Pastors, like anyone else, are susceptible to the sin of materialism. There’s nothing that makes pastors especially holy or inclined to do good. When pastors succumb to materialism, the results can be devastating—more harmful than the materialism of one who is not a pastor. What is pastoral materialism, and what makes it such a problem?
In a recent article, we discussed the problem of sanctified materialism—when your church wants more stuff. Unfortunately, pastors are often the ones responsible for the slide into materialism. Materialism is more than just wanting stuff. It’s the elevation of things—materials—to the status of god. Philosophically, materialism is the belief that the material world is all that there is. In other words, a materialist is concerned with things like money, gadgets, toys, hobbies, etc., resulting in decreased attention to spiritual values. According to some definitions, a materialist is someone who conforms to the standards of middle class living—adopting the values, possessions, and pursuits of everyone around him. What is pastoral materialism, and how does it manifest itself?
Signs of Pastoral Materialism
A pastor’s desire for stuff probably doesn’t differ much from anyone else’s desire for stuff. Often, pastors crave the following:
- The latest technology. Being a pastor is a job for which they are plenty of technological tools. With incredible Bible study apps on the iPad to the efficiency of an iPhone, pastors can benefit from technology. Obtaining technology is often a wise use of one’s resources. The problem comes, of course, when the pastor covets such things—when he allows his desire for latest techno gadgets to overwhelm his thoughts and actions. Pastors who are awash in pastoral gadgetry may tend to rely on their gadgets more than they ought to, effectively making them materialistic.
- More books and study materials. Books are the tools of the trade for pastors. A pastor needs books, and he probably needs a lot of them. However, even the desire for more books can become problematic. The pastor’s desire for more books can stem from a legitimate motivation—to better instruct and teach his people. More study materials doesn’t make the pastor. And unless he is cautious, it can morph into a reliance upon his study materials rather than upon the Holy Spirit. That is materialism.
- The American Dream. Most pastors that I know aren’t making six-figure incomes. Nonetheless, the message of the culture is that we need more stuff, nicer stuff, newer stuff, better stuff. Pastors are not immune to such desires.
Timely Truth for a Tragic Temptation
The New Testament book of 1 Timothy was written by a veteran missionary/church planter, the Apostle Paul, to a young pastor, Timothy. In the two letters of 1 and 2 Timothy, we gain insight into some of the major themes that God wants pastors to hear. In 1 Timothy 6:5-11, Paul issues words of caution for pastors who sense the tugging temptation toward materialism. Here are some of those lessons for pastors (and by logical application, for all Christians).
- The ministry is not a source of lucrative financial gain. To think so is to be depraved in mind and depraved of the truth. (1 Timothy 6:5)
- Being God-focused and being content with what you have is a true measure of success. (1 Timothy 6:6)
- Accumulating stuff in this life is shortsighted, since eternal life is what we should be focused upon. (1 Timothy 6:7)
- Even if you have only food to eat and clothes to wear, regardless of quality or cost, you should be content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
- Wanting to be rich is a major temptation, which becomes a snare, producing foolish and destructive desires, and eventually destroying a person. (1 Timothy 6:9)
- By loving money, you will be subject to all kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)
- By craving money, you are in danger of losing your faith. (1 Timothy 6:10)
Now you see why pastoral materialism is such a problem. 1 Timothy 6:10 gives us a chilling warning: through this craving (for money) some have wandered away from the faith. From materialism to apostasy. There is a direct connection. That’s a warning that we must heed.
So what’s the solution? If our culture is so awash in materialism, and pastors are every bit as susceptible as anyone else, what can we do? God’s Word explains: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:12). Right after the warning against apostasy, Paul provides the antidote for materialism. Run away from the love of money. This doesn’t require penury or poverty, as some monastics have taught. What does running from the love of money look like? Thankfully, the passage explains with a series of three commands:
- Pursue righteous character (1 Timothy 6:11). Since loving money leads to a depraved character, the solution should be to cultivate righteous character by God’s grace. Specifically, this includes pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. These are key character qualities that are crucial for the pastor.
- Fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12). Second, the pastor is called upon to fight. We are engaged in war, and one of the best ways to eradicate a lust for the prosperous life of ease, is to maintain our wartime mentality. During war, one does not seek to find more comforts and pleasures, but rather to put aside what would could distract from the combat.
- Grasp eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12). In order to release our hold on the temporal pleasures, we must reach instead for eternal reward. An eternal perspective can correct earthly myopia. Jesus is coming (1 Timothy 6:14), and we must hold fast our faith.
The passage concludes with a glorious declaration of doctrine—an exaltation of the character of Christ. Right living is rooted in right belief. What we believe about Christ Jesus is crucial to true prosperity in life, to our success in fighting off materialism, and our ability in exalting “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15).