Who Should See the Church’s Contribution Records?

collection plateAll churches have to make a decision about the confidentiality of contributions. The IRS requires churches to track who gives how much so they can issue a receipt, but otherwise the law is pretty much silent on the question.

So whoever makes the church’s deposits will know how much the checks are for, and if this is the bookkeeper, the bookkeeper will track gifts by donor. (If your church allows electronic giving, software will track gifts automatically.)

Beyond this bare necessity, church practices vary quite a bit. Here are Thom Rainer’s observations on practices: Continue reading

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Thom Rainer on Letting the Church Know the Preacher’s Salary

bible-walletThom Rainer has provided a preview of some of the salary information gathered by the Leadership Network from a survey of 1,251 churches with 500 or more members. A fuller report will come out shortly.

Rainer only deals with a few of the survey’s conclusions regarding transparency of church pastor salaries. He reports,

  1. No churches made the salaries available to the general public. That is 0%. None. Zero. Nada. Out of more than 1,200 churches.
  2. Only 1% of the churches made the salaries available to the entire congregation. This data point was the most surprising and the most fascinating to me. I knew anecdotally that most larger churches do not give out the salaries to the full congregation, but I am really surprised that “most” equals 99%.
  3. Of all the churches in the study, 82% made the salaries known to an in-house group that deals specifically with personnel issues. That in-house group includes boards, personnel teams or committees, finance and budget teams, or some sub-group of these larger groups.
  4. Many of these churches likely offer a “hybrid” approach. This fourth point is not in the study, but comes from my own consultations and observations. Many churches do not make the salaries known to the congregation as a whole, but they are willing to share the information with church members individually on request.

… [T]his research is descriptive, not prescriptive. The Leadership Network team is simply offering the results of a study. 

In Churches of Christ, I routinely encounter great skepticism regarding preacher salaries.

  • Some don’t believe in paying the preacher at all.
  • Some want the preacher to live on the edge of poverty, as his job is spiritual and involves a level of commitment the other members haven’t made (which Gospel is that in?).
  • Some want the preacher’s salary disclosed to the entire church.
  • Some want the entire church to vote on the salary (and there are some Baptist Churches that do this, but it’s not a common practice in my experience. In fact, this survey pretty clearly shows it to be next to unheard of in large churches).

Now, what is it about being large (over 500) that makes the church less likely to share the pastor’s/preacher’s salary? I don’t know, but I have a theory or two:

  • Preachers in larger churches have more bargaining power. That is, there are far fewer preachers that would do well in a larger church — and large churches are very preacher -dependent. A small church may be held together largely by families and friendships. But at 500+, our consumerist culture and the sheer size of the congregation means a goodly number of the members are there for the excellent preaching. Smaller churches make do with the preacher they have — and will put up with weak sermons for excellent pastoral care and Bible class teaching. Big churches demand excellence in the pulpit.
  • In larger churches, there is less democracy just because it’s really hard to organize that many people democratically. This is especially true as the church gets to the 1000+ range. The leadership/membership dynamic changes.
  • Members of a large church understand that they have less individual influence than in a small church. Too many cooks. WAY too many cooks. And so they either decide they have confidence in the leaders or they attend elsewhere.
    • Big churches often have lots of novice members. And they are not ready to have substantial authority in the church. You can’t run a big church with its large programs based on votes of members who know nothing of church leadership.
    • That is, a church can’t get that big if the members insist on having the influence they had when the church had 200 members. The group dynamics change — a lot.
    • But this means the leaders have to conduct themselves with great care — as they have to exude concern for the members and make wise decisions for clearly spiritual reasons.
    • The trade off for individual influence is excellence in leadership decision making. But size doesn’t justify domineering. Rather, humility and staying in touch with the hearts of the members becomes more important because members will find it harder to be heard. That means the leaders have to become more approachable and more sensitive to the Spirit’s movement within the congregation.
    • Some intentional mechanism for membership input is essential. Which is why large churches often take lots of membership surveys. I’m good with this, but don’t think it’s enough. I think there has to be something more personal, as well, such as the leaders communicating and listening through small group leaders.
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CT on Clerical Hours and Wages

clergysalariesThe chart to the left is from 2001. (I have no idea why there is such a difference between Christian and Jewish clergy.)

Much more recently, Christianity Today has summarized survey results from 2013, published earlier this year. These sorts of studies are difficult because most churches don’t report salaries to a central denominational office and because compensation for ministers is complicated by the provision of free housing, housing allowances, and such like. And then converting to a per-hour equivalent is all that more difficult as so much preachers are part-time and few punch a clock.

Overall, in inflation-adjusted wages, non-Catholic clergy made $4.37 more per hour in 2013 than they did in 1983. That figure is more than double the wage increase of the average worker with a college degree.

Over the past 37 years, the average income for American workers was $49,225; non-Catholic clergy earned $46,216. Put another way, the general population averaged $21.20 an hour, while church clergy pulled in $18.85 an hour. (Clergy that worked elsewhere, like in hospitals or administration, earned $21.79 an hour.)

Why did per-hour compensation go up, even after adjusting for inflation, when most Americans saw little increase in pay during the same period? I think it’s like due to (a) clergy working fewer hours and (b) the closing of many small, largely rural churches. Continue reading

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Leadership: CT Surveys Church Governing Boards

Christianity Today recently survey 500 governing boards of US churches. The results are fascinating.

These governing boards would, in the Churches of Christ, be the elders or the elders together with the preacher.

The survey says that the most effective boards (as they evaluate themselves) are those meeting from 21 to 40 hours per year, that is about 2 to 4 hours per month, but less than 1 hour week. The decline in perceived effectiveness isn’t huge once you hit 1 hour per week, but it’s real.

Now, I suspect most Church of Christ elderships meet more than 40 hours per year. And I imagine that most elderships would rate themselves as less effective than they wish. It’s just a really difficult job, and our denomination does next to no training of elders. And there’s no doubt that we spend more time in meetings than is really necessary — largely due to very inefficient means of making decisions. That is, we allow reluctant elders and preachers to talk issues to death — all at the expense of making timely decisions — giving any unwilling elder or preacher the right to filibuster a proposal due to our cultural insistence on consensus rather than mutual submission. Continue reading

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Gordon Wenham’s Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Narrative Ethically, Part 7 (Clean, unclean, and violence)


Clean and unclean

To the modern reader, one of the more puzzling elements of the Torah is the teaching on clean vs. unclean foods and people. There is no obvious reason why salmon should be clean and crabmeat unclean. In few cases, we can imagine health reasons (trichinosis in the case of pork), but there is no obvious reason why camel meat should be unclean.

Moreover, there are degrees of uncleanness. Touching an unclean animal, such as a camel, does not make one unclean, but touching a corpse does. Killing someone not only makes you unclean, your uncleanness requires your death!

Wenham suggests that uncleanness is based on two principles. First, some unclean things are truly contrary to the nature of God. God is the enemy of death — and so corpses are unclean — and contagiously so.

Second, some things are unclean as a matter of election. Indeed, one major theme of the OT is that the Israelites were chosen by God to be his special people just because. That is, God elected the Israelites for reasons having little to do with their merits. Continue reading

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Gordon Wenham’s Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Narrative Ethically, Part 6 (God as hero)


God as hero

Wenham concludes,

The motivation to act in certain ways because that is how God acts is thus found in a wide variety of legal collections within the Pentateuch, and it therefore seems likely that it is assumed within the narratives as well.

The importance of the imitation of God as a focus of Old Testament ethical thinking has been recognised by various scholars. ‘A person seeking a new way of life is called upon to take God as a model: “Good and straightforward is God, therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He guides the humble in justice and teaches the humble His way” (Ps 25:8–9).’ ‘For the Old Testament as we have it ethics is a matter of imitating the pattern of God’s own actions, in salvation and in creation, because these spring from a pattern which always exists in his own mind and by which he governs the world with justice and with mercy.’ ‘The Life of God models the moral life. God as experienced by Israel and mediated to subsequent generations through the canon is to be imitated as moral agent, in both character and conduct.’

Gordon J. Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 104–105. Continue reading

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Gordon Wenham’s Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Narrative Ethically, Part 5


Reading the narratives like Torah

Wenham then asks whether we should read the narratives the same way: as pointing to an ideal beyond what the narrative itself describes. Sometimes it just might be the point that the hero of the story did NOT do right and so suffered for his error. Maybe the stories are meant to point beyond themselves toward God. Maybe …

In particular, in both Gen and Judges we read of God being motivated to do what he does for his people by his own righteousness — his loyalty to his covenants with Abraham and Israel.

This covenantal loyalty is also the attitude looked for within a family, between children and parents, and between spouses. Israel’s loyalty to and affection for her God should mirror his love for her. In the psalms there are glimpses of the human spirit reaching out towards this goal.

My soul longs, yea faints for the courts of the LORD,
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Ps 84:2)

Genesis implies that mankind was intended to enjoy such intimacy with God. In the garden of Eden story Adam and Eve and their creator seem to be on the friendliest terms until the serpent upsets it. The LORD worries about Adam’s loneliness. He brings the animals to him, and then having created Eve out of a rib, presents her to him as a benevolent father-in-law would. Their intimacy is perpetuated by them all walking together in the cool of the day. Expulsion from Eden ends this age of intimacy. Cain remarks that his sentence to be a perpetual nomad is unbearable, for ‘from thy face shall I be hidden’ (Gen 4:13–14). For him, like many a later psalmist, banishment from God’s presence was the ultimate calamity.

Gordon J. Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 81–82. Continue reading

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On Vacation, But Not Exactly

destinbeach1So I’m at the beach in Destin with my wife, four sons, two daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren (four and two years old).

We arrived on Saturday, and by 5:30 PM on Sunday, I was in the Sacred Heart Hospital Emerald Coast, a newly built, two-floor hospital. By 4:00  a.m. Monday, I had been transferred to a room and connected to a Heparin drip. It seems that I had several pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lung) — which explained why I was struggling to breathe.

I’ve been seeing doctors for months now, knowing something was wrong with me but unable to get a diagnosis. Among the symptoms, a lack of stamina. Walking a block would leave me winded. So I’d been served up to the cardiologists, who were running a wide gamut of tests on my heart and finding nothing but a healthy heart.

sacredheartBut Sunday, shortness of breath became “can’t breathe,” became an ambulance ride to the hospital — which, by the way, is just like on TV. I wound up at Sacred Heart Hospital Emerald Coast, which is a small but very nice and very well-run hospital.

Well, the “can’t breathe” symptom was the clue that allowed for me to be diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) behind the left knee and several blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolisms). Not sure why, but evidently the leg clot was throwing off smaller clots that were lodging in the lungs.

pulmonary-embolism-causesSo the good news is that my health problem had FINALLY been diagnosed, is treatable, and is being treated. I feel MUCH better.

The bad news is that the treatment will last most of the vacation, oh, and it’s a condition that could have killed me. I’m told that the danger of sudden death passes about 24 hours after treatment begins, and so it’s been long enough that I likely will live to the end of the week, just in time to pack to go home.

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Gordon Wenham’s Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Narrative Ethically, Part 4


On interpreting Torah

I’m going to skip Wenham’s insightful analyses of Gen and Judges. If you ever find yourself studying or teaching these texts, you’ll want to read what Wenham has to say about their interpretation. Rather, I want to get to this point made in chapter 5:

The law sets a minimum standard of behaviour, which if transgressed attracts sanction. It regulates institutions like marriage or slavery, but it does not prescribe ideals of behaviour within marriage. Does the regulation of slavery or bigamy mean that the Old Testament endorses these institutions and regards them as ethically desirable? If the law punished adulterers with death only where the woman involved was married, does that mean affairs by husbands with unattached girls or prostitutes were permissible? If false testimony in court was subject to the lex talionis (Deut 19:16–21), does that mean that in other circumstances flexibility with truth was allowed: that slander, boasting, exaggeration, gossip could be indulged in with an easy conscience?

To pose the questions is to suggest their answer. In most societies what the law enforces is not the same as what upright members of that society feel is socially desirable let alone ideal. There is a link between moral ideals and law, but law tends to be a pragmatic compromise between the legislators’ ideals and what can be enforced in practice. The law enforces a minimum standard of behaviour. Those who fail to live up to this standard are punished. But though I may not have stolen my neighbour’s car or had an affair with his wife, I may be far from being a model citizen. I may have kept every law of the land to the letter yet be an obnoxious person to live with. To put it another way, ethics is much more than keeping the law. Or to put it in biblical terms righteousness involves more than living by the decalogue and the other laws in the Pentateuch.

On reflection these points seem self-evident. What legislators and judges tolerate may not be what they approve. Laws generally set a floor for behaviour within society, they do not prescribe an ethical ceiling. Thus a study of the legal codes within the Bible is unlikely to disclose the ideals of the law-givers, but only the limits of their tolerance: if you do such and such, you will be punished. The laws thus tend to express the limits of socially acceptable behaviour: they do not describe ideal behaviour. 

Gordon J. Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 80.

Wenham, of course, knows that the Torah often speaks of the heart and ethical conduct generally. It’s not just civil law. But much of it really is.

And, of course, the Prophet who most clearly agrees with Wenham is Jesus of Nazareth. In the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) Jesus is saying that meeting the “floor” requirements of Torah is not good enough. It’s not enough to refrain from murder. True Torah is to flee from hatred and instrumentalizing (treating as less than fully human) other people.

(Matt. 5:21-22 ESV)  21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Jesus is not legislating new laws. He’s not disagreeing with Moses. He’s telling us how to read Moses correctly.

(Matt. 5:17-20 ESV)  17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So, yes, Wenham is exactly right. Jesus says so.

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Gordon Wenham’s Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Narrative Ethically, Part 3 (The Gen 1 Worldview)


Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

One challenge presented by Genesis is that chapters 1 – 12 are difficult to connect with the balance of the book. The Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph narratives clearly connect to each other and serve to make a number of key points. But why does someone telling us about Abraham need to tell the story of Babel? Or the Flood? Is it just because these events happened or is there a uniting purpose?

Establishing a worldview

One purpose of the early chapters is surely to distinguish the Jewish worldview from the worldviews of its surrounding neighbors.

The implied monotheism of Genesis 1 is one example of the persistent critique of Near Eastern theology that runs throughout Genesis 1–11 culminating in its trenchant attack on the religious pretensions of Babylon and its tower.

Gordon J. Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 24. Continue reading

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