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The salaries of pastors in mega churches has been a topic of controversy in the last few years, to say the least. Whether a pastor should earn more than the average of his congregants is a touchy subject for many in the Christian church community. The perks that come with the job on top of the salary, including life and health insurance, educational benefits, housing allowances and more, can increase base salaries significantly.


  • A mega church is a non-Catholic church that has more than 2,000 congregants on the average weekend. They are usually located in suburban areas, and they often have a budget of $5 million or more. Some churches have upwards of 15,000 to 20,000 attendees. They often have more than 50 full-time staff members, and 40 to 50 percent of the churches’ budgets go toward paying salaries.


  • About 740 churches in the U.S. meet the definition of mega church today. In 1970, only 10 churches were considered mega churches. By 1990, that number had risen to 250. The average number of attendees at a mega church is over 3,600.


  • In a report by the Leadership Network in 2010, the average salaries of pastors at 253 mega churches in 38 states and four Canadian provinces were reported. A lead pastor in a mega church can earn an average salary of $147,000 according to an article on the report by the website Christian Post. However, the salary range for lead pastors can be from $40,000 to $400,000. Executive pastors at mega churches earn an average salary of $99,000 a year. The salaries reported in the survey do not include the value of benefits, but it did include housing allowances.


  • Medical insurance is offered in most, if not all, mega churches to full-time staff members. Some other benefits often included in the salary package of a mega church pastor include cell phone/technology allowance, retirement, life insurance, dental insurance, and disability insurance.


  • Some mega church pastors have decided to do something called “reverse tithing.” They give 90 percent of their salaries away and live off the other 10 percent. Some mega church pastors do not take a salary at all from their churches.

Church Sizes and Locations

  • It is common for pastors of extremely small congregations to earn little-to-no salary. For those working at megachurches, or churches over 2,000 members, salaries can reach six-figures. A September 2010 Christian Post article, citing figures from a 2010 Leadership Network survey, lists the average salary of pastors of megachurches at $147,000 with salaries of lead pastors being as high as $400,000 and as low as $40,000.

    The Hartford Institute for Religion Research notes that most megachurches are located in the suburbs of cities such as Phoenix, Orlando, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas where 26 percent of families earn an average of $100,000 annually according to a June 2009 Forbes article. These churches have operating budgets of more than $5 million annually according to the Christian Post article. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research notes that the majority of megachurches are located California, Texas, Georgia and Florida. Thus, the average salary of pastors may be higher in these states.

The Million-Dollar Scale

  • Pastors of the largest megachurches earn millions of dollars annually. Joel Osteen, whose Lakewood Church in Houston,Texas has approximately 40,000 members and holds services at the Houston Rockets’ former stadium, does not accept his $200,000 a year salary because of a multi-million dollar book deal. Megachurch pastors such as Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and John Hagee all have large television audiences and earn multi-million dollar incomes annually from book deals, nonprofit efforts and their church congregations.

* By Leyla Norman

There is a story about Bertrand Russell giving a public lecture somewhere or other, defending his atheism. A furious woman stood up at the end of the lecture and asked: “And Lord Russell, what will you say when you stand in front of the throne of God on judgment day?” Russell replied: “I will say: ‘I’m terribly sorry, but you didn’t give us enough evidence.’ ”

This is a very natural way for atheists to react to religious claims: to ask for evidence, and reject these claims in the absence of it. Many of the several hundred comments that followed two earlier Stone posts “Philosophy and Faith” and “On Dawkins’s Atheism: A Response,” both by Gary Gutting, took this stance. Certainly this is the way that today’s “new atheists”  tend to approach religion. According to their view, religions — by this they mean basically Christianity, Judaism and Islam and I will follow them in this — are largely in the business of making claims about the universe that are a bit like scientific hypotheses. In other words, they are claims — like the claim that God created the world — that are supported by evidence, that are proved by arguments and tested against our experience of the world. And against the evidence, these hypotheses do not seem to fare well.

But is this the right way to think about religion? Here I want to suggest that it is not, and to try and locate what seem to me some significant differences between science and religion.

To begin with, scientific explanation is a very specific and technical kind of knowledge. It requires patience, pedantry, a narrowing of focus and (in the case of the most profound scientific theories) considerable mathematical knowledge and ability. No-one can understand quantum theory — by any account, the most successful physical theory there has ever been — unless they grasp the underlying mathematics. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves.
Religious belief is a very different kind of thing. It is not restricted only to those with a certain education or knowledge, it does not require years of training, it is not specialized and it is not technical. (I’m talking here about the content of what people who regularly attend church, mosque or synagogue take themselves to be thinking; I’m not talking about how theologians interpret this content.)

What is more, while religious belief is widespread, scientific knowledge is not. I would guess that very few people in the world are actually interested in the details of contemporary scientific theories. Why? One obvious reason is that many lack access to this knowledge. Another reason is that even when they have access, these theories require sophisticated knowledge and abilities, which not everyone is capable of getting.

Yet another reason — and the one I am interested in here — is that most people aren’t deeply interested in science, even when they have the opportunity and the basic intellectual capacity to learn about it. Of course, educated people who know about science know roughly what Einstein, Newton and Darwin said. Many educated people accept the modern scientific view of the world and understand its main outlines. But this is not the same as being interested in the details of science, or being immersed in scientific thinking.

This lack of interest in science contrasts sharply with the worldwide interest in religion. It’s hard to say whether religion is in decline or growing, partly because it’s hard to identify only one thing asreligion — not a question I can address here. But it’s pretty obvious that whatever it is, religion commands and absorbs the passions and intellects of hundreds of millions of people, many more people than science does. Why is this? Is it because — as the new atheists might argue — they want to explain the world in a scientific kind of way, but since they have not been properly educated they haven’t quite got there yet? Or is it because so many people are incurably irrational and are incapable of scientific thinking? Or is something else going on?

Some philosophers have said that religion is so unlike science that it has its own “grammar” or “logic” and should not be held accountable to the same standards as scientific or ordinary empirical belief. When Christians express their belief that “Christ has risen,” for example, they should not be taken as making a factual claim, but as expressing their commitment to what Wittgenstein called a certain “form of life,” a way of seeing significance in the world, a moral and practical outlook which is worlds away from scientific explanation.

This view has some merits, as we shall see, but it grossly misrepresents some central phenomena of religion. It is absolutely essential to religions that they make certain factual or historical claims. When Saint Paul says “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain” he is saying that the point of his faith depends on a certain historical occurrence.

Theologians will debate exactly what it means to claim that Christ has risen, what exactly the meaning and significance of this occurrence is, and will give more or less sophisticated accounts of it. But all I am saying is that whatever its specific nature, Christians must hold that there was such an occurrence. Christianity does make factual, historical claims. But this is not the same as being a kind of proto-science. This will become clear if we reflect a bit on what science involves.

The essence of science involves making hypotheses about the causes and natures of things, in order to explain the phenomena we observe around us, and to predict their future behavior. Some sciences — medical science, for example — make hypotheses about the causes of diseases and test them by intervening. Others — cosmology, for example — make hypotheses that are more remote from everyday causes, and involve a high level of mathematical abstraction and idealization. Scientific reasoning involves an obligation to hold a hypothesis only to the extent that the evidence requires it. Scientists should not accept hypotheses which are “ad hoc” — that is, just tailored for one specific situation but cannot be generalized to others. Most scientific theories involve some kind of generalization: they don’t just make claims about one thing, but about things of a general kind. And their hypotheses are designed, on the whole, to make predictions; and if these predictions don’t come out true, then this is something for the scientists to worry about.

Religions do not construct hypotheses in this sense. I said above that Christianity rests upon certain historical claims, like the claim of the resurrection. But this is not enough to make scientific hypotheses central to Christianity, any more than it makes such hypotheses central to history. It is true, as I have just said, that Christianity does place certain historical events at the heart of their conception of the world, and to that extent, one cannot be a Christian unless one believes that these events happened. Speaking for myself, it is because I reject the factual basis of the central Christian doctrines that I consider myself an atheist. But I do not reject these claims because I think they are bad hypotheses in the scientific sense. Not all factual claims are scientific hypotheses. So I disagree with Richard Dawkins when he says “religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.”

Taken as hypotheses, religious claims do very badly: they are ad hoc, they are arbitrary, they rarely make predictions and when they do they almost never come true. Yet the striking fact is that it does not worry Christians when this happens. In the gospels Jesus predicts the end of the world and the coming of the kingdom of God. It does not worry believers that Jesus was wrong (even if it causes theologians to reinterpret what is meant by ‘the kingdom of God’). If Jesus was framing something like a scientific hypothesis, then it should worry them. Critics of religion might say that this just shows the manifest irrationality of religion. But what it suggests to me is that that something else is going on, other than hypothesis formation.

Religious belief tolerates a high degree of mystery and ignorance in its understanding of the world. When the devout pray, and their prayers are not answered, they do not take this as evidence which has to be weighed alongside all the other evidence that prayer is effective. They feel no obligation whatsoever to weigh the evidence. If God does not answer their prayers, well, there must be some explanation of this, even though we may never know it. Why do people suffer if an omnipotent God loves them? Many complex answers have been offered, but in the end they come down to this: it’s a mystery.

Science too has its share of mysteries (or rather: things that must simply be accepted without further explanation). But one aim of science is to minimize such things, to reduce the number of primitive concepts or primitive explanations. The religious attitude is very different. It does not seek to minimize mystery. Mysteries are accepted as a consequence of what, for the religious, makes the world meaningful.

This point gets to the heart of the difference between science and religion. Religion is an attempt to make sense of the world, but it does not try and do this in the way science does. Science makes sense of the world by showing how things conform to its hypotheses. The characteristic mode of scientific explanation is showing how events fit into a general pattern.

Religion, on the other hand, attempts to make sense of the world by seeing a kind of meaning or significance in things. This kind of significance does not need laws or generalizations, but just the sense that the everyday world we experience is not all there is, and that behind it all is the mystery of God’s presence. The believer is already convinced that God is present in everything, even if they cannot explain this or support it with evidence. But it makes sense of their life by suffusing it with meaning. This is the attitude (seeing God in everything) expressed in George Herbert’s poem, “The Elixir.” Equipped with this attitude, even the most miserable tasks can come to have value:Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws/ Makes that and th’ action fine.

None of these remarks are intended as being for or against religion. Rather, they are part of an attempt (by an atheist, from the outside) to understand what it is. Those who criticize religion should have an accurate understanding of what it is they are criticizing. But to understand a world view, or a philosophy or system of thought, it is not enough just to understand the propositions it contains. You also have to understand what is central and what is peripheral to the view. Religions do make factual and historical claims, and if these claims are false, then the religions fail. But this dependence on fact does not make religious claims anything like hypotheses in the scientific sense. Hypotheses are not central. Rather, what is central is the commitment to the meaningfulness (and therefore the mystery) of the world.

I have suggested that while religious thinking is widespread in the world, scientific thinking is not. I don’t think that this can be accounted for merely in terms of the ignorance or irrationality of human beings. Rather, it is because of the kind of intellectual, emotional and practical appeal that religion has for people, which is a very different appeal from the kind of appeal that science has.

Stephen Jay Gould once argued that religion and science are “non-overlapping magisteria.” If he meant by this that religion makes no factual claims which can be refuted by empirical investigations, then he was wrong. But if he meant that religion and science are very different kinds of attempt to understand the world, then he was certainly right.

Tim Crane is Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of two books, “The Mechanical Mind” (1995) and “Elements of Mind” (2001), and several other publications. He is currently working on two books: one on the representation of the non-existent and another on atheism and humanism.

The Rev. Pat Robertson turned heads with his appearance on The 700 Club on Wednesday when he blamed Haitian history for Tuesday’s devastating earthquake. In short, Robertson claimed that the quake was divine retribution for a pact with the devil that was sworn long ago, a statement he was audacious enough to make while the 800 number for disaster relief scrolled at the bottom of the broadcast. Here’s the clip:

“And you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon the Third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘O.K., it’s a deal.’ “

So what was Robertson referring to? The theory that Haiti is a nation built on a pact with the devil has circulated on a number of websites, each tracing back to an apocryphal tale of Haitian voodoo priests sacrificing a pig and drinking its blood in 1791 in order to secure Satan’s aid in expelling the French occupation. In return, the priests are said to have promised Haiti to Satan for the next 200 years. The French were soon beat back, and in 1804, Haiti became an independent nation. But even if you believe the story (something many historians doubt), Satan’s lease on the tiny island nation should have expired in 1991.

This isn’t the first time that Robertson has shocked people by speaking off-the-cuff. After then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in January 2006, Robertson posited that it was punishment from God. He urged the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2005, and hosted the Rev. Jerry Falwell on The 700 Club in 2001, when Falwell made comments suggesting that gays and feminists, among others, were responsible for bringing the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. He has also become famous for his woeful prognostication, after promising a disastrous tsunami in America in 2006 and a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in 2007, both of which (thankfully) failed to materialize.

* By Dan Fletcher, Time-CNN, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010