By Gary A. Johnson, Publisher – Black Men In America.com Staff
December 18, 2016
There are “well-to-do” preachers, there are rich preachers and then there are obscenely wealthy preachers. I want to talk about all of them but with a focus on the obscenely wealthy pastors who seem to get the most attention. The question that I want to discuss and explore is whether or not these men and women of God deliberately prey on the poor and the gullible to ensure the wealth, power and dominance in the church and community.
Some of the rich pastors came to God later in life through the sports, politics or the entertainment industry. Case in point, Al Green, George Foreman, Clifton Davis, R&B singer Peebles and former rapper Mase. I can name 50 more who came out of that lane. I grew up hearing the phrase “pimps in the pulpit” to describe predatory preachers who simply were less than forthcoming when it came to behaving in a trustworthy and honest manner.
I know that I am putting the spotlight on high-profile pastors, (some of whom have had trouble with the law, personal tragedies and other falls from grace) because they are high profile. I’ve followed pastors for years. Let me share my fundamental belief about men and women who hold these positions:
- Many pastors honestly believe they are doing the work of God
- Most pastors will never be famous and that’s OK with them
- Many preachers entered the ministry to change the world and touch the masses in a positive way
- Some preachers stumble along the way through no fault of their own and end up in dark place they can’t often escape
- Many churchgoers have been culturally conditioned to believe whatever their preacher tells them and that doing so will get them closer to God
- Many preachers learned early on that they have a “gift” to get people to follow them
- Some preachers are jealous, thin-skinned egomaniacs who care about what is said about them
- Many preachers feel pressure to perform and to outperform their peers
Let’s take a look at some high profile, well-to-do, rich and obscenely wealthy men and women of God and their estimated worth.
Clifton Davis ($3 Million)
Clifton Davis came to fame as a songwriter, singer and actor before becoming a minister. Davis launched his career in the music business after writing hit songs like “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Lookin’ Through the Windows” for The Jackson 5. Taking his talents to the stage in the 1970s, Davis made his acting debut as the star on the television series “That’s My Mama” and has spent the last 45 years acting on shows like “Amen,” “Living Single” and “Grace Under Fire.”
Long before becoming a celebrity, Davis pursued his passion for theology and earned a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University and was ordained in 1987. He has spent the last 25 years as the co-founder and pastor of the Welcome Christian Center in Huntington Beach, California while making guest appearances on the Trinity Broadcasting Network in addition to hosting Gospel Superfest for the last eight years. When he’s not behind the pulpit, parishioners and fans can find him talking politics as he plays Ephraim Ware on the popular television series, “Madam Secretary.”
Minister Louis Farrakhan ($3 Million)
Born as Louis Wolcott and trained as a violinist, Bronx native Louis Farrakhan launched his career as a professional musician in the 1950s at the same time he was introduced to the teachings of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Joining the NOI in 1955 and briefly becoming Louis X, Farrakhan gave up his dreams of music and quickly rose through the ranks under the guidance of Malcolm X. With Malcolm’s assassination in 1965, Farrakhan then assumed the role as the national spokesman and representative of the NOI and the minister of the highly influential Harlem Mosque.
A widely polarizing and controversial figure, Farrakhan has spent the last three decades reviving the Nation of Islam while building his following as a minister in the northeast and amassing $3 million in personal wealth. Responsible for the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. in 1995, Farrakhan is now 83 years old but age hasn’t stopped him as he continues to spread his influence through weekly online sermons and speaking at large NOI events. He’s even returned to music with a sound that critics describe as “deep and full of energy that makes the violin gleam.”
Eddie Long ($5 Million)
Eddie Long was a sales representative for Ford Motor Corporation long before he ever went into ministry. Losing his job at Ford and moving to Atlanta, Long studied theology and became a pastor at a small Georgia church before taking over at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in 1987. Growing the church from 300 to over 25,000 members in a matter of years, Long managed to build his wealth as well to the tune of $5 million.
According to Long, Jesus wasn’t broke, and leaders of churches shouldn’t be either. Long has earned millions in salary from his ministry, owns a million-dollar home on a 20-acre lot, has use of a $350,000 Bentley, and pulls in a host of other benefits too.
Bishop Long made headlines a few years ago when he was accused of using his teachings to coerce four young men in to having sexual relationships with him — with a fifth man emerging later. The accusers filed lawsuits against Long, claiming sexual misconduct on his part and stated that Long bought them expensive gifts, treated them to elaborate trips, and quoted scriptures in order to justify his acts. Long has denied all of the sexual allegations against him and the lawsuits have been settled out of court. The details of each settlement have not been publicly disclosed.
Al Sharpton ($5 Million)
Al Sharpton is a civil rights activist, talk show host and Baptist minister. Sharpton was ordained a Pentecostal minister at just nine years old. He then spent much of his early career as James Brown’s tour manager and an activist alongside Jesse Jackson before shifting his focus back to ministry and joining the Baptist church in the late 1980s.
Officially becoming a Baptist minister in 1994, Sharpton’s reputation skyrocketed thanks to hundreds of television and radio appearances that have padded his $5 million net worth. Despite his success, Sharpton encountered financial problems in 2014 when reports revealed that he “regularly sidestepped” his debts and owed millions in back taxes. Though Sharpton took a hit on his personal wealth, he has rebounded nicely as a trusted White House adviser and the host of his radio show, “Keepin’ It Real with Al Sharpton.”
Peter Popoff ($10 Million)
Born in war-torn Berlin in 1946, Peter Popoff moved to California with his family at a young age and completed his studies at the University of California before finally marrying and settling down in 1970. Before long, Popoff made his way to television ministry where his aggressive and energetic messages were broadcast across the United States and transformed him into an iconic faith healer known for yelling “break free of the devil” at some of his sickest followers.
Healing everything from anxiety and depression to heart conditions and paralysis, many thought Popoff was the real deal. The truth finally came out, however, in the mid-1980s when his methods were questioned and he admitted the miracles were a hoax. Falling out of the public’s favor and disappearing from the spotlight for nearly a decade, Popoff made a comeback in the late 1990s and is, once again, a success. Now 69 years old and worth $10 million, Popoff is often seen buzzing around California in his Porsche as one of televangelism’s biggest con men.
Jesse Jackson ($10 Million)
Perhaps first known as a politician and then as a religious leader and civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson has achieved great success in all of his endeavors. Spending much of his career focused on civil rights, Jackson was ordained a Baptist minister in 1968 but continued to focus on politics with presidential runs in 1984 and 1988. Serving as a shadow U.S. Senator in Washington, D.C. from 1991 to 1997, Jackson continued to gain widespread fame and was given his own show on CNN called Both Sides of Jesse Jackson. Now worth $10 million thanks to his incredible influence and success, Jackson was finally awarded his Master of Divinity in 2000 as a result of his career accomplishments and life experience.
Juanita Bynum ($10 Million)
Born in the Windy City of Chicago, Illinois, Juanita Bynum established herself as a charismatic personality early in her life when she took the stage as a child theatrical star. After graduating from high school, Bynum turned her attention to ministry when she began giving sermons throughout the city until a video called No More Sheets was released in the 1990s and made her a household name. Riding the heels of her early success, she then became a regular on the Trinity Broadcasting Network with speaking engagements around the world.
Expanding her ministry into music, literature, radio and television, Bynum established herself as an international voice in ministry whose reputation long preceded her in 2004 when she held the largest Christian event in Kenya when over 750,000 people attended the National Conference. Bynum is 58 years old and worth $10 million. She continues to build her wealth as the CEO of Juanita Bynum Enterprises in addition to the thousands of dollars brought in from her books, gospel albums and speaking engagements.
Cindy Trimm ($15 Million)
Hailing from Bermuda and identifying herself as an empowerment specialist, Cindy Trimm launched her career in politics when she took the title of Senator at only 30 years old. Realizing she could do even more in ministry, Trimm exchanged her political podium for the pulpit as she began leading sermons and writing books about spiritual growth and healing. Using her political prowess and reputation, Trimm’s popularity blossomed as she traveled the globe preaching and promoting her foundation to help rebuild and revitalize communities in need.
Honored as the Outstanding Christian Woman of the Year in addition to being named as one of the “top 100 doers and influencers in the world today” by Ebony magazine, Trimm has built her incredible $15 million net worth through her publications and guest appearances. Describing herself as a “catalyst for change” and a “voice of hope,” Trimm is currently serving as pastor for Florida’s Embassy Worship Center while expanding her ministry and enjoying the success of her book, The Prayer Warrior’s Way.
T.D. Jakes ($18 Million)
West Virginia native Thomas Dexter “T.D.” Jakes was called to ministry as a teenager when he spent the majority of his time caring for his invalid father. Enrolling at West Virginia State University and preaching part-time, Jakes was named pastor of a local Pentecostal church with only 10 members. As the church flourished under his leadership, Jakes established himself as a gifted speaker and spiritual mentor as he transitioned into radio ministry and continued to expand his congregation. The church’s growth finally came to a head in 1996 when Jakes and 50 other families moved to Dallas, Texas where he established The Potter’s House, which has over 30,000 members.
Kirk Cameron ($20 Million)
Making his acting debut at only 13 years old, Kirk Cameron became a household name in 1985 as the mischievous and charming Mike Seaver on the hit ABC sitcom Growing Pains. Cameron wrapped up the series in 1992 and continued to appear in television shows and films like Listen To Me, Fireproof and the Left Behind series before literally leaving it all behind to focus solely on his faith. Partnering with New Zealand evangelist Ray Comfort in the 1990s, Cameron co-founded The Way of the Master ministry.
Teaching Christians about evangelism through the ministry, Cameron and Comfort host an award-winning television and radio program in addition to running Camp Firefly, a free summer camp for terminally ill children and their families. Cameron, who married his Growing Pains costar Chelsea Noble in 1991, has also teamed up with his wife to launch The Firefly Foundation as a way to give back even more. Between his acting career spanning nearly four decades to his work as an evangelist, it’s no surprise that this former sitcom star is worth $20 million and counting.
Rick Warren ($25 Million)
Born to a Baptist minister and librarian in San Jose, California, Rick Warren followed his father’s footsteps into ministry after attending California Baptist University and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Spending his early years in ministry co-writing two books, Warren established the Saddleback Church in 1980 when he preached his first sermon in front of 200 people gathered in a local high school theater. Using nearly 80 different locations for the next two decades, Warren guided the church to success with over 10,000 people in attendance establishing him as one of the most renowned pastors in the United States.
Expanding his ministry into writing, Warren is a New York Times best-selling author known for his insight into church ministry and evangelism thanks to publications like The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life, which sold over 30 million copies. Now at 63 years old and worth $25 million, Warren relies on the income from his books as he has given 90 percent of his wealth back to the church in what he and his wife refer to as “reverse tithing.”
Creflo Dollar ($27 Million)
Creflo Augustus Dollar Jr.: As the leader of his mega-church, the World Changers Church International in College Park, Ga., and with a congregation of about 30,000 members, Dollar is best known for his prosperity-infused theological teachings — and rightly so. The married Father of five reportedly owns two Rolls-Royce vehicles, a private jet, a million-dollar home, and a $2.5 million apartment in New York City, which he sold for $3.7 million last year.
Launching his ministry with only eight members gathered in a school cafeteria in 1986, Dollar grew his congregation to an enormous 30,000 devoted followers while bringing in $69 million in revenue in 2006 alone. Still growing in 2012, Dollar added a second location in The Bronx, New York to increase his reach.
Extending his ministry as an author and reputable speaker with engagements around the globe, the 55-year-old is often criticized for his lavish lifestyle. Owning multi-million-dollar estates in Atlanta, New Jersey and Manhattan, Dollar raised eyebrows in 2014 when his private jet was destroyed after veering off the runway. In only a matter of months, Dollar’s fundraising efforts had already generated another $60 million dollars to purchase a private Gulfstream G650 jet that he claimed was a necessity to bring his teachings to people around the world.
About 7 years ago Dollar and a bunch of other televangelist ignored the U.S. Senate’s request for their financial records. Dollar claimed he was concerned about the privacy of his donors, and he said that if the IRS requested it, he would send it over. However, since it was Congress asking for the information, he wouldn’t do so without a subpoena.
His church made $69 million back in 2006, and the church also provided him with a Rolls Royce. In Dollar’s words “Just because it (my life) is excessive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.”
Unfortunately, the man, who has consistently refused to disclose his financial worth, was arrested in June of this year for physically attacking his 15-year-old daughter after they argued about her going to a party at 1 a.m. The child told police that her pastoral dad strangled her, threw her to the ground, and hit her with a shoe, with her 19-year-old sister corroborating the accusations. Dollar was charged with simple battery and cruelty to children, then released on $5,000 bail.
Joel Osteen ($40 Million)
Easily one of the most popular pastors in the United States today, Joel Osteen has earned the nickname as “The Smiling Preacher” thanks to his Texas-sized charisma. Born to a Southern Baptist pastor who founded the Lakewood Church, Osteen studied radio and television communications at Oral Roberts University but left Oklahoma and returned to Houston without a diploma in hand. Taking the reins and producing his father’s televised sermons for 17 years until his father’s unexpected death in 1999, Osteen found himself behind the pulpit of the largest Protestant Church in the entire country.
Now serving as Lakewood Church’s Senior Pastor, Osteen took a lesson from his father and continued to televise his sermons, which fostered the church’s growth from 5,000 to 43,000 in addition to over 7 million weekly viewers in more than 100 countries. Now recognized as both a preacher and a brand, Osteen is also a New York Times best-selling author because of the outstanding success of Your Best Life Now. And, to put his $40 million net worth into perspective, Osteen lives in a $10 million estate and doesn’t take a penny out of the church’s $70 million annual income.
David Oyedepo ($150 Million)
It should come as no surprise that the richest pastor in the world today is the Nigerian author, preacher and founder of Winner’s Chapel – David Oyedepo. Studying architecture early in his career before concentrating on missionary work, Oyedepo claimed to have an 18-hour vision in 1981 where God called him to preach. Inspired to establish the Living Faith Church World Wide, Oyedepo was ordained a pastor two years later by Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Within five years, the newly ordained Bishop was ready to expand.
Hailed as one of the most powerful preachers in Nigeria, Oyedepo’s expansion led him to his most prized creation, the Faith Tabernacle, which holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest church auditorium with 50,000 seats. In addition to numerous Winners’ Chapel locations scattered in over 300 cities around the globe, Oyedepo has built an incredible $150 million net worth all because of his vision and divine ability to preach not to mention cornering every field of the gospel market including publishing over 60 unique titles. Add in four private jets at his disposal and Oyedepo really does seem to have it all!
George Foreman ($250 Million)
Two-time World Heavyweight Champion and Olympic gold medalist, George Foreman is one of the greatest boxers to ever live. Launching his career in the ring in 1969, Foreman continued throwing punches until the 1990s with an impressive record of 76 wins and five losses including 68 knockouts that earned him a membership in the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Officially retiring in 1997 at 48 years old, Foreman is an ordained minister but that isn’t where he’s built his incredible $250 million wealth.
Truth be told, we’ve all helped Foreman earn his millionaire status by purchasing one of his famed George Foreman fat-reducing grills. Marketed on convenience and healthy eating, the grills have earned Foreman over $130 million. In terms of his ministry, Foreman claims that after a near-death experience in 1977, he announced his faith as a born-again Christian and took a break from the ring to become an ordained minister. Spending the next few years preaching on street corners and at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston, Foreman opened a youth center and made special appearances on The 700 Club where he told the world that the devil finally got “knocked out” of him.
Pat Robertson ($500 Million)
When it comes to pastors, one of the biggest names in the industry and often the first that comes to mind is Pat Robertson. Born into a prominent political family in Virginia, Robertson was drafted into the Marine Corp in 1948 and returned home to complete his law degree from Yale in 1955. Failing the New York bar exam, Robertson experienced a life-changing religious conversion that inspired him to enroll at the New York Theological Seminary. Shortly after his graduation, Robertson was well on his way to success when he established the Christian Broadcasting Network in 1960.
Officially ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1961, Robertson has proven that he can be both spiritual and business savvy. Spending the last 50 years as the host of one of the most popular Christian programs on television (The 700 Club), the 87-year-old is also known as a media mogul and founder of organizations such as the ABC Family Channel and Regent University as well as the subject of many pop culture jokes on shows like South Park and The Simpsons. And, although his actual net worth is unknown, an estimate between $200 million and $1 billion makes this Southern Baptist minister the richest pastor in the world.
How 727 Megachurches Spend Their Money
Leadership Network and Vanderbloemen find what determines pastor salaries (and who might be most underpaid).
2014 Courtesy of Leadership Network
Two organizations that know megachurches well have released a new study they describe as “by far the biggest-scale, cross-denominational response anyone has ever collected about church finances.”
Leadership Network and Vanderbloemen Search Group surveyed 727 of America’s largest churches regarding their finances earlier this year. Though the researchers acknowledge their examination of church financial trends is not “randomly based nor is it statistically accurate for all larger churches,” they explain the findings “do indicate many general trends, and is likely the most comprehensive financial perspective available on large churches.”
Of the 56 million Protestants who worship weekly in the United States, 13 million attend a church of 1,000 or more participants. In North America, 1,650 churches have 2,000 or more participants.
According to the 2014 edition of the Large Church Salary Report, the typical large American church (1,000 to 7,000 members) was founded in 1977, seats 800 worshipers, and offers five weekly services at two campuses. The church’s 52-year-old senior pastor was hired in 2005, it employs 25 staff members, and attendance has been recently growing 7 percent per year.
Nearly 50 percent of large churches spend between 39 percent and 52 percent of their annual budget on staffing costs, translating to 1 full-time paid staff for every 51 to 90 attendees. The salary of the senior pastor comprises, on average, 3.4 percent of a church’s budget and at least 30 percent higher than the next highest-paid employee.
Pastor salaries are influenced mostly by church size (70 percent), with region the only other influential variable (20 percent). Race, age of the pastor, age of the church, and theology do not impact salaries. Southern pastors are among the highest paid, followed by the Northeast and then West and Midwest. Canadian pastors make less than all their American counterparts.
The top three metrics measured by the majority of large churches were total attendance and giving compared to budget. Less than half track adult baptisms/conversions, adults in small groups, or new members.
For the largest churches, those boasting attendance of 10,000 or more, nearly 50 percent report “not passing the plate.” In contrast, only 20 percent of other large churches indicate that they do not directly solicit tithes during services. Eighty-one percent of churches report offering the opportunity to donate online, which the study concluded led to higher giving rates than churches relying only on traditional means.
The study also revealed that one-third of churches with 1,000 to 2,000 attendees have adopted the multi-site model, as have half of churches with 2,000 to 3,000 attendees.
Gary A. Johnson is the Founder of Gary A. Johnson Company & Associates, LLC, a management training and consulting company. The company manages a variety of Internet and digital media enterprises including Black Men In America.com, one of the most popular web sites on the Internet, Black Men In America.com Dating and the Black Men In America.com Syndicated Blog. In addition, the company manages Homework Help Page.com, an educational resource site for children, college students and parents.
First Photo Credit: (Richard Perry/The New York Times)