Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mega House for Mega Church Pastor - Parsonage Allowances Questioned

Good friend, Free At Last, came across a story called "The House of Steven" which tells us about a pastor of a huge multi-site church in Charlotte, NC, who built  a 16,000 foot parsonage for himself and his family.  In the video you will see a compilation of six reports on Pastor Steven Furtick and Elevation Church, produced by WCNC-TV, NBC Charlotte and its I-Team.  The stories were aired in October and November of 2013. (Click here for those of you who may not see it above on your phone.)

As the story unfolds we begin to see Furtick may be abusing a tax exemption provided for clergy defined by Tom Ranier (here) on his blog as "a housing allowance law passed by Congress in 1954.  Subject to certain guidelines, ministers are able to declare a portion of their ministry income as a housing allowance that is not subject to federal income tax."   This was originally established for ministers and small churches who needed the help.   But like many of the lead pastors of mega churches in America today who, by living like kings and celebrities, Furtick's story is calling more attention to the fact that the housing allowance even exists.  Even though he says he is paying for the $1.6 million dollar house from his book sales, we can assume he can still take advantage of the housing allowance law, writing the entire property off on his federal income tax.

The underlying concern of this story is it hints to us that this very well could be the beginning of the end of special privileges for churches and ministries.  Already there was a lawsuit filed in 2013 by Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation where a U.S. district judge ruled unconstitutional "a law that lets clergy members avoid paying income taxes on compensation that is designated part of a housing allowance." (You can read that story here).  And in the above video another organization is suing the IRS in a similar way as you will see.

The more notorious these lead pastors of multi-site money-maker churches become, it will unfortunately effect the livelihood of the smaller churches whose pastors are less concerned about the numbers than they are the individual.  Hopefully the Lord will watch over them and take care of their every need as they continue to live a life of sacrifice and surrender before Him.

More about ministries avoiding tax scrutiny in the links provided in an earlier post on DeTox here.