Executive Salaries at Mars Hill Church

Do you want to know how much your megachurch pastor makes?
Some current and former members have expressed to me that they want to know what Mark Driscoll and the other executive pastors make. I will disappoint them right up front and say I don’t know the answer to the question but I want to explore it a bit.
Rob Smith at Musings From Under the Bus provided the CEO salaries and annual revenue of  5 large non-profit/parachurch organizations (e.g., Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision). The average annual revenue for the five organizations is nearly $290 million.  Smith reported an average of $309k/year for the CEO’s total compensation.  Driscoll is rumored to get much more than that as lead pastor/CEO of an organization with around $20 million in revenues. But again, those are rumors. Only a handful of people know. His congregation doesn’t know. One fellow asked and he was let go.
I have obtained the compensation study used to calculate the executive elders salaries for Mars Hill executive elders for 2012. The company performing the study, CapinCrouse, provided a range of incomes along with church attendance and annual budget. There wasn’t much of a relationship between compensation and results. The salaries ranged from $265k to $1.1 million yearly (should any church pay a pastor a million dollars?). The minister with the largest church budget made $330k/year. In other words, other factors besides size and budget went into salary decisions. That study did not come to a conclusion about what to pay the Mars Hill executive pastors. The Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability is charged with that duty.
Denominations often provide a formula to aid churches in figuring salary. To illustrate, examine the extensive guidance provided by the Church of Christ. There is a formula using years of experience and size of church to help calculate a base salary.
Smith believes the executive pastors salaries eventually will be known.  This is sometimes a touchy subject in churches. I have been in churches where the pastor did not want the details of his compensation package discussed widely and others where it was all transparent. I grew up with my father’s salary printed in the paper because he was a public school administrator. However, many people have hangups about it. My current thinking is to lean toward transparency and the use of a formula to arrive at a figure. I certainly think people in the pews have a right to ask and should get some idea of the range of compensation they are paying for.
Generally people who pay the bills want information to help them decide if the money is being spent well. Mars Hill members have neither information nor input. Such a situation is different than how we relate to our government. In that domain, all salaries are known and we often praise whistleblowers who disclose fraud and abuse of public funds. Most of us want that kind of transparency for our government but the situation seems murkier in church.
Although the ECFA has been reluctant to apply them, the organization’s guidelines require more transparency than seems forthcoming at Mars Hill. When it comes to executive compensation, the ECFA’s guidelines on compensation require specific board actions for pastors making over $150k. Although it has not been possible to verify, Mars Hill’s BOAA claims to follow the ECFA guidelines on the setting of compensation.
Another topic which is germane to executive compensation is the use of Mars Hill Church by the executives for personal enrichment. James Duncan has explored the prospects that the church expends much member dollars on advancing the brand of Mark Driscoll. I think most would agree that the Real Marriage campaign was an illustration of that. Anyone who cares about Mars Hill should read Duncan’s analysis of the Real Marriage campaign. Duncan lays out the money trail and illustrates how being a lead pastor with a product can enrich that pastor at the expense of the church. An unexamined aspect of the Real Marriage debacle is the amount of money expended to pay church employees who worked on promoting the book. The Mars Hill Media and Communications team promoted the book, set up the seminars, and ran Driscoll’s social media (they still do ), all on the church’s dime. Is it all about Jesus for Driscoll to use church resources to acquire and maintain half a million Twitter followers? Sell more of his books? Enlarge his status? While these questions could be asked about many megachurch pastors, they seem particularly relevant in the present case. Using the church to enrich one’s brand seems like a lot of benefit that doesn’t show up in a salary figure.
To be fair, some will respond that anything that advances the pastor’s work also works to the benefit of the church and then ultimately the greater good (expanding the Gospel). I suppose at heart that is what I wonder about – to what degree does the corporatization of the church work to the benefit of the Good News? The Mars Hill situation, and megachurches more generally should cause us to reflect about what is most consistent with the Bible’s teachings on pastors and churches in the context of “the present distress.” There is a tension here and the Mars Hill case should cause us to reflect on what can be learned from it.