California megachurch Pastor John MacArthur’s ministry denied he makes more than $500,000 annually from his Grace to You media ministry and defended the stewardship of his collective ministries' finances on Tuesday after a recent report suggested his private lifestyle belies the modesty he preaches at the pulpit.
“The questions and quibbling innuendo that have been published on the Internet regarding John MacArthur’s income and stewardship are rooted in misinformation. For example, a report has been floating around online for some time that John makes more than half a million dollars annually from GTY. Totally false,” Phil Johnson, GTY executive director and an elder at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, said in a statement to The Christian Post on Tuesday.
“That idea is wrongly extrapolated from the fact that GTY’s 2011 990 tax form (ten years ago) reported $400k in ‘salary and benefits’ paid to John. That figure reflects a one-time gift—a rare 1st-edition KJV Bible given to John to honor the completion of his verse-by-verse exposition of the whole NT. It was an expression of thanks for 40 years of faithful ministry. John in turn gave the Bible to the seminary’s collection of rare manuscripts and early Bible editions,” Johnson explained.
Johnson’s statement came in response to questions from CP about a report published by independent journalist Julie Roys last Wednesday highlighting that while MacArthur is well known for preaching against the prosperity gospel, financial statements and tax forms show that MacArthur and his family run a religious media and educational empire with more than $130 million in assets that generates more than $70 million a year in tax-free revenue.
Roys also reported that MacArthur, his family, and related companies have been paid more than $12.8 million from ministry and donor funds and the megachurch pastor owns three luxury homes worth millions.
It was further revealed that MacArthur’s Grace Community Church resigned from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability after Roys raised questions about the ministry’s compliance with membership standards, such as the timely release of financial statements on request, and concerns that two of MacArthur’s sons have served on GTY’s board along with their father.
MacArthur’s son, Matthew, remains on the board of GTY and has been listed on every 990 since 2002 as the treasurer. His other son, Mark, has also been listed as a GTY board member on every 990 since 2002.
Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Mark MacArthur, 52, along with a wealth management company he founded, with defrauding their advisory clients in a $16 million real estate investment scheme.
GTY has also reportedly paid MacArthur’s son-in-law, Kory Welch, and companies Welch owns millions over the years, according to Roys. In 2008, Welch, who’s married to MacArthur’s daughter, Melinda, was earning a salary of $83,677 as director of television broadcasting at GTY. He also received a $20,000 no-interest home loan with total debt forgiveness from GTY.
The following year, Welch began working for GTY as a video production contractor through a company he formed two years earlier, called The Welch Group. GTY reportedly paid The Welch Group $741,000 for “post-production services” that year.
Johnson, who reportedly also served on the GTY board for many years, defended their business practice.
“We do lots of video, and we bid out the contract. We chose John’s son-in-law’s firm because 1) his company’s work is excellent; 2) he has easier access to record John than any other videographers would; and 3) his bid was competitive. Our payments go to his company, not him personally,” Johnson said.
“It is not personal salary paid to him, despite what some have claimed. We save money by not maintaining our own video production department. The critics who seem so eager to sully John’s name with controversy are busybodies guilty of sinful scandal-mongering. As far as I know, no one who has any actual firsthand knowledge of John or his lifestyle has ever accused him of extravagance or poor stewardship,” he continued.
Johnson did not respond to specific questions from CP about Grace Community Church’s resignation from the ECFA and the accountability organization did not provide a response in time for this report. He insisted, however, that his boss does not live an extravagant life.
“John is paid a modest but reasonable salary by Grace Church. Lay elders review and approve his salary annually, using information gleaned from careful surveys. They take great pains to ensure that John’s salary is well within the upper-medium range for California pastors’ salaries. The same process is followed with equal care by the board of directors at Grace to You. (Board members with blood relationships or employment connections to John MacArthur recuse themselves from those decisions, to make sure there are no conflicts of interest.) Professional auditors and an impartial audit review committee review all such decisions to add two extra layers of accountability. John is not paid an exorbitant salary by either organization,” he said.
Without sharing any specifics on MacArthur’s income, Johnson said it was possible “that most of John’s total annual income comes neither from the church nor from Grace to You but from book royalties paid by his publishers.”
“He has written numerous best-selling works, and his commentaries and the Study Bible will no doubt be in print long after we are all in heaven. John earns a fair author’s royalty for all those works—and all of that income comes from the publisher, not from any of the three nonprofit organizations John serves,” he said.
“No law requires an author to make book royalties paid from his publisher public information, so the ‘facts’ about John’s total annual income being reported by a small group of critical bloggers are pure speculation and (frankly) well-salted with cynical false assumptions.”
He urged people to pay attention to MacArthur’s lifestyle, such as living in the same home for the last 40 years and owning just one car. Johnson further noted that MacArthur “doesn’t always fly 1st class.”
For flights longer than three hours, he explained that MacArthur, who is 81, needs to fly business class for health reasons.
“Contrary to other noisy claims once made [in 2014] by a certain angry blogger [not Julie Roys], MacArthur, … since he almost died of pulmonary embolism a few years ago, it’s not good for him to be immobilized in a middle seat on a long flight. So when we at GTY make his reservations for flights more than 3 hours, we do put him in business class whenever we can so that he can move around and stretch more easily,” Johnson said. “He’s in his eighties and often has to preach multiple sessions immediately after arrival on an overseas flight. It’s hardly an unreasonable expenditure.”
MacArthur recently slammed some of America's biggest churches for supporting a culture of corrupt, “superficial Christianity” and making a lot of money doing it. He also asserted that the internet is now making it harder for “phonies” to survive.
He explained that one of the things he likes to do is to call the church to repentance, but it was a tough call because “superficial Christianity made a lot of money” and “elevated a lot of charlatans.”
“It was successful. The biggest churches in America are part of it. It was very hard to call people to faithfulness when you could be so corrupt and so successful in Christian religion. That was the battle. Now I think there’s a sifting and a shifting,” he said before alluding to sex scandals surrounding prominent Christian figures like late apologist Ravi Zacharias and former Hillsong Church Pastor Carl Lentz without mentioning their names.
“First of all, phonies are going to have a hard time hiding with the internet. We’re seeing one after another after another. Dead ones and alive ones. This dead apologist had a deviant sex life. This cool dude rock and roll pastor was immoral with multiple women for years and years,” MacArthur said.