I’ll Pay You Double

Last night I was playing at a church coffee house. During rehearsal, we joked about the rates for ministry service. “I’ll pay you double” is an old ministry joke. Of course, the base for ministry service is $0. The reward for service is priceless and most volunteers are not motivated by making money through service.

Sadly, this is not true for all types of ministry activities however.

Consider Joyce Meyer.

Joyce Meyer Ministries teaches Bible to a virtual congregation. She is a traveling road show with a multimedia connection to followers. Meyer, 61, offers a gospel of prosperity: God rewards tithing with his blessing. But her own conspicuously prosperous lifestyle includes a $2 million home and a $10 million jet.

Here is a segment from Wall Watchers:

Based on 2002 audited financial statement figures, JMM’s revenue was about $80 million and assets of about $72 million. JMM’s revenues seem to be witnessing a healthy increase and are now reported to be in the neighborhood of about $8 million dollars per month, and approaching $100 million annually.

Some potential troubling aspects about the financial situation include salary and perks, including housing and transportation (multiple vehicles, watercraft and a jet). JMM has generally kept these matters closed, except to that of their substantially family-run board, which are on the payroll and may be receiving some of the perks. Many donors want to know if salary and perks are reasonable when they give and especially if they are encouraged to give sacrificially. JMM is officially organized as a church for Internal Revenue Service purposes; however, it is likely that not too many average church members would view Joyce Meyer Ministries as a traditional congregational church.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch labels the housing situation as “The Meyer Family Compound.” The JMM organization purchased the five homes for Joyce Meyer and her family as the “parsonage.” However, this “parsonage” is worth about $4 million, and has a collective square footage of about 23,358 feet, according to the newspaper. In addition, the organization apparently continues to pay for all expenses, including landscaping, lawn care, property taxes and rehab work. If this situation is legal, it is at the very least giving a black eye to every congregational church in America, because this situation seems excessive and perhaps even abusive.

Others have seen other areas as troubling and they also have problems viewing this organization as a traditional congregational church. The Jefferson County Assessor has raised the issue and his view is that the 52-acre JMM $20 million headquarters is a business. He has said it consists of a 158,139-square-foot office building, a 35,020-square-foot distribution center and a 5,000-square-foot automotive maintenance center. The assessor seems to think that the purposes being held are not purely charitable, but are being held for private or corporate profit. The assessors’ – “commercial supervisor strolled inside the buildings and concluded, “the entire operation has the look and feel of a business – the business of selling religion and, specifically, Joyce Meyer religion.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/15/2003, “Jefferson County, Meyer joust over tax exemption”).

Ranging from incredulous to indignant, Meyer responds that ministry expenses are not cheap, further explaining that her husband “just likes cars,” and that she cannot accept that God would expect His people to endure squalor while the ungodly enjoy wealth. Indeed, in response to question by a Post-Dispatch reporter as to whether or not her pay and perks, which are to be “reasonable” by IRS standards, were excessive, she said, “Ministers either have a parsonage that their ministry pays for – like the Pope lives in the Vatican, which is very nice – or they can take a housing allowance and own their own house.”

I’ll pay you double… indeed.

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