Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pastor, put down the multi-level sales scheme and step away from it!

You're a Southern Baptist pastor, that's as high up as you are ever going to get, and you are paid less than the average $60k salary for SBC senior pastors. You look at your future with a clear eye and understand that upward pastoral mobility is limited and substantial salary inreases will probably not be coming. You recognize that the salary difference between a senior SBC pastor with ten years experience and 30+ years is not much, on average.

So, understanding that you need to provide for your own retirement, educate your own kids, and have a house of your own at some point down the road, you start looking around to see if you can supplement your income with something that you can fit in your job responsibilities as a pastor.

Good move, taking personal responsibility for your future.

Eureka! A friend of a friend has a route where it is asserted that you can make a substantial second income, possibly exceeding your income as a pastor.

This involves some sales but the bigger money is made recruiting others into the "business opportunity," "under you," as it is explained, where you get a cut of their sales.

Welcome to multi-level marketing, or worse.

Take my advice, pastor, stay away from this stuff.

You probably will not make much or any money and you will probably get dirty in the process. There are other routes to extra income that are more straightforward and honest and in which you will not get your hands soiled.

I attended an evangelism meeting held at our local associational office some years ago, an event led by a staff member from the state convention. I received a phone call from the staffer inviting me to stay after the meeting for what he called a good business opportunity for pastors to earn extra income. I stayed. The opportunity was a multi-level deal with borderline legality. It was held out that some pastors were making tens of thousands of dollars working this.

This was a shameless scheme to suck pastors into a deal where a few might make some money but where most would lose their few hundred dollars spent to buy in. It angered me that a denominational employee piggybacked this onto a ministry event.

Dangle a few hundred dollar bills in front of a pastor and what do you get? From some, you get an ocean of drool, I'm afraid. We could all use the extra money.

I didn't "buy in" although I did waste quite a bit of time fending off phone calls from my colleagues who had and who wanted me in the deal.

The most recent example I was hit with was one that recruited subscribers to a deregulated utility supply service and, more importantly, involved persuading your friends to be 'dealers' at a price of several hundred dollars. Not many people selling the product. Lots of people putting money in a pool as "dealers," hopeful that enough others could be persuaded to do the same and you'd end up with a tidy sum. Same nonsense. Pyramid scheme with a patina of respectability.

My reflexive response to these things is this: "No. Not just 'no' but 'Gehenna no.' Goodbye."

Somewhat different, and more sinister, are affinity scams like the one that swindled millions from folks in an Atlanta church (this is illegal and I don't need to be told the difference between legal multi-level marketing schemes and Ponzi schemes). The pastor of the church promoted the program in his church and recommended it to his people. Now he and the church are being sued on the basis that the church gave a "tacit endorsement" of the illegal scheme. Hmmm, the stakes are raised if you and your church might get sued over your plan to put money in your pocket.

Forgive me, my scheming ministerial brethren, but don't you feel a little funny selling stuff and promoting these things to your congregation? (I know several pastor's wives who sell make-up, jewelry and the like. I see no issue with these where you make a little money actually selling the product.)

An enterprising pastor can sell books on Amazon or products on Ebay and make some extra money perfectly honorably and legitimately. He can probably do this and it not even be known to his congregation, not that it needs to be kept secret. Just do it from your basement, not the church, and do it in some of the 100 hours a week you aren't working.

Far too much suspicion already falls on those of us who pastor churches and preach the Gospel. Don't add to that with this nonsense.

If you want to be remembered by your congregation for your preaching, your ministry, your selfless service, stay away from this stuff.

But if you want for your former church's members to remember you as, "Oh yeah, Brother Get-Rich-Quick, he was the one who was spending most of his time pushing the latest and greatest moneymaking scheme" then have at it, brethren.  


Anonymous said...

... and ... crickets.

Very good word. I would love to see this on Voices and the ensuing riot (or ignoring) that would take place.

Peter Reilly CPA said...

Is there still good money in making tents ? I think there is good precedent for that.

Peter Reilly CPA said...

Another attraction to MLM schemes is "tax benefits". If your "business" has losses, don't count on being able to deduct them.