In the third and fourth points that they present, the writers of the Awake! article bring up the subject of finances and the clergy. First, point number three:
3. A paid clergy class can impose a heavy financial burden on the laity, especially when the former have lavish lifestyles.
This is a sweeping generalization that was presented with neither evidence nor example. How many of the clergy really have lavish lifestyles? Yes there are a few. In 2007, accusations of financial improprieties spawned an investigation of TV preachers including Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer and Paula White by Senator Charles Grassley who is the ranking Republican on the Seanate Finance Committee. But are these really typical of the clergy? Clergy such as those being investigated by Senator Grassley are very rare. Most clergy are not on television and do not enjoy a lavish lifestyle.
Rather than relying on generalizations based on a small minority, I did some research on just how much pastors in mainline denominations are paid. The Massachusetts United Church of Christ’s “Clergy Compensation Booklet” for the year 2000 contains salary guidelines for 2001. The salary guidelines range from $24,000 – 36,000 per annum for a pastor with 0-3 years experience serving in a church with 0-150 members to $45,000 to $67,500 per annum for a pastor with over 10 years experience in a church with over 1000 members1. The Illinois UCC guidelines for 2009 call for a base salary for a newly graduated pastor serving a church of up to 75 attendance of $32,130 and up to $46,130 for a pastor of 15 years experience serving a church of 400+ average weekly attendance2. Salaries such as these will hardly support a lavish lifestyle.
In an ancillary point, the writers try to draw a distinction between Christian clergy and Jehovah’s Witness overseers.
Christian overseers, on the other hand, care for their financial needs by doing normal secular work, thus setting a good example for others.
It is true that elders in local congregations are not paid. But neither are the elders in most churches that I know of.
The “Christian overseers” that are mentioned here evidently do not include circuit and district overseers and members of the branch committees and the governing body. All these are compensated for their work as overseers and are not engaged in any sort of secular work.
The circuit overseer is the overseer that the rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses are most familiar with. He visits each congregation about twice a year, each visit lasting a week. At the end of each visit, the circuit overseer submits his expenses for the week to the congregation he is visiting and they reimburse him for those. He is also provided with a monthly stipend, a leased car (a Buick, last I knew), health insurance, and housing. And, as I mentioned earlier, these are members of the Order of Special Full-Time Servants and as such have taken a Simple Vow of Poverty which allows them to receive their compensation and other contributions from congregations and their members tax-free.
Along with their monthly stipend, their leased car and their other benefits, circuit overseers are often greeted by some in the congregations with the “green handshake”. I knew of a couple of families in my old congregation who would slip the C.O. a hundred at each visit – tax-free, of course.
A phenomenon among Christian denominations that goes almost without notice by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that of bivocational pastors. These are pastors that also have secular jobs. Now that I have looked into this, I’ve found there are more of them than I ever realized. There are enough among Southern Baptist churches that there is a Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association. In a 2002 press release “Bivocational Ministry Emerging As Option” that organizations says “In fact, only 60-65 percent of churches have what bivocational ministers prefer to call “fully funded” pastors.”
I work with two bivocational pastors. Both have challenging positions as engineers where we work along with their pastoral duties. I was recently chatting with one of them about his schedule. He works secularly from 9:00 to 5:00 (or later) then his pastoral appointments begin at 6:30 PM and his day doesn’t end until midnight or 1 AM. Then of course, Sunday is extremely busy.
Point number 4 that the writers of the Awake! article raised speaks to the motivation of the clergy.
4. Because a clergyman may depend on others for financial support, he might be tempted to dilute the Bible’s message in order to please the parishoners.
Yet another generalization that is presented without any evidence. This is an assertion that they have made before, but with no examples. While this may occur, is it really the norm? I would say that it is much more common that a Jehovah’s Witness elder would be careful to preach and teach what he was expected to knowing that to do otherwise could cost him his family and friends rather than a few bucks.
In summary, while the Jehovah’s Witness leadership and those who write for them attempt to call into question the motives and work of the clergy, from what I have seen, most of them are people who are answering a calling to their ministries and working hard to do with is right.