John Piper steps down...

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But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. - Proverbs 4:18

On the occasion of Pastor John Piper preaching his final sermon as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, I take this opportunity to salute the man for his financial self-discipline. We need to learn the lesson this man preaches through the way he handles his money.

First, the back story.

Some time back, David and I co-authored a post revealing the huge amounts of money Reformed men pull in through their church salaries, conferences, speakers fees, sermon and video sales, book royalties, and the salaries they pay themselves through their nonprofit businesses. We spent time on Guidestar downloading and reviewing IRS 990s filed by various nonprofit businesses including LigonierGrace to You, Masters College and SeminaryInsight for Living, and Desiring God.

The Internal Revenue Service holds to a high doctrine of original sin. They take money and conflict of interest seriously, requiring nonprofits to file Form 990 which asks a whole host of questions the government believes should inform the giving of those inclined to support these nonprofit businesses. Here are some of the questions they ask:

  • Briefly describe the organization's mission:
  • Did the organization report a total of more than $15,000 of expenses for professional fundraising services...
  • Was the organization a party to a business transaction with one of the following parties: a current or former officer, director, trustee, or key employee; a family member of a current or former officer, director, trustee, or key employee? If there are business transactions involving interested persons (relatives, for instance), provide name of interested person, relationship between interested person and the organization, amount of transaction, description of transaction...
  • Enter the number of voting members of the governing body...
  • Did any officer, director, trustee, or key employee have a family relationship or a business relationship with any other officer, director, trustee, or key employee?
  • List the organization's five current highest compensated employees who received reportable compensation of more than $100,000 from the organization and any related organization. (fill in number of hours they work per week, total salary, total other income, etc.)
  • Check the appropriate box(es) if the organization provided (first class or charter travel) for a person listed...

If you support one of these ministries, you would do well to examine its IRS Form 990 carefully to see if they are Godly in their use of the Lord's money. For your convenience, at the bottom of this post we've provided the 990s for the nonprofit corporations owned by some of the most famous preachers. I've included a copy of Clearnote Fellowship's own 990 believing what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gnat.

Form 990 information is a matter of public record. So what to learn?

Most of these men have a household income of more than $400,000 per year: they are the wealthy who will bear the brunt of our civil servants' latest tax increase.

Let's drill down into one of the more popular Reformed luminaries:

  • $45,000 salary from one of his nonprofits
  • $100,000 to $400,000 per year advances and royalties (an estimate: our background is Wheaton publishing)
  • $150,000 to $250,000 salary from his church (an estimate: most megachurch pastors refuse to disclose their salaries)
  • $200,000 salary from another of his nonprofits

A conservative estimate of this man's riches earned per year is $500,000, meaning every four years he takes in $2,000,000. This doesn't include the money he pays friends, relatives, and his son-in-law, nor his speaker fees and honoraria.

This business of Reformed preaching, speaking, and writing is lucrative, hence Rupert Murdoch's purchase of over 50 % of the Evangelical publishing business. The majority of Evangelical publishing is now a division of Murdoch's News Corporation.

Now then, back to John Piper and God bless him!

John votes himself no salary from his nonprofit, Desiring God Ministries.

In fact, unlike the others, John Piper doesn't own his nonprofit; his church does. Each year Bethlehem Baptist Church appoints the leadership of Desiring God Ministries. We challenge any of these other men to follow John's lead and place their nonprofit under the authority of their elders board. What an excellent example John is on this.

Then because Desiring God Ministries is under the authority of Bethlehem Baptist Church and John is an employee of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Desiring God Ministries has to put into the public record of their Form 990 how much money John is paid by Bethlehem Baptist each year. We see that John's 2010 church salary was $120,000.

Brothers, two things to note about this: first, it's unheard of that any of these men would allow their chuch salaries to be known, publicly; and second, this amount John receives is very, very low for a senior pastor of his position. But of course, John still has his royalties to live high on the hog from, right?


Next to Desiring God Ministries in Guidestars list of nonprofits is a foundation titled Desiring God Foundation. It has three officers: John Piper, Terry Kurschner, and Noel Piper and they don't pay themselves a penny from the foundation. They simply give money away.

How much and to whom? In 2010, Desiring God Foundation made the following grants:

  • $205,000 to Desiring God Ministries
  • $70,000 to Bethlehem Baptist Church
  • $75,000 to Bethlehem College and Seminary
  • $30,000 to Training Leaders International

Where did this money come from? Well, add it up and you'll find these gifts total $380,000 and the Pipers' foundation received income from John's advances and royalties during 2010 of $391,000.

Learn this lesson well, brothers and sisters in Christ: as John said recently in a Sunday evening sermon, he knows his own heart and he disciplines himself financially. Think about it: John and Noel use their royalties to fund a foundation that provides their church most of the salary they are paid each year. Then John turns around and gives his elders board the authority to govern Desiring God Ministries.

May God bless John and Noel Piper as they move into the next phase of their service to the Church.

* * *

Clearnote Fellowship IRS Form 990 (2011)

Desiring God Ministries IRS Form 990 (2010)

Desiring God Foundation IRS Form 990 (2010)

Grace to You IRS Form 990 (2010)

Grace to You/Masters College and Seminary IRS Form 990 (2010)

Insight for Living IRS Form 990 (2009)

Ligonier Ministries Inc IRS Form 990 (2010)

(TB, w/thanks to the IRS)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!