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.

Millionaire Shepherds

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.

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10 Responses

  1. Hein

    Stunning Article ! We have one goal only – to preach salvation to a lost world. That’s it! Everything else comes from the goodness of the Lord. Look at George Muller who did not draw a salary in 68 years of ministry. He trusted God to provide and the millions of dollars gained to fund and supports his orphanages came through prayer. He never ask 1 cent of any person. Instead he ask God to provide in all areas.

    • ken j

      Ifind it so amazing the critics of the prosperity gospel these men have built there churchs similar to men building corporations. They have a right to receive compensation god gives them the ability to enjoy some fruit from there labor as a matter of fact give em double honor those who labor in the word. Why is it the church doesn’t mind sinners making millions and billions but when a man or woman of god has been blessed by god we cut them down chop off there heads crucify them and belittle. I’ve never seen lebron or micheal jackson or jordan do anything but play a game or sing trash and we worship them. But the very people who teach our children save our marriages feed the poor we hate then when they prosper. I believe the word is very clear a balance is needed but I serve the god of excess his streets are made of gold not paved with gold he is the creator of every resource. Did god create all of his resources for the devil and his crew or the sons of adam. In any event pray for wisdom for those who are rulers over much stop condemning who made you the judge. Lastly check there giving records many give far more than they ever keep and the laws of giving declare whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. Take your problems to the nba and tell them to stop paying men millions to run around in shorts and throw a ball into a basket, sue the nfl for letting men run around in tights chasing after a leather ball and paying them millions for a game and by the way 99 percent of those will never tithe off of there income. God bless you.

      Ken

      • Marty

        I don’t believe you need alot of money to follow the ways of Jesus, also I don’t think living in a million dollar home makes you very humble.

  2. wanda

    Interesting article. Yes, I’ll agree that this, “Prosperity Gospel” message has gotten way out of hand. The notion that serving the Lord will guarantee that you’ll be healthy and wealthy is contrary to all of what the Bible expounds. One need only go to back to the accounts of the early Church to realize just how erroneous this so-called doctrine really is. I don’t have a problem, per se, with pastors who are prosperous. (Yes, you first have to be led of the Lord and/or “called” to be a pastor. But it’s also a vocation. Add to that, many have families to support and feed.) I also don’t have a problem if a pastor writes a book and it lands on the Times bestseller’s list, especially if it turns out to be a positive blessing to anyone who reads it. What I would mind is if this same, prosperous pastor were to march up to the pulpit Sunday after Sunday telling me about it.

  3. Mel Curtiss

    I believe the Bible is very clear on putting the evangelical call first, other people’s needs second, and caring for our personal needs last. A

    The Bible does mention the shepard is “worth double honor” so if the mean income of the congregation is $50,000 then a thumbnail estimate of the pastor’s income would be around $100,000 not a figure with multiple amounts of $100,000 thousands!
    Think of how many unsaved souls could be reached with the redemptive claims of Christ if each of us (parishioner and pastor alike) gave God all our income, time and talents and only kept what sustained us! We would be tithing 70% and living on 30%, most likely. We have put ministry needs first and personal needs second and have found overwhelming peace and evangelistic opportunies over the past 4 decades. This ministryt attitude works for others and we too are blessed.

  4. Pauline

    I have no problem with a pastor living to a standard on a par with the least a member of his congregation earns. However I do challenge the need for two expensive homes and multiple expensive cars. Pastors need to lead by example. Huge amounts of money provide many ways to give and provide for the poor. We are all called to serve not feather our own nests. We need to come back to God, ask His will for all the affluence He has provided and be responsible stewards of His provision.

  5. Justyn

    Hardly a fair article. The view presented was one-sided. Absolutely, there are those who take advantage of the “prosperity gospel” and that’s wrong. However, I think most are good stewards of what God has given them. Sounds like you like Piper. I’d encourage you to read the book “The Blessed Life”. There is a great perspective about how God blesses people.
    Also, isn’t it selfish of us to ask Gid for just enough!? Kind of shows that we’re only thinking about my needs and not others. My prayer for you and others is that God gives you more than enough that you may be blessed and have plenty left over to bless others. Prosperity with Purpose is a good thing! 😉

    -PJ

  6. Chad

    Call me narrow-minded, but I think that Scripture should be part of this discussion. Here is one passage. I know it’s the Bible, but please read it (it’s just 3 verses). It talks about praying for riches:

    Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
    8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
    9 lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:6-9)

    Here is a short video about the same theme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2oi6y292kE

  7. Martin

    I pastor a small Church and there is not enough tithes to support me and my family so I work a full time job on top of taking care of the Church. Since I am not paid by the Church, my opinion cannot be accused of being bias! I believe that a minister is worthy of his wages so long as his focus and drive for what he is doing, is not money. There’s nothing wrong with a pastor or any other Church member, being blessed materially, so long as it doesn’t become a stubling block to the actual ministry.
    We had a house once and God called us far from our home. We decided to give our house away to a couple who needed one at the time. Today, I can see God’s hand on me again as we started over from scratch. I do not apologize for the blessings my way… But also, I do not hold on to them should they stand between the ministry work and my comfort. God’s work is much more important than our comfort.
    It all has to do with our heart before Jesus.

  8. RichardKnaus

    OK, how much is John Piper pulling in? He has written scores of books and pulling in royalties and what is his salary as a Pastor. Jesus was a blue collar construction worker who lived in poverty and had no possessions. Let’s see Mr. Piper and other pampered pastor’s balance sheets.

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