer some of these questions, and to ask a few of my own.

How much should ministry leaders get paid?  Some version of this question is the one I hear the most. My answer is: “I don’t know.” However, I do know that donors have a right to know this information. If a ministry does not release this information, it is MinistryWatch’s strong recommendation that donors withhold giving from that organization.

Fair enough. But David Cerullo, who tops your list, makes $4.5 million. How much is too much? If you think $4.5 million is too much, you should note that since we published this list, even more recent information has become available, and Cerullo made $9.4 million in the latest fiscal year. That’s especially remarkable given that Inspiration Ministries took in less than $40 million in revenue. In fact, the 19 highest paid INSP executives made more than $21 million. In other words, more than half of the organization’s income went to pay just these 19 executives.

But, again, we think our role is not to judge how much is too much, but to make this information plain and to highlight the outliers – and then let donors and other stakeholders decide.

That said, we give Inspiration Ministries a Donor Confidence Score of 17, which falls squarely in the “Withhold Giving” category.

So are there any other “outliers” on the list? Charles Pierce of Glory of Zion made more than $2 million, which is a lot for a ministry the size of the one he leads. It’s also worth noting that Chad Foxworth made more than a half million dollars serving as Glory of Zion’s “pastor travel assistant.” We’ve written about Glory of Zion in the past. You can find Kim Roberts’ article here.

Dr. Charles Stanley, who died last year at age 90, made more than $600 thousand. Late Great Planet Earth author Hal Lindsay is now 94, but his ministry paid him $470 thousand, and his wife JoLyn Lindsey made $750 thousand.

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Why do you publish two lists, one for ministries and one for colleges and universities? The first year we included colleges and universities in our database, 2021, they dominated the list. It became obvious that college and university executives were a different species, and they needed their own list. So we now publish two lists, thereby allowing donors more of an “apples to apples” comparison.

Why do you include Baylor and Hillsdale and Grove City on your college list? Some of our readers have told us that these colleges are not, strictly speaking, Christian colleges. They do nor require faculty to sign statements of faith, and their connections to Christian denominations are either nonexistent or tenuous. These are good points. However, it’s important to remember that MinistryWatch exists primarily to serve Christian donors, and many thousands of Christians send their children and their dollars to these institutions. We include them to provide information and guidance for these people.

Why do you include the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews on your list? IFCJ is not a Christian organization, but many thousands of evangelical Christians donate to this ministry, in large part because IFCJ advertises heavily on Christian radio and television. Again, donors deserve to see the financial information for this organization. (We’ve written about the relationship between IFCJ and evangelicals here.)

Why do you not have salary information for Billy Graham, Cru, and other large Christian organizations? We get our salary information from the Form 990s the organizations file annually. These organizations and others (you can find a longer but not complete list here) do not file Form 990s. We think this is a dangerous practice and a serious compromise to these organization’s assertions of transparency and financial integrity. I can only repeat here my assertion above: If an organization does not release its Form 990, do not donate to that organization.

These are just a few of the questions we’ve gotten in the past few days. If you have a question, fire away. My email address is: [email protected]

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.