Are Unpaid Master’s Commission Internships Legal or
Not? OR: How to Out Your Pastor for Not
A Little Pebble Can Make a Lot of Waves
I just read this in a fishing magazine of all places. My dad and mom love Alaska, so we have a lot of outdoor adventure magazines around the house.
What’s odd is that I always knew I’d wanted to make a difference in the world somehow, but I never thought my blog might make a big difference. What’s unique about this blog is that it’s the only place that I know of that openly speaks about the spiritual abuse people have faced in Master’s Commission.
When I was in Master’s Commission, people would come up to me and say, “You’re a great woman of God,” or “You’re going to change the world,” or “You’re going to be a voice for the voiceless.”
I honestly think that a lot of what people said was sweet, but just very generic and sometimes very hokey (you know the type of old women who come up and wave flags over your head and speak in tongues like they’re on drugs? yeah, that’s hokey to me). But, what is so ironic to me is the fact that my little pebble-self has made some big waves since July, 2010.
Waves Were Made
Not even five months have gone by and I’ve been contacted by Lloyd Zeigler, co-founder of the Master’s Commission International Network (MCIN) and director of my former Master’s Commission group in Phoenix (now Master’s Commission USA in Dallas, Texas). We discussed some very heavy issues for months and I prodded him to take action over a letter documenting spiritual abuse and slavery-like treatment of staff members. He did take action and the group I was part of, Master’s Commission Industries (now Elevate 3D–who operate in Pods out of Our Savior’s Churches in Louisiana), lost it’s affiliation from the MCIN because of the contacts I made with over twenty former students and staff members, and the encouragement I gave them to write to Lloyd Zeigler. They did.
The MCIN Agrees With Unpaid Internships
Lloyd and I disagreed and ended up parting ways over a variety of issues I continued to try to bring into dialogue. I found out we didn’t agree on a great many points and I was not going to stop until things were better for future students and staff members.
Now, I’m on my own and no one is here to advocate except for me. Lloyd argued with me when I told him that seven year long staff members can’t be treated as interns.
It’s unethical and illegal, even if they’re willing to stay!
I shared with him a New York Times article about how the Department of Labor has been cracking down (for several months now) on business who have interns. Trust me, they’ll catch up to Master’s Commission soon enough–even if it’s through my personal contact to them (which I have).
Lloyd Zeigler stated his case: He’s known doctors who interned for a year and weren’t paid. He knew a zoologist who interned unpaid for a year. It was ethical to him, because Master’s Commission was giving value to the students who interned (for more than a year…even for fifteen years).
I explained to him that there was a huge difference. A doctor goes into the field knowing that he will spend several years studying very demanding biology courses, and then will take a difficult MCAT exam and will spend some time training in the field so that he can make a six figure income (or more).
Additionally, I know teachers who have earned their teaching credential by spending one or two years (depending on the school they attend) taking credentialing courses and student teaching. Student teaching is unpaid, but you’re warned about it early on. You’re also qualified to teach after the student teaching, and can earn a great salary, benefits and three months off in the summer. Not a bad deal.
“Interning” in Master’s Commission is not at all like becoming a doctor or a teacher. If a Master’s Commission student or staff goes into ministry, they rarely become a senior pastor. Most, if not all, become a youth pastor and/or a Master’s Commission director. These youth pastor jobs aren’t always high paid, and Master’s Commission directors do have the luxury of getting compensated financially out of their MC budget.
Why Master’s Commission Staff Members Don’t File Complaints
Why don’t Master’s Commission staff members file complaints, speak up, or report their unpaid “internships?” In my case, I had a very difficult time finding out WHO was the proper person to report this violation to. I spent time as a staff member unpaid, and other years was severely underpaid at $50-$150 a month.
The New York Times reports that, “…It is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.”
I know this to be true. Many of my peers who served as staff members in my own Master’s Commission, or close-by groups in Texas complained to me about not getting paid or getting severely underpaid. However, none of them wanted to be the whistle-blower.
For good reason.
Master’s Commission carries with it a “don’t criticize” and “don’t question the authority” unwritten rule. If you do speak up about something you’re unhappy about, you’re often accused of being “ungrateful” or your spiritual life is called into question.
No “intern” or staff member would want to speak up and risk the chances of being labeled a troublemaker or endangering their chances of networking with a pastor who knows of Master’s Commission and respects the group. If your ultimate goal was to be a pastor, you wouldn’t want to speak up either.
Where To File a Complaint
The other question is where do you speak up, if you want to?
I considered several places. The “Christian” thing to do, in my mind then, was to talk to the pastors themselves. The ones I had an issue with. So, I did. That went nowhere, which left me a bit helpless.
Where else was one to go?
I went to Lloyd Zeigler, and let him know that these things were happening, and he should address them. Turns out, it took a few years for anything to change, and even then, not much has changed within the Master’s Commission International Network and their treatment of staff. I learned during those months that Lloyd didn’t even pay his staff members a fair wage (severely less than minimum wage).
I also learned that the position a Master’s Commission staff member is in it is less likely to draw attention from the Department of Labor if laws are violated because the way the groups are set up. Often, the groups aren’t set up as ministries within the church, but sort of under an umbrella. Not to mention, churches often aren’t scrutinized by the government, since they non-profit groups. They typically have to be reported to the government, by the intern his or herself.
Seek out an Employment Lawyer–Immediately
Another option that would resolve issues is for the staff member to contact an employment lawyer in the state that he or she served in Master’s Commission. If the offense happened in Texas, then you must contact a Texas lawyer who handles Employment Law.
What is the offense? If you were a staff member in Master’s Commission, or on any church staff, and were unpaid or underpaid, you have the right to file a suit against that group for back wages. You can search online for wage comparisons for the type of work you did and find the minimum wages that you should have been paid. Any job worked should have been paid minimum wage, at the very least, but jobs such as Administration have a minimum yearly salary that is required to be paid (even by churches). To ensure winning your case, you should speak to a lawyer within two years of leaving your Master’s Commission group, or church. Some lawyers will attempt the case after three years, and there are some cases where a lawyer may take your case due to the cult-like behavior of a group like Master’s Commission. In this case, a lawyer will file against the Master’s Commission group up to several years after you’ve left, especially if you can prove that you required medical attention or therapy after your years within the group.
Another place to contact is the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU. In order to receive legal representation, you must find a local affiliate. You can do so here: http://www.aclu.org/affiliates. I’ve reported my case to my local affiliate.
Find an Investigative Reporter
When Ted Haggard was outed for his sex scandal, Mike Jones (the callboy) turned to a news reporter, Paula Woodward, an investigative reporter at KUSA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Denver, Colorado. A news reporter, especially a local investigative journalist may be able to begin work on the story. (For more information, click here: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/how_pastor_ted_got_outed.php)
I’ve contacted several investigative reporters, and have been emailing one in Lafayette, Louisiana.
I’ve also contacted Oprah, 60 minutes, CNN, Gloria Allred, and several lawyers in Texas and Louisiana.
Every local news station or news paper has an investigative reporter. You can google to find the official newsite and then look at their reporter’s profiles to find their email address. Most journalists respond to emails sent to them.
In addition, places like CNN, FOX News, or MSNBC are very interested in hearing these type of stories. They always have a contact page on their official website, with instructions to follow. You typically have to prepare a press release write-up, which can be a lot of effort, but you can always find sources online that can help you prepare a press release with your story. Include facts, such as how much you were paid (or not paid), how many hours you worked, what types of labor you did, and any other information that you think would be relevant to a media story.
How to Report to the Internal Revenue Service
Additionally, you can report financial indiscretions (such as political contributions, which are illegal or being underpaid as a church employee) to the IRS. On the IRS website, it talks about reporting a church to the IRS:
The IRS may only initiate a church tax inquiry if the Director, Exempt Organizations Examinations, reasonably believes, based on a written statement of the facts and circumstances, that the organization: (a) may not qualify for the exemption; or (b) may not be paying tax on unrelated business or other taxable activity. This reasonable belief must be based on facts and circumstances recorded in writing.
The IRS can obtain the information supporting a reasonable belief from many sources, including but not limited to:
- Newspaper or magazine articles or ads,
- Television and radio reports,
- Internet web pages,
- Voters guides created and/or distributed by the church,
- Documents on file with the IRS (e.g. a Form 990-T filed by the church), and
- Records concerning the church in the possession of third parties or informants.
The IRS must derive the facts and circumstances forming the basis for a reasonable belief from information lawfully obtained. If this information is obtained from informants, it must not be known to be unreliable. Failure of the church to respond to repeated IRS routine requests for information is a factor in determining if there is reasonable cause for commencing a church tax inquiry.
You can find more information on the IRS auditing Churches here: http://www.irs.gov/charities/churches/article/0,,id=181365,00.html