Pastors and Their Money

As the two previous posts demonstrate, the love of money is a sin that pastors cannot afford. Don’t misunderstand. Sinless perfection regarding lust for money is no more attainable in this life than is sinless perfection regarding lust for pleasure, lust for recognition, or lust for vengeance. Pastors battle these sins just as those do whom they have been charged to shepherd. But this is not an excuse for failure or complacency. Pastors must join the battle against these sins.

A money loving pastor exists in an impossible tension because his heart is divided. Jesus offers us a sobering warning: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24). Paul warned the younger Timothy that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (I Tim 6:10).

The sinister “genius” of the prosperity preachers is that they have devised a way not merely to excuse their lust for wealth but to celebrate it. Their multiple mansions, private jets, and lavish expense accounts, they declare, are the very signs of God’s blessing upon them. They have “gotten” it. They have learned to live in “victory!” They have sown their seed and it worked. Now, if the rest of us would just buckle down and sow our seed in their ministries then we may be fortunate enough to reach similar heights of blessing.

Two of the worst offenders are Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar who pastors, sadly, one of the largest churches in the U.S. Copeland once famously said, “If we are children of the King shouldn’t we be living like princes?” The aptly named Dollar recently swaggered across the front of his church telling his listeners that they ought to “biggee size everthang!” The “you can have it all” message of these men and others like T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer erase the boundaries between loving God and loving money.

Love of money leads pastors into business ventures and various other distractions that steal away their time from study, disciple-making, and prayer. What is more he will surely rob time from his family as well. So, not only will his primary responsibilities as a shepherd suffer but so till will his wife and children. The tragic story of Randy and Paula White demonstrates this all too well (see previous post).

None of what I have written is meant to suggest that there is something inherently noble about poverty. Some of the most money-obsessed people I have known have been those who have very little money. I believe the key for pastors is the prayer found in Proverbs 30:8b-9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

The people of God have a responsibility to take care of those who serve the Gospel in a full-time capacity. Scripture is clear on this. Nevertheless, pastors should not press their rights too strongly. The same Paul who affirmed the rights of Gospel ministers to be compensated refused to exercise that right in the Corinthian church. So careful was he to not be accused of ministering for the sake of money that he refused financial support from the Corinthians and instead made tents to support himself. He writes, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision…” (I Cor. 9:13-14).

Pastors should be models of godly contentment. “[F]or I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). No pastor can love God and money simultaneously. And the voracious appetite that some of America’s most prominent ministers display for wealth and luxury betrays their idolatrous and divided hearts.

Of course, my own heart is afflicted with the same divisions and idolatries. That is why I have to starve the lust to have more and more. If I feed it, it will become a beast. This requires that pastors must know their hearts well. They must know every dark corner that lies within. This is not a call to asceticism. The church must be careful to make sure the men who serve as shepherds are adequately provided for. At the same time, pastors must to learn to say “I have enough. I am content.”