November 30, 2015
Not long ago a well-known member of the “reformedish” world explained to me that his gifts were too significant to be squandered accepting invitations to speak at anything other than large churches and prominent conferences. My heart sank. This was a man I admired; whose work had been an encouragement to me. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t begrudge him the right to make a living. What shocked me was the unabashed mercenary attitude displayed. Ministry, it seems, goes to the highest bidder and most prestigious gig.
I wish his attitude was the exception. But experience has been teaching me that it is not. I suppose I know too much. I have seen too much of the inner workings of the Evangelical Industrial Complex to remain naïve. Brothers, we have a problem and her name is greed.
We are rightly scandalized by the efforts to sanctify greed by such modern prosperity preachers as Steven Furtick and TD Jakes. But I fear that we in the Reformed world are developing our own versions of Jakes and Furtick (albeit less crass and with better theology). I know that is a provocative statement. I know that some will take offense. Believe me when I state that it gives me no pleasure to write such a sentence. But the evidence continues to mount. We are becoming lovers of money and fame. And I have a suspicion that those who will object to this conclusion know in their hearts that it is true.
Now before any straw men are quickly built and cast down allow me to clarify a few things.
1. Faithful preachers are worth their keep. The Bible tells me so (1 Cor. 9:3-14; 1 Tim. 5:17-18).
2. There is nothing noble about asceticism. I hate asceticism. It is nothing more than self-righteousness placarded as self-denial. I remember Tony Campolo’s ridiculous line (he had a lot of them) that you cannot be a Christian and drive a BMW. Nonsense.
3. Churches that refuse to care for their preacher’s financial needs are sinning. Again, the Apostle Paul makes clear that those elders who serve well in teaching and preaching should be given “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17-18). Just as a pastor should not demand an unrealistically high wage so too a church must not deliberately withhold a sufficient salary from their pastor.
I am wading into this issue with much fear and trembling. The siren song of greed sounds loudly in my heart. I understand the desire to have more money, more security, and more status. So, I do not desire to establish some arbitrary standard whereby anyone who has more money than me is in sin. I vigorously reject that sort of self-serving standard. At the same time I do not want to pretend as if wealth is not a dangerous temptress. And we who are Reformed, who affirm the authority and inerrancy of Scripture ought to heed God’s warnings concerning the pursuit of money and possessions.
I am challenged by the example of Paul who chose at times to relinquish his right to financial support from the churches he served. We know that at Corinth and Ephesus he chose to make tents rather than receive financial support from the church. At least one of the reasons for this was his desire to not be identified with the super apostles who exploited the churches for financial gain. So great was Paul’s concern that he not be perceived as a mercenary minister than he refused payment at various times.
Paul never made his choice in those instances a command for the rest of us. But at the very least shouldn’t we imitate his example of vigorously avoiding any reasonable accusation of greed? Instead, it seems that a growing number of those within the Reformed community of ministers are becoming conspicuously wealthy and powerful. This is dangerous brothers. It is dangerous for our witness and our souls. I write this because I do not want us to preach to others that they must treasure Jesus while we treasure money and fame. I do not want us to bring disrepute upon our Lord and His church by loving the world, its trinkets, and its notions of security.
I invite you to join me in asking these questions routinely:
1. How much wealth should I amass?
2. When was the last time I accepted an invitation to preach and refused payment?
3. When was the last time I preached at a small church?
4. Would I be embarrassed if my church or donors knew how much money I made annually?
5. Does the house I live in, the cars I drive, the clothes I wear, the restaurants in which I dine (etc) open me to a realistic charge of materialism?
6. Do “ordinary” people have regular access to me or only those who are influential?
7. Do I censor myself on certain issues for fear that I may lose access to well-paying ministries?