Thinking of getting baptised? Already did? The following is the first in a series of letters describing what I wish I knew before I spent so many of my prime years in Kip McKean's churches.
Jesus is represented by the church in modern times and he - they - want(s) EVERYTHING. When I left the church, I was giving approximately 25% of my disposable income to the church, and they were pressuring me to give even more. I was also doing church activities 6-7 days a week besides working a full-time job and raising a family.
The financial giving is a primary focus in the church. All. The. Time. There is a weekly contribution that is supposed to be at least 10% of your gross (pre-tax) income, which works out to be perhaps 12%-15% of your disposable income, depending. In addition, there is a "contribution for the poor" given on Sundays. Then, there is a "special contribution" that takes place 1-2 times a year, where you are expected to give a multiple of your regular weekly giving, which is typically between 15 and 20, which means if you give $100 per week, for the "special" contribution with a multiple of 20 you are expected to give an extra $2,000 that week. You are encouraged to do fundraisers or ask friends and family to give you money to give to the church (looting Egypt / looting the world) for that money.
You are constantly being told to give money to the church. Not giving your contribution is considered the first and biggest sign of "spiritual weakness" and they send people out to see what is wrong and to try to make sure that you keep giving your money in full.
About once a year, there is a big push to get everyone to raise their contribution. If everyone just gives another $20 per week, the church will be able to reach the lost much more effectively. If you raise your contribution, they are very happy, and the idea is promoted that if you do not, there is something wrong with your heart. So there is a lot of social pressure to be giving more and more. Of course, over a couple of years, the amount of your giving just keeps going up and up. When my personal giving reached a point that I considered unsustainable, I tried to lower it, but they sent person after person to talk to me and return it to my previous level. Even when I waited to the annual time when we renewed our pledge for how much we were going to give in the upcoming year, and tried to modify my amount downward, the church was greatly concerned and sent people to coerce me to keep giving more.
All of this would be fine if the money were wisely spent. It goes to "missions" and "the work being done to save souls." Except they never tell you what the ministers and evangelists earn. In fifteen years I spent in the church, only once did I ever hear a church leader voluntarily reveal how much he made, and it was $84,000 per year for a small, recently planted church. (I believe the church membership is well under one hundred).
When Kip's previous church family, the International Churches of Christ, went through turmoil in the early 2000's, some of the salary information came out. The leader of the ICOC church where I was attending at that time was earning over $100k per year. The leaders above him almost certainly earned more, since Kip's system is to give leaders raises the more people they lead. This, of course, is in contrast with the practice of the early church of Bible, who paid its "full-time" leaders one fixed sum no matter who they were. That sum was the same amount that it gave to each needy widow in the church. It wasn't much, just enough to scrape by.
But experience has shown that today, leaders in the church do quite well. They typically live in the nicest homes in the wealthiest areas found where they lead. Even leaders of foreign mission teams to third-world countries earn confortable US-level salaries. When I heard what the leader of the mission to Chile was earning per month, and compared it to what my experience in Mexico City was, I realized that it was a salary fit for a king. Especially considering that the cost of living in Chile is even lower than that of Mexico City. Three thousand dollars goes a very long way in a city where you could rent an apartment for $40 (that was my rent in Mexico City) and buy a meaty taco on the street for $.15.
So it is a little frustrating to give until it hurts, and then give some more, and find out that the people calling you to give more and more live a higher standard of living in material terms than most of the congregation.
A friend of mine who was a church accountant (administrator) where I was attending in the ICOC confided in me recently that while there was nothing illegal per se going on in terms of money, there was plenty of "very, very unwise" use of money. And that critique matches my observation.
As many people have previously pointed out, if the goal of the Kip's SoldOut Discipling Movement is truly to win or evangelize the whole world, why not hire double or triple the number of full-time ministers and pay them less? They can still get by.
As a friend who dated one of the main leaders in Kip's old LA Church of Christ described to me, the leaders are very well taken care of. They may not have the very best of everything, but almost the very best. His example was, they will have the second-most expensive type of jet ski. Yes, they spent church members' donations on jet skis for the leaders.
But more common is the everyday expenditures on top-of-the-line living quarters and expensive dinners. We are not talking Applebee's here.
One vivid memory I have from my time as part of Kip's ICOC church in Mexico City was seeing our region leader's huge, multi-story mansion-like house in a gated community manned with private security officers, and a full-time nanny and cook. There was not a single person that I knew in the church who lived like they did, not even the US-educated MBA with a cush job.
That leader was among the most insistent that the church members give more and more. He could go on for an hour (and often did) about how we needed to be giving more money, and it never, ever, seemed to be enough. Contrast that with a poor mother in that same group who gave her only 50 pesos (about $4) to the collection plate, even though she did not have money to buy propane gas to heat any food for them that whole week. That is the kind of contrast and double standard that just sticks in your heart and makes you sick.
I should comment that after the churches split up and left Kip's influence in 2005, I noticed for the first time some of the leaders in that city living in apartments similar to how many of the rank-and-file members lived. Even though at that time I was a rabid Kip supporter, I had to admit the positive change.