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THE PULPIT: Work without pay has rewards, Mormon leaders say

By: MARK BARNA
July 26, 2009
0

Every few months, it seems, a controversy erupts over pastors’ paychecks.

The latest occurred June 29, when the Rev. Brad Braxton of the evangelical Riverside Church in New York resigned after some congregants filed a motion to prevent him from being officially installed as senior pastor. The outcry was driven primarily by reports that Braxton’s salary was more than $600,000 a year.



But even as more megachurch pastors slip into the six- and seven-figure yearly pay bracket, one Christian denomination soldiers on with its zero-compensation policy for most of its leaders: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We work from sheer conviction,” said Mark McConkie, president of the Colorado Springs Stake of the Mormon Church.

Not taking a salary “protects us from the sin of greed, the temptation to bend to popular causes,” he said.
Though top leaders and administrators at the faith’s Salt Lake City headquarters receive pay, the heads of Mormon stakes and wards in America are all volunteers, as are the rest of church staff members.

Mormon stake presidents and ward bishops, the latter of whom are comparable to ministers and priests in other denominations, earn their living in secular jobs. McConkie is a professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Doug Robison, bishop of the Palmer Park Ward of the Colorado Springs Stake, works at Agilent Technologies Inc. Bruce Rands, bishop of Colorado Springs’ 18th Ward in the Fountain Stake, is an attorney in private practice. Both spend 25 to 35 hours a week tending to their wards by performing administrative duties, counseling members, preparing an occasional sermon and overseeing church events.

Rands said that if Mormon church leaders were paid, or if salary were based in part on congregant donations, there would be a temptation to “preach things that are pleasing to the ears of men.”

“But we want to preach the doctrine of Christ,” Rands said.

When Rands was asked by the Fountain stake president to become a ward bishop, he knew he’d face a conflict of interest with his job as a Fourth Judicial District deputy district attorney. As bishop, Rands would be hearing confessions from ward members, but as a deputy DA, he was sworn to report knowledge of a crime. So if someone confessed a crime to him, Rands would be obligated to report it to authorities.

Rands resolved the conflict by resigning from the DA’s office. He became 18th Ward bishop in April. To make ends meet, he opened his own law practice.

Making sacrifices of time and finances to serve others is biblically mandated, Rands said. “If you look at the Christ’s apostles, Jesus called them to be fishers of men, but they still needed to retain their day job.”

For more on the structure of the Mormon church, interviews
with local leaders, and to see
passages from the Bible and Book of Mormon suggesting the wisdom of a no-pay ministry, go to my blog, The Pulpit.

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