The archbishop of Atlanta has been keeping a low profile of late ahead of his scheduled move from his plush $2.2 million mansion in early May.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who is African-American, was thrust in the spotlight this month amid criticism over moving into the lavish property in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead district.
The 66-year-old Catholic leader was slammed for living too opulent a lifestyle that is out-of-step with the example set by the notoriously frugal Pope Francis.
He subsequently apologized for a lapse in judgment and pledged to move out of his swanky new Tutor-style estate, which was constructed with money left by a wealthy parishioner who died in 2011.
The flurry of media attention surrounding Gregory is extreme, but it epitomizes the uneasy marriage between pastoral compensation and tithes, gifts and offerings flowing into the church.
Morris Tipton of the National Baptist Convention said churches across all denominations put in a system of checks and balances (often in the form of a board of trustees) that should foster an atmosphere of financial integrity.
“Most churches set their own guidelines and standards on how they are going to deal with compensating their pastor,” he said.
Still, he admits, like any other field, there are unscrupulous people who lack integrity, living lavishly and mismanaging money.
“The problem comes in when a pastor seeks to live a lavish lifestyle off the congregation.”
“Tithes and offerings should be a storehouse for those that have fallen through the cracks,” said Rev. Samuel Mosteller, president of the SCLC Georgia Chapter. “The problem is in some churches pastors have stopped being pastors and turned themselves into CEOs.”
Tipton does not have a problem with successful preachers, typically from high-profile megachurches, making extra cash from book sales, real estate or business ventures.
Still, Mosteller said those who are not familiar with the inner workings of ministry can never fully understand the relentless workload and personal cost that comes with being a full-time minister.
“It’s almost 24 hours a day,” he said. “You have to engage in giving advice, counseling, visiting the sick and familial crisis.”
Tipton said historically, especially in the black church, senior pastors did not always receive the remuneration they deserved. Over the yeas, this has led men of the cloth to become more vocal about getting a fair salary.
“Not first and foremost, but just making sure that their and their families needs are met also,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with that.”
Rev. Kenneth Adkins is unique because, despite overseeing a 400-strong church, he said he has never collected a salary. He believes, at this point in time, the monies collected at Greater Dimensions Christian Fellowship in Brunswick, Georgia, are better served helping the community.
“I believe pastors should get paid, but I choose not to get a salary because it’s important for me to use much of the resources to help other people,” said Adkins, who founded his church in 2010. He adds that he makes his money through his business.
Adkins is a minority, but his choice does reflect the heart of the majority of spiritual leaders that are passionate about spreading the gospel and transforming lives. Yet, a few indulgent pastors who live lavish lifestyles get most of the attention.
Still, even in this day and age, in some churches the parameters are way too fluid, opening up the possibility of financial mismanagement.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti