God’s Accounting

God’s Accounting

I saw a new red Dodge Charger today. It had a sports pack of options on it, wider tires, with extra trim. It growled as it quickly pulled into the right hand lane and zoomed past the rest of us pee-ons that opted to stay in the regular lanes of traffic. With windows tinted out, one could only assume whatever regional stereotype is associated with the car was driving it, ego maxing out to the red line, daring anyone to get into a pissing contest. Nothing about this scene was out of the ordinary, such things are seen everyday on streets around the world with different brands of vehicles representing the haves of a certain geographical area. However, there was something different about this scene. On the back window was a fancy font emblazoned sign that stated, “Lamb of God”.

Lamb of God.

You know I may not be a theologian but I am not aware of any hermeneutic that would put Jesus Christ in a shiny red Dodge Charger ripping through the streets of any city. And then it occurred to me that among the many pop-up Christian assemblies that adorn every street corner it would seem the prerequisite is to have the name of one’s personal kingdom logo’d on some high-end model vehicle.

Now it is not that I have something against the ‘name-it-and-claim-it’ prosperity gospel messengers – to each their own I say, as what I am talking about goes way beyond any TV evangelist. This isn’t about one corner of teaching. I am not drawing attention to the prosperity gospel message that seems to be structured similarly to something Bernie Madoff himself would contribute funds to. No, what I am talking about is built into the yearly budgets of most every church of every size and every Christian denomination.

In Canada, a pastor can receive something called a Clergy’s Allowance through the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), which basically allows the pastor to claim a living allowance equivalent to market value on rental rates. This ends up being a dollar for dollar reduction of their taxable income. So, if the market rent was $1,200 for a 2-bedroom home that could roughly translate into a $24,000/yr reduction of their taxable income. This is available for any registered church in the country, whether there are five people in attendance every Sunday or five thousand.

Then there is another fancy word thrown around the accounting office of churches and that is ‘honorarium’. Others may call it ‘pulpit supply’ or perhaps even a ‘gift’ but in the end it is where the pastor has the agreement that if they conduct weddings or funerals or preach a sermon at something outside of their own church that there is an ‘ahem’ attached to that offer of service. Interestingly enough, under CRA rules if a pastor receives one or more of these ‘ahem’s’ from the same place and it totals more than $500 in a calendar year then the other organization is obligated to put the pastor on their payroll. Consequently, the most common language used here is ‘gift’ as it tends to cut out a lot of unnecessary paperwork.

Depending on the size of the church there may be other ‘expectations’ added into the mix, such as regular attendance to conferences as an example. Often, if the pastor is married the spouse will attend, all at the expense of the church, yet it is overlooked that the spouse’s expenses being covered by the church is a taxable benefit provided to the pastor. Add in a book allowance, petty cash, and access to funds such as a benevolent fund, designed to allow the pastor to make discretionary purchases for people in need as an example, ideally anyway.

In the end, when you take a pastor’s base salary and add in these factors you end up with someone living tax free with a lot of potentially undisclosed financial benefits. To make it comparable to the congregant’s salary you should think about it this way: If a church strives to pay their pastor the median amount of everyone who attends their church, then when all of these additional benefits are added into the equation what that church actually has done has paid their pastor at least 30% more than the median salary earned in that church.

This now makes sense that I am seeing red Dodge Chargers roaring around town with ‘Lamb of God’ stickers on its back window and BMW’s with “Living Faith Ministries” written along the side of the vehicle – they need to have some way of writing off the burdened expense of their personal transportation.

All in the name of the Lord I suppose.

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7 thoughts on “God’s Accounting

  1. Just reading a few of your posts and it seems that there is a lot of anger there that seems to be motivating broad brush conclusions about the church, pastors and christians in general.

    You are allowed to be a angry as you want, really it is between you and God, but if you actually want to find a church to worship you may want to check on that and see where it is leading.

    Yes, there are the Joel Osteens and the fancy car driving pastors out there – do you know that this was one here — and yes there are tax breaks available to pastors in Canada and the US, but the majority of pastors out there make very little money and are not the least bit interested in money or fancy cars. Our last pastor worked another job for 10 years in order to serve the body of Christ. Yes, there are jerks in church who don’t care about other believers and yes there are people who have been burned by other churches, but we are commanded to meet as believers together to force those issues to the surface and then deal with them in a biblical manner. Dealing with them helps us grow as believers and also often shows us that we are actually “them”.

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    1. Or perhaps I am projecting my early church experience here — after we left the mega church model I was stinking angry at what was going on and it took me time to work through it and see people’s sins vs. God’s beloved Church. If I am reading incorrectly, I apologize

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      1. Nah, no problem Thomas. If there is anger present then let’s call it out. I am not doing myself any good carrying that around with me. It is my cynicism that I am trying to monitor – one tends to get quite jaded from one’s life experiences and a soft and tender heart can easily dry out and become hardened. This is my greatest concern that as I walk this journey in the now will I miss those tender moments where I can genuinely impact people’s lives with the love that Christ would expect us to offer? Working in an inner-city mission with broken people stuck in hard addictions is hard enough to keep in check my heart so it doesn’t grow cold from seeing so much brokenness and not enough transformation.

        A context for where I come from with my current commentary is present in this blog – a life story as you will, beginning life initiated into a cult, journeying into eastern mysticism, then into the occult and then a radical transformation in my later teens to Christianity, followed by all the crap that life throws at you on a regular basis, such as suicide and a loss of a child, ect… It is a constant battle to make sure that I don’t just sit in my rocking chair on the front deck waving my cane and yelling at everyone walking by… 🙂

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      2. It is a constant battle to make sure that I don’t just sit in my rocking chair on the front deck waving my cane and yelling at everyone walking by…

        First, that is just funny.. and so true.

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    2. Interesting Thomas. I wonder this from time to time – not that I am full of anger but perhaps put a different way, whether I am becoming so very cynical and jaded toward life. Your last sentence intrigues me because on one aspect “dealing with them helps us grow as believers” seems to be a bit of a brush off, meaning a catch phrase like saying Jesus is the answer without really explaining how that is the case. Perhaps this is just another sign of my cynicism, however I am interested in learning and growing in Christ and learning exactly what that means – ‘dealing with them’ – that is. Just this morning in my office I opted to put on some worship music and as often happens my colleague caught me dancing and singing to the songs. My personal time to deliberately pour into my parched soul – longing to find a place to worship with others but strangely enough not having much luck in doing so.

      When I have talked to others in the past about this type of thing I am intrigued with how often their response represents an expectation of behavioural change required on my part. Like I am suddenly the problem because I have expressed a concern with what I am seeing and experiencing. Such a statement is so harmful and not helpful in the least in the sense that it portrays the church as being above reproach and that there is nothing wrong systematically in what the church does – that the problem will always be with the person who expresses a problem with the church. I am not at all saying this is your approach but without pause in conversation to clarify these types of points such conclusions tend to be made and an opportunity to walk in unity quickly dissolves.

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      1. Last point first, nope, churches can be totally and completely wrong and as Paul and the general structure of life as a believer in Christ makes us empowered to question anything that does not conform with the Scripture I have no problem with questioning and point out where the Scripture and practice collide. Paul called out Peter in Antioch likely in front of the entire church because of a sin issue that was effecting the entire church and called for false teachers to exposed and shunned. Believers can be wrong too — it is just figuring out which it is in each situation.

        Cynical, maybe that is a better description – you know you better than I.

        No, I was not trying to type a feel good message, I was just speaking from my own experience though I was thinking of the old Pogo (maybe) cartoon where the main character says “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us” so that may be part of it. Part of my church experience been learning to love and forgive people while I think they are being stinkers and in the process often realizing that either I have been the problem, my attitude sometimes stinks, or that Jesus has been teaching me how to be like Him or to simply totally rely on Him by forcing me to deal with stuff.

        To explain what I mean perhaps a recent example will help — I was greatly hurt by someone I had been discipling – details don’t matter but I did have legitimate reason to be upset. I felt betrayed and just hurt by what he had done and had some sleepless nights dealing with it. So when he called after about 3 months plus for advice on an issue boy did my flesh rebel – I am not telling you squat was what I wanted to say before praying and swallowing my pride realizing that the guy is just confused and did not mean to hurt me or my wife and Jesus loves Him very much.

        While we were talking about his issue, I realized that the advice that I was giving him was the advice that God was telling me — you do what is best for the one you love in love and lay down your life for the one you love no matter how much it may hurt, if it is the right thing to do because that is what Jesus did. I wanted to weep while I was talking with the guy as I was thinking about how many times Jesus has done this for me and he had no idea what was going on.

        So I thought it was him, yes he messed up and hurt my feelings, but I also was being selfish and prideful and not loving him like I should.

        Not sure if that makes sense but I was praying for him because I thought he needed help and he does, but I needed a ton of help too and the Lord was faithful to provide so in a strange way I am grateful for the hurt.

        Sorry,, I don’t mean to make it about me — just fresh in my mind.

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      2. It’s about us – this whole thing – this blog – these comments back and forth – us, two people sharing life’s experiences and understandings from it all. We learn, we apply the learnings, we make mistakes and we hit one out of the park every once in a while. I appreciate you sharing your story and your perspective and your learnings. May we find encouragement from one another and perhaps somewhere in our ramblings we even find a nugget or two to chew on. 🙂

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