Salvation is free, according to the Bible. And yet some who build their careers on spreading the word of God just don’t seem to share this view. Indeed, many of them end up with bank balances even atheists would describe as heavenly. And these 20 spiritual leaders have all proved beyond a doubt that preaching can pay.
20. Jimmy Swaggart – $1.5 million
Jimmy Swaggart remains one of America’s most famous evangelists and would once have been much higher up this list. Indeed, Swaggart’s weekly sermons used to be broadcast on more than 200 TV networks. However, multiple scandals engulfed his career in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and both his reputation and bank balance were decimated when the press discovered his fondness for prostitutes.
19. Paula White – $5 million
Paula White’s journey to spiritual and financial fulfillment has been something of a rags-to-riches tale, as the Mississippi native grew up in a poverty-stricken and abusive household before converting to Christianity in her late teens. She subsequently transformed the fortunes of a struggling Florida church before landing her own TV show. Now, White also serves as the senior pastor of Apopka, Florida’s New Destiny Christian Center.
18. Eddie Long – $5 million
Before turning to God, Eddie Long spent his early career in the automotive industry. When he helped grow the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the late ’80s, however, he subsequently found fame and fortune. What’s more, he took the church from just 300 members to a staggering 25,000. And despite later investigations into financial irregularities and sexual allegations, he remains a popular figure within the New Birth community as well as the megachurch’s senior pastor.
17. Noel Jones – $5 million
Following in his bishop father’s footsteps, Noel Jones became the pastor of Bethel Temple at the age of 26. In 1994, meanwhile, he moved to Los Angeles’ Greater Bethany Community Church and helped increase its membership considerably to more than 17,000. In addition, he’s enjoyed success on the Billboard charts as a member of The City of Refuge Sanctuary Choir. And the financial fruits of Jones’ labors are vast, as he has reportedly amassed a $5m fortune.
16. Al Sharpton – $5 million
Al Sharpton is also no stranger to controversy. Indeed, in 2014 the high-profile Baptist minister was reported to owe millions of dollars in back taxes. After being ordained as a Pentecostal minister at the tender age of nine, Sharpton went on to work alongside soul legend James Brown and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. Eventually, he aligned himself with the Baptist church and later even served as an advisor to the White House.
15. Joyce Meyer – $8 million
Joyce Meyer certainly hasn’t been afraid to splash the cash around since launching her own ministry in the mid ’80s. To wit, she is said to have paid out a whopping $10 million for her own private jet and spent further millions on the ministry’s St. Louis HQ. But she’s put in the work, too; the born-again Christian has hosted her own radio and TV shows in addition to writing numerous best-selling books.
14. Jesse Jackson – $10 million
Sharpton’s mentor Jesse Jackson has earned even more than his protégé since becoming a Baptist minister in the late ’60s. Moreover, Jackson is as famous for his civil rights campaigning as his 1984 and 1988 Presidential bids. He has also served as a shadow U.S. Senator, hosted his own CNN show and, in 2000, received a Master of Divinity degree.
13. Juanita Bynum – $10 million
Former child actress Juanita Bynum swapped the stage for sermons after graduating high school, with lucrative results. Firstly, she made her name on the Trinity Broadcasting Network in the ’90s. Next, Bynum built her own multimedia empire. Then she went on to speak in front of 750,000 people at Kenya’s largest ever Christian event in 2004.
12. Ed Young – $11 million
Ed Young made a dramatic career change when he abandoned his professional basketball ambitions to become a minister. After completing his Master of Divinity degree, in fact, he established Houston’s Fellowship Church, growing its membership to over 5,000 and expanding the church’s reach ever since. Furthermore, he’s taken it upon himself to both launch an eponymous TV network and pen a New York Times best-seller.
11. Ernest Angley – $15 million
Ernest Angley is now in his 90s and has been spreading the word of the Lord for the best part of eight decades. Initially, he was an itinerant – and cash-strapped – Pentecostal faith healer. He eventually earned enough money, however, to buy his own cathedral and TV station. What’s more, Angley later bought his very own Boeing 747 to ensure that he could preach across the globe.
10. T.D. Jakes – $18 million
T.D. Jakes is currently the bishop of a nondenominational megachurch with more than 30,000 followers. In fact, he has been one of the most visible American pastors of recent years and has also won both Dove and Grammy Awards for his gospel music. In addition, the West Virginia native has appeared on Good Morning America and Dr. Phil and has graced the cover of Time magazine.
9. Billy Graham – $25 million
Billy Graham remains one of America’s most famous evangelical pastors. In fact, he has even served as a spiritual advisor for numerous Presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The preacher also claims to have converted three million people to Christianity over the course of his six-decade career.
8. Rick Warren – $25 million
Unlike many on this list, minister Rick Warren has given back most of his earnings to the church he founded. Specifically, he’s donated 90 percent of that money in a practice he’s dubbed “reverse tithing.” However, he does keep the revenue from his best-selling books. And The Purpose Driven Life alone has sold more than 30 million copies – which is perhaps why Warren is still one of America’s wealthiest pastors.
7. Kenneth Copeland – $26.5 million
Kenneth Copeland is the second pastor on this list to have enjoyed Billboard chart success, scoring a Top 20 hit in his early years with “Pledge of Love.” But he accrued most of his $26.5 million fortune after converting to Christianity. He subsequently established an eponymous ministry with his wife Gloria and created a spiritual multimedia empire.
6. Creflo Dollar – $27 million
Ernest Angley isn’t the only pastor to have bought his very own plane to spread the word across the world. The aptly named Southern televangelist Creflo Dollar rose to fame as the leader of the World Changers Church International and once spent an incredible $60 million on a Gulfstream G650 jet. In addition, he owns swanky estates in New Jersey, Atlanta and Manhattan.
5. John Danforth – $30 million
John Danforth is best known for his political roles, particularly those of Missouri Attorney General and U.S. Senator. But throughout his career he’s also served as an Episcopal priest – one who even presided over the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan, in fact. Danforth is additionally part-owner of the St. Louis Blues NHL team and a best-selling author, and these pursuits and many others have all seen him accrue a fortune of $30 million.
4. Joel Osteen – $40 million
Nicknamed “The Smiling Preacher,” Joel Osteen produced his Southern Baptist pastor father’s TV sermons for nearly two decades. Eventually, he moved in front of the camera himself in 1999 and has since grown the membership of Houston, Texas’ Lakewood Church to 43,000. What’s more, he has preached to seven million viewers in 100 different countries and become a best-selling author to boot. However, in 2014 he was accused of using his church to promote his publications.
3. Benny Hinn – $42 million
Israel-born Benny Hinn converted from Eastern Orthodox to Pentecostal after moving to Canada with his family. He subsequently founded the Miracle Crusades in the United States. Hinn has claimed that he’s helped over one billion people with his powers, including those suffering from AIDS, cancer and blindness. Furthermore, he’s also raked in $42 million for his efforts.
2. Robert Tilton – $50 million
Robert Tilton was involved in a ’90s scandal in which he was accused of exploiting the vulnerable for financial gain. Nevertheless, he still reportedly has $50 million in the bank despite the damage to his reputation. The televangelist had previously shot to fame as the face of Success-N-Life. This infomercial disguised as a TV show reached more than 200 different U.S. markets.
1. Pat Robertson – $500 million
But the title of America’s richest pastor – by quite some distance – goes to Pat Robertson. Indeed, the Southern Baptist minister has an estimated $500 million to his name. The Virginia native has amassed that astonishing figure as the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Regent University and ABC Family Channel as well as through a 50-year stint hosting hugely popular TV show The 700 Club.