This week has seen some astonishing reporting by Charlotte media about Steven Furtick’s lavish $1.7 million new home, complete with quotes from our pirate pal, Chris Rosebrough. Furtick claims the money for the house is clean because it comes from his book sales, though he thought it prudent to hide the purchase behind a trust that was in his assistant pastor’s name. It’s unlikely that his two books generated the kind of income he’d need, especially after taxes and the money he supposedly gave back to the church, so a good deal of the house probably has come from his Elevation salary, which his friend Perry Noble helps set. If Noble approaches Furtick’s salary in the same way that NewSpring approaches Noble’s, it surprises me that Furtick limited himself to just $1.7 million. With years of book sales, salary and conference speaking fees under his belt, Furtick is probably paying cash for the house with plenty left over.
I don’t really have a problem with Furtick’s big home (at least compared to all the other things we ought to worry about with Furtick). His congregation is content to give their money to a church that doesn’t tell them how it uses their gifts, so if he can get away with a royal lifestyle, who’s going to call him to account? The members of his church give their money to an opaque organization that has rejected Biblical governance, so outcomes like this are to be expected.
A little closer to home, NewSpring is also organized in a way where its pastor’s salary is large and cloaked in mystery. The release of NewSpring’s annual report in February generated a bit of discussion about how much of NewSpring’s $34.3 million income goes to Perry Noble. NewSpring and Noble keep his actual salary under wraps, but we do know that he is extraordinarily well compensated. In an Unleash session in 2008, their Chief Financial Officer said that a Board of Directors (as with Elevation, not the same one that governs the church itself) sets Perry’s salary after soliciting a report from a CPA firm that gives them a range of salaries so they can make a decision without triggering an IRS audit. The IRS frowns on non-profit organizations that pay their CEOs excessively, so NS want to pay Perry has much as they can without running into problems with the government. The notes from the session are no longer available from NewSpring’s site, but you can review this archived version here.
So, we know that Perry is paid to just under the limit of what would be excessive from the government’s point of view. We can probably reverse engineer that thinking to make a guess at what Perry is paid. Let’s begin with two assumptions:
- Perry is the CEO. Not only is he CEO by title, he’s also CEO by philosophy. Pastors of Noble’s ilk imagine themselves to be extraordinarily gifted leaders of massive commercial enterprises. For an example of such thinking, look at Andy Stanley’s total rejection of Biblical pastoring in favor of a market-driven CEO approach. For all the shout outs that Noble sends Stanley’s way, we can reasonably assume that Noble follows Stanley’s philosophy of leadership.
- Perry is the product. Although Perry and NSers will say that NS is not all about Perry, their behavior doesn’t bear it out. Perry’s staff and congregation tweet their praise of Perry regularly. Right after the annual report came out, a NewSpringer posted a note on Facebook, happy that “Perry Noble changes lives through God.” Perhaps it was an unintentional transposition of agent and agency (and for that reason I’ll not link to her page), but it is consistent with the general idea that Visionary Noble is the man who gets things done. The other way we know Perry is the product is because they hardly ever advertise when Perry won’t be preaching. When Perry can take an advertised break and let one of his own NS pastors preach––not an imported star––, I’ll start to believe that it’s not all about him.
In Noble, the compensation committee is dealing with a leader who is unusually effective at attracting people to his church and persuading them to give money. That’s not a criticism–all pastors try to do that–, but Noble does it better than 99.9 percent of other American pastors. If NS wants to keep him (and in recent years Perry’s continued tenure at NS has been considerably less than certain given his fragile emotional state), they need to pay him commensurate with those skills, which, based on the Unleash documents, they do.
We don’t know who the CPA firm is, nor what numbers they use for comparison, but we can find our own. A report by ChiefExecutive.net calculated that the median income for a private-company CEO with $5m in revenue was $405,000, which means that half the CEOs were paid more and half were paid less. They also report that the average income was $1.3m, which means that there is a bubble at the top with a few extraordinarily well-paid CEOs. In this case, we ought to use the median figure as our base. A chart on the report shows that CEOs of companies with revenue between $25m to $50m earn somewhere around 90 percent of the overall median, so we’ll peg that at $365,000. Assuming that NS believe their pastor is more than an average leader and indispensable to their mission, we ought to assume that they’ll be looking for a range higher than $365k, but low enough not be be excessive. In this case, perhaps we can take the $1.3m figure as the boundary of excessive so they can tell the IRS that he is paid below average.
Based on comparative data, Noble’s salary for 2013 is probably between $365,000 and $1.3m. My guess (and let me be clear this really is a guess based on public evidence and logic; this is not based on what I learned from our lawsuit) is that he’s probably earning around $800,000, which would come from a combination of salary, bonuses, benefits, personal staff, book royalties and conference fees.
This is not a criticism. If I were on the compensation committee, I would argue for the $1.3m figure. If NewSpring ever lost Perry, they’d probably lose tens of millions, so he’d be worth every dime. Now that they’re in the middle of a $90m building campaign, keeping him on board is even more important, especially if they acquire debt as they build.
Here’s the criticism, though. Perry apparently doesn’t think it’s enough. For a pastor who is surely paid at least six or seven times more than almost everyone in his congregation, he asks them for financial help and freebies embarrassingly often. For example, in 2011 he asked his Twitter followers if anyone could set him up with a deal at Disney World. At other times, he’s asked for loaner cars and game tickets. Josh Maxwell, once he was no longer on Noble’s payroll, publicly criticized Noble for his I-want-free-stuff routine. On November 17, 2009, he Tweeted the following:
dear NS ppl. buy tickets to the sporting events you wanna go to… stop sucking up and kissing A! u sound pathetic
One of Perry’s pastor friends asked what he was talking about, so Maxwell clarified a few hours later:
@ChrisElrod yes. Rich ppl begging for tickets on twitter.
Of Noble’s plea for a new sports car, Maxwell offered this suggestion:
You don’t deserve one if u can’t spell it. @perrynoble camaro
My point is that even Noble’s staff, some of whom know just how much he is paid, also noticed Noble’s requests for things that he could afford himself. Why not let your less-wealthy parishioners share their wealth and toys with each other or enjoy those luxuries themselves? Perry, who claims he has no debt, surely doesn’t need additional financial help to afford life’s luxuries.
Nevertheless, when Clayton King is asked to come and speak about caring for pastors, he also tells the congregation to give Perry money and other large gifts. In a sermon on October 2, 2011, the same one where he advocated physical assault against critics, King tells a story about a congregation member who gave him $100 in cash after a sermon, then advocates the same approach for Perry.
He [the $100 giver] knows I need to be fed. That’s his way to feed me. Gift cards, emails, comments on Twitter, a Facebook message, a vacation, just a night away. Whatever God lays on your heart to do for a staff, for a pastor, for one of our ministers here at NewSpring, do it. We need to be fed.
NewSpring spent $11 million feeding Perry and their staff last year. How much more does Perry need to be fed?
Requesting personal tips from parishioners seems to be a recipe for cultivating ticklish ears. What other professions pay practitioners a salary for service, yet expect tips on top? Do you tip your professor, your doctor, your senator or your accountant? Why, then, a well-paid pastor?
Noble and King might want to rethink this, especially because Noble often criticizes non-NewSpring pastors as prostitutes because they work for a paycheck. On his blog, Noble imagined a conversation between a church member who is planning to leave the church and his pastor where the member says
If you don’t bow to my demands I will remind you that I tithe and that the church needs my money, reducing you to a mere preaching whore…one who is paid for a service for the pleasure of another person.
Perry earns a bigger paycheck than almost all other people in the entire history of the world, on top of which he expects special personal payments and treats for his preaching.
What would Noble say about that if it were someone he didn’t like?