That fleeting bestseller designation is one that the pastors have embraced and trumpeted. Until last week, Mark Driscoll promoted himself as a #1 bestselling author. Perry Noble’s Facebook profile says only two things: He’s a pastor and a New York Times bestselling author. While the bestseller designation has its own value in increasing future book sales and inflating speaking fees, its special value is in the appearance of non-church wealth it creates for these pastor-authors.
The truth, however, is that much of their spendable wealth is generated by laundered tithe money, so the royalties and speaking fees comprise a second, hidden church salary. By using tithed money and their own pulpits to drive book sales and even buy the books outright, celebrity pastors have turned their non-profits into personal profit centers.
The problem isn’t only an ethical one. Tax-exempt organizations are prohibited from contriving special financial gains for their leaders, a violation called inurement that the IRS can punish by revoking the organization’s tax-exempt status. That seems a risk that these pastors are either unaware of or comfortable with, because their churches’ budgets, branding, and messaging are routinely used to sell as many books as possible to make the preachers even wealthier.