Friday, August 21, 2015

Where John Piper gets it Right: On Christian Stewardship

The exorbitant compensation which Franklin Graham receives from his non-profit organizations was recently the subject of a report by Religion News (HT: William Birch). Christians should be angry and disgusted by these numbers.

John Piper on Finances

Though I disagree with much of his theology, one person who has always impressed me with his handling of finances is Dr John Piper.  Below is an excerpt from a 2013 interview; we would do well to follow this example:
When did you first realize you would need some plan to handle the money earned from your speaking and writing? Were you ever tempted to keep the money for yourself?  
With the successful sales of Desiring God starting in 1987, I saw that there could be substantial income from writing and speaking. I resolved that I should not keep this money for myself but channel it to ministry. I never doubted that the Lord would provide us with a salary that would be sufficient for our family. So I saw no reason to keep the money that came in from the books and speaking. These royalties and honorariums were being earned while I was pastor of Bethlehem, and so it seemed the church should benefit from them, not me privately.   
At first, I thought I could do this simply by channeling the royalties to the church, but realized soon that this had tax implications. Since these royalties were technically in my control as the copyright holder, giving all of them to the church made me liable for income taxes. So we created a foundation. The Desiring God Foundation now owns all the copyrights of my books and intellectual property, and receives and distributes all the income. I have no access to the money at all. I do sit on the board of the foundation with my wife and five others. This board safeguards the aims of the foundation, and makes the decisions to which ministries the income should be given. It is a thrilling ministry.   
In addition, we made the decision that all honoraria would go to the ministries we represent, not ourselves. That was usually the church while I was pastor, and now is Desiring God. While I was a pastor at Bethlehem, I never received an income from Desiring God. So for the last 25 years or so, we have lived on one stream of income. That is still the case, as I am now paid by Desiring God. I have never been in any serious need. None of this has felt like a sacrifice. I know myself incredibly rich by the standards of the world. Beyond all doubt, it is more blessed to give than to receive and keep.

Form 990s

While we should be disgusted by Franklin Graham's compensation, no one should be surprised by it: salaries are reported every year on Form 990 in the USA (which many organizations include on their website--check their "About" page and their "Donate" page--if it is not there, you can always request a copy) and in Canada, salary range is reported by the CRA (link).  As stewards of the resources God has provided us, we should always review the finances of every organization before we donate to them.  With the information we have available to us, we are without excuse for continuing to support those who take over and above their need from money designated to the poor.

Further Reading:

  • David and Tim Bayly, "You cannot serve God and wealth..." -- including Form 990s from a number of ministries, including Desiring God, Grace To You (John MacArthur), and Ligonier (RC Sproul).

…the Church must do more to speak out against the utterly evil nature of the prosperity gospel.  

Along with the legal loopholes and the desperation of those in need, I think part of the reason scamgelists™ are still able to practice their nefarious trade is the fact the Church doesn’t do more to confront, condemn, and counteract their wicked ways.

To his credit, Dr Piper has also been vocal in opposing prosperity teachers. See for example, this Sermon Jam:

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