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Money, Faith, & Leadership

I’m no economist by any stretch (uh, ask my wife) and spreadsheets can make me cross-eyed.


But as we all know, money is a very emotional topic.


A few years ago, Nick Hanauer wrote one of the most downloaded articles in Politico, entitled “The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats.” Hanauer, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, self-identified as one of .01% wealthiest people in America. It was a warning to his ultra-rich brethren that societal upheaval is bound to happen when economic inequities reach an untenable gap. He wrote: “The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power.”


He cites historical examples, from the French and Russian revolutions to the Arab Spring, and writes that in the last 70 years, CEO-to-worker pay ratios increased 1000 percent. “That is not a typo,” he added. “These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base.”


Hanauer and others have proposed ideas to tackle the wealth gap issue. I hope they prevail, but that’s not my forte—I’m not smart enough.


But I am sharp enough to do the one thing I can control: my own heart.


Years ago I was invited to a small gathering of megachurch pastors sponsored by the Leadership Network. It was very informal with guided conversations regarding different challenges in church leadership. At one point, the issue of salaries came up, and, of course, no one wanted to divulge anything personal. The facilitator suggested we anonymously write our compensation on a slip of paper, place them in a hat, and he would read them so we could see the range.


Bottom line: I was stunned by some of the senior pastors’ huge six-figure salaries. And now in my work with churches, I frankly am often taken aback.


Back in the day, the Christian musician Rich Mullins, who died in a tragic car accident in 1997, left Cincinnati to move to Nashville to pursue song publishing. I knew Rich when he worked in a parking lot booth in a garage downtown while I worked in the dark catacombs of the public library. We would meet for lunch and talk about music and theology…we knew much more about the former.


After Rich became famous in the song-publishing world, his royalties would have been substantial. But he had himself paid what the average worker in America made at that time—the rest was put in a trust fund to be given away to charities.


When I was senior pastor, I was not the highest paid person on staff. I had asked the board to cap my compensation. When they responded that they would pay me the same as other large church pastors and that I could then give away whatever I wanted, I told them I didn’t trust myself. I know my own heart.


I say this not from braggadocio or feigned humility—it’s probably more about my small-town Kentucky upbringing with the negative “don’t-get-too-big-for-your-britches” cultural infusion along with my own brokenness and self-worth issues. But regardless, I didn’t want to get so far removed from the economics of the average person in my church that I didn’t have a “trust-in-God” faith-element in my own life…or lose my ability to relate to them.


We must lead ourselves in order to lead others. And when I would read of the overwhelming sacrifices of the early Christians, how could I live so differently in the 21st century?


All that to say: the outsider’s perception of the Church is more critical than any entitlement claim by any of us insiders. Much of this is obviously relative; but at some point, leaders—and CEOs—have to lead the way.


And, of course, with the median church in the U.S. being sixty people, it’s more the opposite with pastors struggling to stay financially afloat.


But entitlement at any level should be rooted out of our leadership-thinking. It creeps in like a spiritual cancer when we’re not guarding our hearts and wondering simply: what would Jesus do? 



Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


Have you checked out the Elemental Leaders podcast? Over 30 thirty-minute episodes with challenging topics and inspiring interviews...along with our Fastbreak shows filled with encouragement and thought-provoking ideas for better leadership...all in less than 5 minutes! Find them wherever you get your podcasts or at the Elemental Group website.


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