““When I made the film The Invention of Lying, they gave me a private jet for getting back and forth between New York and London. I thought, ‘I will never use it’ but I ended up using it every weekend. You turn up, right, and the airport is completely empty. I mean, there’s just someone at the desk and then the pilot, who says, ‘Are you ready to go?’ and you say, ‘Don’t you want to see my passport?’ and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, I suppose I’d better.’” ”
Nothing in Frederick Price's early life suggested that he would one day lead a congregation of thousands and fly around in a private jet. He grew up poor, in a nonreligious household, with an alcoholic father, and he suffered during childhood from an inferiority complex and a variety of phobias.
Dropping out of college after two years-the "Dr." that often appears before his name refers to an honorary degree from Oral Roberts University-he began toiling in a factory that made typewriter and business machine ribbons and forms. "I was a paper cutter," he told us, "meaning that when they took some of the bulk paper off the rolls and rolled it out into sheets, my job was to cut it up into the different-sized forms."
Then came marriage to a devout Baptist and, said Price, "I was divinely called to the ministry." Exactly what kind of ministry took a while to figure out, though. "I matriculated to several denominations over a 17-year period, trying to find a place where I could fit in," Price recalled. "Because I wasn't brought up in the church, I didn't accept things just because 'we've always done it that way.' And when I would question them, I got booted out. So after a period of time, the Lord began to deal with me about coming out of the denominational church world and setting up an independent church."
Today, Price's Crenshaw Christian Center-which also employs his wife, four children and all of their spouses-is among the country's largest churches, with a congregation of 22,000 and facilities in Los Angeles and New York City. Price, now 75, reaches additional believers with TV broadcasts that are heard on nearly a hundred stations in 29 states. According to his Web site, he has also written more than 50 books, selling 2.1 million copies.
The church, which he described as a $40 million corporation, undoubtedly earns substantial sums from those books and from the dozens of products and services touted on its Web site-everything from an "Answered Prayer Guaranteed!" DVD series to a "Ministry at Sea" Caribbean cruise. But the bulk of its income may come from tithing: the church's Web site tells parishioners that they should tithe 10 percent of their incomes and then pay for the cruises and other products out of the other 90 percent.
"That's Bible," explained Price. "God said it. We didn't. And I can attest to it in my own life. When I was not tithing years ago, I was robbing God and we were cursed financially. Since I've been tithing, we are blessed beyond imagination."
You were ready to give up flying when you turned 65, I understand.
I'd been traveling for 20-plus years. I was tired of airports, tired of flights being cancelled, tired of having to change planes-just fed up with the whole thing. But when I told my daughter who runs the ministry-she's the COO-that I wasn't going to travel anymore, she said, "Dad, you can't do that. You have too much to offer." She was really the spark that ignited the interest in finding another possibility, which was charter. Actually, she was thinking we needed to buy an aircraft. But we had to charter to figure out what best suited our needs.
How did you like charter?
The process of chartering was fine and, of course, the private plane was even better-it was a lifesaver.
In what way?
Well, the pressurization in a commercial airliner is quite different, and that's actually what beats you up and gives you that continuous feeling of fatigue. The first time I took a long flight on a charter plane, I didn't get out of it tired. I felt like I'd been riding in my car a couple of blocks. So it was quite an exhilarating experience.
Why did you decide to buy your own aircraft rather than stick with charter or use a jet card or whatever?
We felt we needed our own aircraft so we could go when we wanted to go and not have to face the possibility of not being able to fly on the kind of aircraft we wanted when we wanted to fly.
Did you pick the Gulfstream yourself?
It was a collaborative effort. We flew on one a couple of times and really, really liked it. [The GII] was in the kind of price range that best suited us at the time and performance-wise, it was a good aircraft.
You fly a bit internationally?
We go to Africa maybe every two or three years. We usually fly commercial because you get to fly on the big planes. Then, once we get to the continent, we charter.
You've said the payback for your jet far exceeds the cost. How so?
I'm not a spring chicken anymore and we have a church in New York City, so we're talking about a five-hour flight one way. As I said, flying on commercial airlines used to beat me up. And my wife, when we would get off the plane, would immediately have to go to the hotel and crash-she was zonked out. From the time we flew on private planes, she was chipper and ready to go play golf. So it's really preserving my life. And we're labor intensive-we're not making widgets or automobile parts-this is a person deal. So the longer my life is extended, that's a benefit to the ministry.
You've mentioned a goal of learning to fly the airplane. Any progress with that?
That's a desire I have, but to block out time to do that on a consistent basis just hasn't come around yet. I still believe that someday I'll be able to do it.
Do you use the jet for personal travel?
Because we're a 503c nonprofit corporation, I cannot legally [do that] unless I pay the church comparably to what I would have to pay to charter. So when I do use the plane [for personal travel], which is maybe once a year when I go on vacation, I pay for that just like I would pay a charter company.
How much do you fly for the church?
A couple of years back, when we were first establishing the church in New York, my wife and I flew every single week-52 weeks-Los Angeles to New York and return. Now the least we'd go is once a month and recently we've had to go twice a month.
Let's talk a little about your ministry. You've said your work is teaching, not preaching. What did you mean?
Preaching is more inspirational. Teaching is more informational. And I'm a person who believes Christianity as it has been practiced traditionally leaves a lot to be desired in reference to giving people information. They get a lot of inspiration, but I can't pay any bills with inspiration. I need some information. So I am a teacher more than a preacher. And of course when you get the right information you'll be inspired. But if you get inspired and don't get information, you'll feel good but you don't have any knowledge.
Why do you think you've been so successful?
I had a divine call and I've done everything in my power to fulfill that call.
Do you think running the church like a business has had anything to do with it?
Not in and of itself. But obviously it is a business and has to be run like a business, so we do that and we do it very well.
Even in the corporate world, there's criticism of private jet use. There are those who say they're an excessive luxury. Do you hear comments like that from people inside or outside the church?
I haven't. I'm sure somebody has said that but that's only because of being ignorant of what's involved. It's just like driving a car with an automatic transmission. I mean, we could buy a car with a stick shift but what's the point? The automatic is a lot more convenient; it's less labor intensive. We use television instead of trying to send something by a crystal set so why not use what other things are available that are going to make life easier and us more productive?
Do you share the philosophy of preachers such as Reverend Ike, who say it's fine for religious leaders to live lavishly? Or do you believe in living more modestly?
I live Biblically. The problem is that, traditionally, most Christianity has been presented in a poverty mentality and that's really not Bible. If you understood the Bible, you would find out that you should live just as good as anybody else on the planet. [My lifestyle] might appear lavish to somebody, but it's just a matter of life should be comfortable. So, whatever it takes to be comfortable. It's all in the Bible. Everything [about] my lifestyle, I can show you in the Bible.
Name: Frederick K.C. Price
Home: Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.
Transportation: Gulfstream II
Family: Wife preaches in the church, daughter is COO and two other daughters and a son all work in the ministry. Son-in-law directs flight operations. Has six grandchildren.