(Photo: Saddleback PICS Ministry / Don Haynes)
Prominent media coverage of many of the nation's leading Christian pastors often places their lives and actions under the public microscope. From Joel Osteen's recent CNN interview, to last week's Elephant Room conferences, the very public lives of the country's top religious leaders frequently bring strong criticism. With many of these pastors leading churches with exploding congregations, and with many having best-selling books, one of the most vulnerable areas for criticism for them stems from their finances.
A recent article by The Huffington Post highlighted this issue, and it was claimed that the best paid pastors in America can receive hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars each year.
However, looking at the clergy jobs in America as a whole reveals they are layered like much of the rest of the country – only a select few pastors take in a large annual income; but those who do tend to contribute hugely to a wide range of charities and community outreach efforts.
According to a Slate.com survey, many Christian pastors receive a much more modest salary than many of their religious counterparts. Rabbis for example, who often lead larger congregations and spend more years in training, make as much as $140,000 a year, according to the Slate.com report. Their Catholic counterparts, however, who are spread around much smaller churches, make about $25,000 to $30,000.
Other Christian denominations fair better. A 2007 survey by Out of Ur showed that Baptist youth pastors could make around $44,000 a year plus housing, and Baptist senior pastors could receive up to $67,000 a year, while some Presbyterian seniors hit the high mark at $78,000.
But the very top paid pastors in America are leaders of large churches with more than 2,000 members, The Huffington Post revealed just days ago. In its report, it identified pastors Rick Warren, Franklin Graham, Ed Young, Eddie Long and Joel Osteen among the top 5 highest earners, and shared links to information about their annual incomes and the property they own.
Most, however, such as Osteen, Graham and Warren, have completely given up their annual salaries, and conduct huge amounts of charitable and community outreach works.
Rick Warren, is also reported to have calculated the 25 years of salary he had previously received from Saddleback Church and donated it all back to the church. Warren has also established and leads a number of charity organizations conducting vital works for individuals and communities around the world. "Acts of Mercy," which helps people affected with AIDS, and "PEACE," which seeks to educate leaders, assists the poor, cares for the sick and educates the next generation, are two examples of Warren's charitable outreaches.
"We not going to change our lifestyle one bit. I still live in the same house I've lived in 16 years. I drive a 10-year-old Ford truck, bought my watch at Wal-Mart. You know, to me if you've got a good pair of jeans and a comfortable T-shirt, you don't have a whole lot of needs," Warren shared with MSNBC news, talking about how he does not allow the money he receives from his best-selling books to affect him. Warren's massive bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold more copies than any other book in history other than the Bible.
Franklin Graham's charity, Samaritan's Purse, is also one of the biggest global charity organizations – it has operated for over 40 years providing desperately needed assistance to victims of natural disaster, war, disease, and famine. The organization offers food, water, and temporary shelter, and meets critical needs to give people a chance to rebuild their lives following disasters.
Eddie Long from New Birth Missionary Baptist Church has an outreach that provides vital services to local communities. His church established Christian Shelter Ministries, which serves the less fortunate by providing worship services and hot, freshly prepared meals, as well as The Evangelism Education Department (EED), which trains leaders and churches in evangelism techniques and how to share the Gospel with others.
Ed Young from Fellowship Church helps to lead an outreach to provide for U.S. troops serving overseas – his program, Support Our Troops, offers ongoing support and encouragement to troops serving the country by providing them with various items not available to them due to their sacrifice and work.
In an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, Joel Osteen was challenged with a question about how some megachurch pastors earn seemingly extravagant amounts.
"I don't think we have to apologize for God's blessings," Osteen said. "But money is not the focus of our life. It never has been."
He also insisted that everyone who follows God can be blessed, and in many different ways, and not necessarily through finances. Osteen highlighted other important blessings, such as health and happy relationships, which along with money, should be received thankfully and be used to bless and help others.
"We are blessed to be a blessing and help others," Osteen explained.