When preachers come to Evangelical churches to hold revivals, preach special meetings, or speak at conferences, they are given an honorarium. Churches also pay for travel, meals, and lodging. This is the way it has always been, yet some Evangelicals today are outraged over honorariums, acting like paying a preacher for speaking is somehow wrong or immoral.
Recently, a report was released that detailed the honorariums paid out to speakers by Hillsong Church — a multisite charismatic/prosperity gospel megachurch with numerous locations worldwide. Founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston, Hillsong is at the forefront of the prosperity movement — a church movement known for material excess. According to prosperity preachers, a sign of God’s blessing on your life is material wealth. Thus, is it surprising to find out that Hillsong paid out exorbitant honorariums to preachers the likes of TD Jakes and Joyce Meyer; to find out Hillsong doled out millions of dollars to the Houstons and other family members, musicians, and scores of Evangelical preachers? Of course not. As long as churches and parachurch ministries are considered tax-exempt institutions not subject to government oversight and control, preachers are gonna grift and get paid.
What I find amusing is the outrage coming from certain corners of the Evangelical world, giving the appearance that the excesses of Hillsong and the Houstons are not found where they worship and preach. I know better.
A Christian Post headline reported that “Hillsong Church operated lucrative honorarium scheme for celebrity preachers.” The Christian Post would have you believe that the excessive honorariums and gifts are like a mob scheme to defraud innocent people, when in fact such practices are normal — perhaps not to the degree Hillsong has taken things, but normal nonetheless. This is especially the case when churches and pastors reach megachurch status or when preachers travel the preaching circuit, preaching special meetings and conferences several days a week while still pastoring a church.
We live in a day when preachers can become millionaires through honorariums, book sales, salaries, housing allowances, and “benefits.” Most Evangelical church members have no idea what their pastors actually make; preachers have numerous ways to hide their actual total income. And remember, most of their total “income” is tax-exempt. It is a great gig if you can get it.
I am not suggesting that all Evangelical preachers are grifters. I am, however, suggesting that by the time a man or woman pastors a large church or has a successful parachurch ministry, they have likely figured out how to minimize reported income and tax liability. They have likely found ways to look humble while rolling in benjamins on their beds at home.
Even in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, certain preachers used the conference circuit to rake in thousands of dollars every week, all the while drawing salaries and benefits from the churches. Does anyone seriously believe that men such as Jack Hyles and Curtis Hutson were “poor?” Only their sycophants’ would dare say that these men, and others like them, were poor, humble servants of the Lord.
What Hillsong doled out to so-called men and women of God is disgusting; a denial of the teachings of Jesus and his example while ministering to the least of these. Hillsong certainly represents the worst of the worst, but the practices revealed by the whistleblower’s reports are common throughout Evangelicalism. If the books were ever opened for church members and the public at large, the grift would be over. Or maybe not. Millions and millions of Evangelicals think the grift is God’s will; a sign of God’s blessing. What they want is to get in on the scam too. Unfortunately, as with all Ponzi schemes, money rarely flows downhill. People such as the Houstons, Jakes, Meyer, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Juanita Bynum, Kenneth Copeland, Rod Parsely, Paula White Cain, John Hagee, Kenneth Hagin, Jesse DuPlantis, and David Oyedepo — all multimillionaires, tell the hungry masses to just pray, believe, and give their money to them, and they too will be blessed by God. They never see that these modern Elmer Gantrys are silently laughing at them, knowing that the only people getting blessed by “God” are preachers in on the con.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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