Servants' News

Sept/Oct 2001

Letters About the UCG-IA Audit Analysis

In the July/Aug 2001 Servants’ News, on page 9, there was an Analysis of the CPA’s annual audit report for the United Church of God, an International Association. We received the following informative responses to that article.

 

Letter: Concerning the UCG financial report, I know that the Elders are paid a salary. I would imagine that this is included under “ministry”. The deacons are unsalaried. Our minister covers four churches and if each church has an elder this would account for a good deal of the money allotted. I don’t know how much they receive. It could be that the report you published is misleading and is doing a disservice. I realize that UCG, at least the hierarchy, have an attitude of being the main church but there are some very dedicated and hardworking individuals involved. Our elder has to do 3 out of every 4 sermons and it is the same for the deacon and his sermonettes.

My hope is that we can, in time, all see ourselves as God’s Church working together. Is being part of a corporate church a sin to be repented of as Gary Pifer seems to think? I am finding the thought somewhat unsettling. I will continue to read your publications as I find them a wonderful whetstone. I want to be informed and not fed only what my local church offers.

Also I would like to know what other groups are operating in my area of SW Wisconsin. Can you direct me to any?

Most sincerely,

— Don Anderson

Response: There is no doubt in my mind that some—probably most—of the ministers of corporate churches work very hard for what they are paid. Ministers in corporate churches have been responsible for much Bible teaching, serving brethren, and many other good works. Ministers in corporate churches have also been responsible for teaching error and hurting the lives of some brethren. But these same good and bad things have also happened in independent Churches.

So is it a sin to be in a corporate church?

“Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin’” (John 19:41). For decades, I was blind to the problems of being in a corporate church. God seems to have a very light judgment upon people who really did not know what was right to do (Luke 12:47–48). After doing all of the research to write How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?, How Do We Give to the Eternal? and Starting a Local Congregation, I could not go back to work for a corporate church with a clear conscience. But most people who work for them do not have this knowledge.

Serious sin enters the picture when people have knowledge of what they do (God knows what we know!). If a person in a corporate church is deliberately avoiding reading about or thinking about this issue, God may hold them more responsible. But the real issues of sin come up when a person in a corporate church has to decide between their church and the Bible. When people in corporate churches conceal or participate in corruption in order to keep their job or their friends, that is a sin. When people make unjust decisions based upon corporate doctrine or policy when they know that the Bible or the facts of a situation would warrant a different decision, that is a sin. It is these kinds of sins that most need to be “repented of”.

Might there be a time when a minister realizes that the corporate structure is not what the Bible teaches, but prays and believes that God wants them to stay in it so that they can honestly serve people and gradually help them to see the truth of the issue? He did allow righteous Daniel (Ezek 14:14) to work in Babylonian government for nearly his entire life (Dan 1). Daniel had to stand strong in the face of threatened punishment at times when he chose to follow God, rather than the human leaders. Corporate churches are not Babylon and represent far less of a problem. Nearly all righteous men have to work in imperfect systems to accomplish His purpose. Honest ministers in corporate churches probably experience times where it would seem a lot easier to “go along with the corporate practice”. But like Daniel, they can still stand up and do what is right.

— Norman Edwards

 

Letter:

Hi Norman,

My name is Stuart Segall. I pastor a UCG-IA church in Sedro Woolley WA, and help out in some outlying areas as well. I have read Servants’ News for several years, maybe five. Yes, I am a paid elder. I graduated in 76 from A.C. and have been an elder for about 22 years. Since David Hulme was removed, I do not feel I have ever been asked to do anything against my conscience as a UCG-IA elder. I have always read your publication with respect and an open mind. On page 9 of the latest issue with the UCG Audit, may I add just a few things for your thoughts?

When I was hired, I was told our 2nd tithe was withheld for us and given to us at the Feast time at 9 percent. 1 percent held as tithe of the tithe. I was never ever under the impression that it was a “bonus”. I asked several others before I wrote you and all felt the same. My salary is exactly the same as it was 11 years ago in WCG. For years I actually made less, and it was only last year that I was given my salary equal to what I received 11 years ago.

I make $45,000 plus the $4,050 2nd tithe saved for me, totaling $49,050. My congregation knows this. Most of the guys my age and tenure make the same. I work long hours 7 days a week often, and at age 47, I do not feel this is unreasonable. I have a wife and two teens. My wife serves countless hours in all capacities for the congregations we serve. They love her. Similarly, the vast majority of UCG pastors are married and have wives who serve as much. I am sure there are exceptions, but they are indeed exceptions. Our wives are half our ministry and yet that is only in service. There is no remuneration of any kind, financially speaking. It would be so reasonable for you to see this in the humble, but positive light that this should be seen in.

We publish a pay scale range to all the members. Some managers and department heads and long-tenured ministers make more so I am sure that is why the average must be larger. I do believe we could and should be more open about that beyond the pay range. Dixon Cartwright once published that in The Journal (or maybe it was in In Transition under John Robinson).

I do not know about my health insurance as far as costs, but I can tell you we have a $1,000.00 deductible, and then we pay 20% of everything except dental, which we pay 50%. We do not get any “in between the lines” perks. We have an annual conference and if I want to attend, I have to pay my own way.

We are told not to accept free goods and services from the members of our local congregations because such things have been abused in the past. In the old WCG structure there were reports of a small number of ministers who accepted goods and services that were noticeable in size or value. However Mr. Armstrong taught us not to, and we were from time to time reminded of that from Church Administration all the way through the early 90s. I have never been served in such a capacity. There are times I would have desperately appreciated it though. We are taught strongly servant leadership. Thankfully I am happy to say that with my peers, I know of none who received nor believe they should receive such since United started.

UCG has strongly adopted and promoted Servant Leadership. We have been taught it at the national and regional conferences, as well as being given education sent to us from the Home Office to the entire field ministry. We are not perfect, but I am not ashamed how UCG handles its finances. I feel they are good stewards of the money they receive despite mistakes made by all of us. I trust with respect that you will be fair with the flip side of the coin.

Sincerely,

— Stuart Segall

Response: The main thing the author of the article was trying to do was encourage the UCG-IA to make the truth known to the members. You have done a lot to clear this up. I wrote to the UCG-IA headquarters for clarification but never received a response. I realize that many corporate ministers work very hard. I have known of some whom I believe did not, but these are probably a minority. There are not many people who would stay with the same job for 11 years with pay that went down as much as it went up.

I think it is important that the rules are known to all so we can either learn from God’s leaders how to righteously deal with finances or else see that the leaders are wrong and work for change. The law was written for all to read—even the part of the law that contained the responsibilities of the priests and other leaders. God never gave a secret and separate law for the leaders. After all, are not all believers in training to rule with Christ?

As an example from the past, many of my friends and I worked at the WCG headquarters and paid third tithe in the appointed years. It was not a burden for me, but for some it was a near disaster. When one of my friends told his boss he would have to quit so he could find a better-paying job and be able to pay third tithe, he was told that headquarters employees were exempt from paying third tithe. Many there had not paid it for decades. However, this policy was not documented nor taught to new employees in any organized way. I am glad to see that this type of practice stopped.

If the typical salary of men who have worked for 20 years is $49,050 (including second tithe), that means that there must be some big salaries to push the average up to $61,297. I understand that the top salary is $85,000 with its second tithe of $7,650 coming to $92,650. (For comparison, my family’s Feast expenses plus the entire cost of running our Feast site for about 100 people has always been less than $7,650). If there are a lot of 30-year ministers with a combined salary and second tithe in the upper $60,000s, that would explain the $61,297 average salary. My understanding is that the UCG has few ministers with less than 10 years of service who would be “low” salaried. Insurance, employer-paid social security and other administrative costs probably make up the rest of estimated $81,159 cost per employee per year.

As you said, your wife works hard and is not paid at all. A $61,297 average salary may look high compared to the USA median of $38,885. but in many families, both husband and wife work. If a minister and his wife are both working hard full time, that comes out to only $30,648 each, well below the median. The New Jerusalem Bible says: “Elders who do their work well while they are in charge earn double reward, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1Tim 5:17). Most other translations say “double honor”, but Greek dictionaries say that the word can refer to monetary value. If it does mean a double wage, one might ask, “Double of who’s wage? The average minister? The poorest minister? The poorest member? The richest member?”

There is no point in beginning to ask these questions as long as salaries are all kept secret. Many church groups publish all salaries. If ministers are responsible to God, then why would God want to keep his method of working secret from the church? If ministers are responsible to the people they serve, then the people should certainly know what they are paid. (The salaries of our elected government officials are set by public laws.) Only if ministers view themselves responsible to the corporation or to themselves does it make sense to keep their salaries secret.

The disclosure of benefits is also important. It cannot hurt if what is being done is reasonable. If a church organization is paying too much for insurance or other benefits—maybe somebody else in the church will notice and find them a better deal.

There are people who believe that ministers should not have any fixed compensation, but rely on what God sends them—be it money, goods, services or whatever. Our family of six has lived that way for seven years—without health insurance—and I believe that God has taken care of us. Though I must say that on a day by day basis I have not always had the kind of faith that I should have had.

In the Scriptures, God has taken care of His followers in a great variety of ways. Some were farmers, some were cared for by others, some were in royal courts, one was fed by ravens, one ate locusts and wild honey, etc. I believe God takes care of all those who serve Him now—maybe not always in the way that they would like, but sufficiently. He will certainly reward everyone at the resurrection.

There is more that could be said on this subject, but I think that we have accomplished a lot in explaining to members how the UCG-IA salary money is spent.

I hope that church leaders everywhere will realize that they are much better off to explain to their members exactly what they are doing. There is a tendency for them not to explain things so that they do not have to answer difficult questions.

But when one is in the business of teaching truth, one should be able to explain those difficult questions. And if there is no good answer for a certain difficult question, then it probably represents a change that the leaders need to make.

Thank you for your letter. It helps all of us see that many are struggling to serve God, even if we do not agree on exactly how to do it.

— NSE


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