Dec 10, 2012

How Much Money Does It Take?

In my judgement, one of the biggest ways that Kip's church* differs from Jesus' church of the first century is how it deals with money.

Kip's church is, and always has been, very money-focused. Money focused as in, constantly pressure all members to give more of it to the church. There is a weekly contribution to which members are "encouraged" to give 10-plus percent of their pre-tax income. Then a separate weekly offering for the poor. Then a once-or-more-per-year "Special Contribution" where members are sent out to fund-raise amounts expected to be 10-15x of their regular weekly contribution...
In my case, just before I left the church, and for the months and years leading up to that moment, I was giving just shy of 25% of my annual income per year to the church. That's a lot of money. Now multiply that by a few thousand members in current membership. 

In the first-century church that Jesus established, church leaders did receive a salary from the church, it's true. However, it was a poverty-level income that just barely allowed them to scrape by. It was the same income that was provided to other needy members of the church, such as elderly, incomeless widows.

Fast-forward to today. That's a far cry from the income and lifestyle of leaders in Kip's church. "Ministry costs," that is, salary paid to the ministers, are by far the biggest expense in Kip's churches. Rental costs for meeting locations, while often cited when leaders are rallying for more contributions, are actually a relatively tiny part of the church's budget.

Critics have long pointed out that if the goal were truly to save the world, church leaders could live easily and comfortably on half of their current salaries, and then hire twice as many full-time church staff, basically doubling their effectiveness. While I have not discussed this possibility with Kip myself, it boggles the mind to think that he could be completely oblivious to this fact.

The church does not reveal exactly how much it pays its leaders (note: that is a huge red flag in itself) but the information that they begrudgingly provide as required by law is easy enough to decipher to get a pretty good idea. They divide ministry compensation up into categories so that the salary column looks as small as possible. Housing (called parsonage), expenses, health care, and misc, and maybe other columns that I am forgetting at the moment, are all separated out. But if you add them all together, and then divide that sum by the number of paid ministers, you start getting close. You should also keep in mind that higher-ranking ministers earn a but more than lower-ranking ministers. 

By this method, I can responsibly estimate that Kip and Elena McKean together cost the church somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000 per year. 

Which, for business leaders, would not be unreasonable.

And yet for the church Jesus established, completely, utterly out of line. But, as I explained earlier, Kip's church is a business before all else. Kip wants to set up a religious franchise, and of course the guy at the top of any successful franchise is always handsomely rewarded. Church publications have repeated many times the comparison of the church to Starbucks and other chain businesses.

Church representatives have used the argument that the leaders have high expenses, as Los Angeles is one of the most expensive cities to live in the US. This is true. But let me add a splash of reality to those assertions.

However as supposedly the one true church of Jesus Christ in modern day, that salary is easily four or five times larger than it reasonably should be. 

While living in Los Angeles and attending the church, I managed to get by just fine while earning less than $40k a year, giving close to 25% of my income to the church, paying down thousands in student loans and saving up other thousands in my rainy day fund. (All without a penny of assistance from government, family, friends, or anyone else.)

So maybe you can understand why it's hard for me to understand why the church should relentlessly fundraise just to pay its leaders up to FIVE TIMES that amount for a household of half as many people (McKeans' two people to my four).

Maybe you can help me understand?

23 comments:

  1. Karl - the issue of the paid minister (there are a minisule amount of references in Scripture) is a newer phenomenon, relatively speaking.
    The issue I have seen, particularly state-side, is the set-up of ministry staffers based on the world's model of salaries, benefits, etc. (With the exception of the housing allowance, etc.). As a former administrator/accountant/controller in 2 church families, I can tell you that there is little to be shown for the monies paid to church staff and the growth they represent. Benefit packages, even without retirement expenditures, make the business model, if you will, a very counter-productive methodology of 'doing church'. the worker is worth his wages, I fully understand, and many do such hard work! However, one would need to posit a response to the obvious question: Is such a structure NECESSARY in order to fulfill the Great Commission? Only under circumstances bred into ICC/ICOC mentalities is it closer to reality that such a structure is 'necessary' to carry out the Commission. In honesty, if one were to take a look at what movements were able to do prior to the 1980's through today - it's pretty humbling to note the lack of such intricate structure and spending of monies. Just a snipit of my concerns with this model of doing church.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, and I totally agree! There is no need to have the constant high-pressure fund-raising built in to every aspect of church life. Please email me through the contact form on the right to see if we can talk some more.

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  2. What makes the ICC's obsession with money even more ironic is the fact that Kip and Elena own and reside in a waterview condo in Marina del Rey, which they purchased for $650,000.

    And yet, he constantly calls his flock (many of whom are working-class families and single moms) to give sacrificially.

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    1. Thanks for the tip! After reading your comment, I wrote a blog post describing my experience at that very condo that you mention, which can be found here: My Visit to Kip McKean's $650,000 Luxury Condo

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  3. You all do know that their salary covers all expenses right? This includes housing, weekly contributions and special contribution. All of these things, plus other basic living expenses, are factored into the amount they "earn" in their paycheck. That's the reason that these ministers opt to live in higher end places and preach their guts out about giving...they do not sacrifice a bit for their contribution and this whole system leads to their thirst for more $$. Similar to politics, even the good hearted get tainted once they're getting paid.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. Yes, ministers who work in Kip's organization receive generous compensation, and even "sacrificial" parts like the special contribution are calculated in from the beginning, so that it doesn't have to crimp their lifestyle. Notice where ICC ministers (and ICOC ministers back in the day) live: always the nicest part or almost nicest part of whatever geographical area where they "serve." And always with some reason about why they live there, which is never, "Because we like living in the nicest area possible." And sometimes even defended with outright lies, such as the many-times-used, "They have a wealthy relative who helps pay their bills," That one was used many times, and was a blatant lie in every case with which I am familiar. And yes, I think that many of the ICC evangelists start with pure motives, or somewhat pure motives, only to have them corrupted with wishes for job security as time goes on. Incidentally, I believe that this is actually what Kip wants, because it allows him to exert greater control over them, which is what he seems to want more than anything. Control, and a piece of the pie (3% of contribution from each participating church is sent to him as a franchise fee.)

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    2. I had an financial admin tell me that ministers lived in nicer areas so they could be amongst the "sharper, more influencial" people and so they could be comfortable, because they work so hard. Regarding Kip, I think he truly believes that he is the modern-day Apostle Paul. All laughable.

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    3. Yes, that was one of the common lines that they gave to explain the obvious double standard. Not that I ever saw even one solitary person converted from any of those neighborhoods in all of my years in the church / cult.

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  4. I am sure the leaders are making a lot of money. Traveling more than 2 times a years to different countries is not a cheap thing, also living in expensive places, and in this case I am talking about the leaders in Brazil, Morenos, and in Chile, Mejia... Both of them are traveling and spending money in expensive house, restaurant, clothes, hotel.. But I also saw the gift that Helen Sullivan has received for her birthday: a car! I am not from The United States, but I can tell is not the cheapest gift..
    you guys can check in this link: http://instagram.com/p/u7AGu9C0h0/?modal=true

    Her daughter posted a picture saying:Hope u like the car
    http://instagram.com/amandasullivan_23

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    1. I remember when I lived in Mexico during the time Kip was leading the ICOC my region leaders in the Mexico City ICOC lived in a huge house in a gated community with private, 24-hour security, full-time, live-in servants, kids in private schools, and the best of everything. At the same time I remember a single mother who was giving her contribution every week even though she often did not even have enough money to buy propane to heat up the food for her children. It angered me then and it still does today. The leader would get up and go on and on and on every week about how everyone needed to give more and more money. His salary and personal expenses were, by far and without question, the biggest expense in the region of the church. And I never saw a penny being given to help this poor lady. It was a wealthier part of the city but not even the wealthiest members of the church lived the lifestyle of the church leaders, not even the guy working at a multinational company using his American MBA.

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  5. I am currently in this church and I am afraid that if I leave the members will not leave me alone or will make me feel like God doesn't love me anymore. But, I have noticed some contradictions. I have had panic attacks, their is no balance in my life. I have started questioning life entirely. It is all not normal.

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    1. Mostly they just move on to find another victim to use after a short time. The ICC teach a wrong view of God, people are saved by grace not works. I would recommend looking at www.freedomofmind.com the ICC is not a church it is a cult, find a healthy church and the cultic side effects go away.

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  7. What satan meant for evil God has used for good. Through your naive faith and pure heart for God, you served Him in a ministry you now do not agree with. This ministry gave you milk and you graduated to meat. You are showing signs of maturity. You can be thankful for what you have learned and that the Lord delivered you. I cannot help but enjoy the irony of God COMPLETING A GOOD WORK REGARDLESS OF THE ERROR PRESENT and the snare before placed by CHRISTIANS. You have benefited from your faithfulness. You have been the bearer of much fruit. God has made you a beacon of hope for others lost in a similar past. PRAISE JESUS

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