A Dallas TV station, WFAA, reports that Ed Young Jr., pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, travels in a French-made private jet operated by the church, lives in a 10,000-square-foot home listed under the name of “Palometa Revocable Trust,” earns $1 million annual salary and has a number of for-profit companies related to his ministry.
“Young recently replaced his chief financial officer and replaced him with his personal attorney, business partner and fishing buddy,” WFAA reported.
There is no doubt that Young has reached many people for the Kingdom of Christ. There is also no doubt that there is a problem here.
The issues are simple. There is a lack of transparency and accountability and an abundance of wealth and opulence.
I struggled with whether I should even write about this matter. It is not my purpose to smear or cause pain. I just want to illustrate what happens when churches lose a sense of who they are and why they exist.
When I began writing, I was going to say this: “A church is a church and should not be run like a business.”
Then I remembered. I pastor a church that has taken in close to $4 million a year for the past four years. When you look at preschool, child care, camps, meals and other receipts, we are big business. Fellowship in Grapevine is a huge business.
Churches with these kinds of resources must be run like businesses. We are not “mom and pop” shops that operate out of petty cash.
The question is this: What type of business model will we adopt?
My answer is that we need a business model that allows the church to operate most like a church.
What does that look like?
Money is a reflection of priorities. How a church spends its money should be built by consensus of the larger group. I once pastored a church where every check was reviewed in every monthly business meeting. That is unwieldy. I have seen churches split over coffee pots and microwaves.
The best model just might be the model used in Acts 6. When business matters got out of hand (the allocation of food resources to widows), the church appointed lay people to manage the problem and find solutions. They found practical solutions, the problems were resolved and the church grew.
How a church handles its money is up to the local church. At Jersey Village Baptist Church, we have a chief financial officer who is hired by the church. She works closely with lay people who serve as treasurers and a stewardship committee that reviews finances closely on a monthly basis. I meet with them every month.
This leads to the next priority. Churches must use full disclosure and full accountability. Biblical stewardship requires it. That is why we met recently to talk about goals, dreams and the resources to carry that vision out. Vision requires money, and church members have the right to know how their money is spent.
All of that broke down somehow at Fellowship. There is secrecy instead of disclosure. There are no clear lines of authority or accountability. The pastor is paid like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company instead of a servant leader. In days like these when people are desperate for work, such excess is inexcusable.
At Jersey Village Baptist Church, the staff did not request or accept any raises this year. I told people: “My raise and bonus are the joy of being well employed.” That is not noble. It is reasonable.
Let’s say for a moment that Ed Young Jr. lived off $250,000 a year instead of $1.25 million a year. How many more employees could the church hire? How much more ministry could be done?
When the Jewish dispersion happened, people had to find new ways of creating community. One model was to find 10 Jewish families and form a synagogue. Then they would find and hire a rabbi. The people would tithe 10 percent of their income, and the rabbi would come live among them.
Because he lived off their tithes, he lived at the same level of income that his members lived at. Because he lived among them, there were no houses listed under hidden monikers or planes tucked away in hangars. He lived as they lived.
A church as big as Fellowship must use good business practices. Anything less would be poor stewardship. The problem is this: They chose a Wall Street corporate model rather than a Main Street business model.
It really is sad. Ed Young Jr. is a gifted communicator. Unfortunately all of that might get lost in a fog of greed and opulence.
Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston.
Ed Hogan is a public school teacher and ordained Baptist minister who lives in Houston, Texas. He served previously on the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors.