I know that the stock market is down and the economy is supposedly in the dumps, but there is one group of people that isn’t doing all that bad–a few pastors. One Atlanta area pastor owns not one, but two private jets which he uses for shuttling to and from Atlanta and New York City. He owns two homes. One is a 3 million dollar mansion, and the other is a 2.4 million dollar condo. The Rolls Royce (or two) that he drives are apparently “gifts” from his church. One well-known pastor was accepting a modest $200,000 salary, and has landed book deals around $13 million. His church operates on a $70 million budget. Another pastor earns a million-plus salary, and resides in a $2.6 million mansion. The list could go on and on.
There are two main responses when people are confronted by the facts of megarich megapastors of megachurches. One response is: “It’s fine. They earned it.” Another response is, “A pastor should never earn that much.” What’s the right response? Whether from jealousy, spite, or devout motives, there is something a bit uncomfortable about a pastor with a whole lot of money. Why?
Getting to the Heart of It
If you’re part of response number one, objections are flooding to your mind. But hear me out. It’s not necessarily the money that’s the problem. It’s deeper. It’s the message. Most of the pastors who manage to rake in a vast income preach a style of message known as “the Prosperity Gospel.” Perhaps a better term for this message is the “Prosperity Heresy.” No, it is not the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It’s mixed and mashed with materialism and heresy, leading to a skewed understanding of the Bible and of grace. That’s heresy. And that’s at the root of many of today’s prosperity preacher’s wealth.
Here is a three-minute video clip from a sermon that John Piper preached, in which he passionately responds to the Prosperity Heresy:
C’mon Now. It’s not that bad!
No, money is not bad. But what does the Bible say about having wealth plus pastors? Interestingly enough, it says quite a bit. The books of first and second Timothy were written to a young pastor. Here is the advice from the apostle Paul to his protégé Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
The Bible is pretty clear on riches. Are they evil? Nope? Are they dangerous? Oh yeah. Should the pastor want material riches? Only if he wants to be plunged into temptations, snares, dangerous desires, ruin, and destruction (9). And if he wants to mess with the root of all kinds of evil and wander away from the faith (v. 10). The pastor is to “flee these things” (11), and “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (11). Paul doesn’t place a dollar amount on the pastor’s salary, but he is very clear about the dangers.
Scripture’s favorite metaphor for the pastor is “shepherd.” Just the analogy has a lesson for us. Are shepherds wealthy people? Yes and no. Yes, they are ‘wealthy’ in terms of their sheep. But very few first-century shepherds had great monetary wealth. A pastor is a shepherd—a man who is more devoted to his sheep than to the salary he draws.
The World Is Watching
Perhaps pastors should be more conscientious about how the world views their massive paychecks and multi-million dollar mansions. Is this something by which the world can say, “I think that pastor is living how Jesus would live”? Does the world see a preacher driving a Bentley and think, “So that’s how the Bible commands us to spend our money, live our lives, and spread God’s Kingdom. Ah.”?
By way of personal testimony, I attend a church with an average attendance around 700 people. We are located a relatively affluent city. Regular attendees include millionaires and successful businesspersons. The pastor, if he wanted to, could command a larger salary. One man, an unbeliever, became interested in church and the gospel. He was skeptical of pastors, however. So, he looked up the pastor’s information, found his address, and drove to the location. He was surprised when he saw that the pastor of this thriving church lived in a small, modest home in an area that was not at all affluent or wealthy. A few weeks later, the man accepted Jesus as his personal savior. The Holy Spirit used the financial decisions of the pastor to lead this man to Christ.
If you are a pastor who loves new stuff, big bank accounts, and really nice cars, please be careful. The pastor of the modern church is not called to be a millionaire. He is called to be a shepherd.