Money and the Ministry:Teachers, Preachers and Mammon
5 …Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.6 …Godliness with contentment is great gain.7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 1 Timothy 6
14 Behold… I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you…. 2 Corinthians 12:14-15
Jesus did not specifically address how leaders in Christ should approach soliciting – or even accepting money from their flocks, but he did teach all of us that we are to live only for the kingdom of God. He was an excellent example to us of what this should look like since He gladly gave up his glorious throne in heaven (See, Ezekiel 1), to live a sweaty, dirty life of abject poverty and even homelessness while on this earth. (See, Matthew 8:20; and John the Baptist’s poverty as an example of those who are great in God’s eyes,Luke 7:24-28). He also taught all of us that we should be willing to lose everything in this life in order to gain an eternal inheritance, where moths and rust can’t destroy it and thieves cannot break in and steal it…for where our treasure is, there also is our heart. Matthew 6:19-21
Jesus was not even close to an average middle class man. As Isaiah 53 states, there was nothing about Jesus’ external appearance that would make him desirable to mankind – he had neither good looks nor material wealth. He was born in a manger, in a barn, and he toiled with his hands as a carpenter for most of His adult life. In Luke 7:24-28, when the people who travelled to hear Jesus speak, asked him about John the Baptist, the greatest man born of woman, Jesus commented on his poverty, and told them that they should expect to find those who wear fine clothes in king’s palaces, clearly implying that those who are called to preach the message of His eternal kingdom should have nothing in common with either the wealthy or the rulers of this dying world.
When Jesus sent his beloved disciples to spread the message of the kingdom, he sent them out with nothing but the sandals on their feet and the tunics on their backs. He did not instruct them to ask for money but to simply go…and spread the message of the kingdom of God, knowing that the people who met them would, by the Spirit, provide for their needs. He made them trust, not in themselves, but in the one who meets all of our needs so graciously (Matthew 10:7; Luke 10:7-8).
Philippians 2:5-11, also sets forth Jesus’ attitude towards His time on Earth very clearly. In this passage, Paul states that Jesus did not consider His equality with God something to be keep Him from fulfilling his earthly purpose, but instead, He let go of that glory, making Himself of no reputation, taking the very nature of a servant being found in human form…and He was obedient all the way to a cold and brutal death on a hard, wooden cross. Likewise, Paul in Philippians 3:7-14, explained his attitude toward earthly wealth by stating that, whatever on this Earth was to his profit, he considered a loss for the sake of Christ. In fact everything was a loss to him compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, for whose sake he gladly lost all of the things that the world cherishes. Paul’s attitude towards life and eternity
Unfortunately, our culture and traditions have placed huge burdens and expectations on our churches and pastors. Pastors often have large debts from seminary and thus, come out of school, expecting to make a living from their church position not only to pay off their debt but also to cover the needs and wants of a typical middle class American. Churchgoers also demand endless programs for themselves and their families, and expect the pastor, as CEO, to provide for all of their emotional and spiritual needs along with offering trendy(read: worldly) media and worship – along with a staff to cover every possible area of ministry. As a result, money is required…often a great deal of money, and Jesus Christ often becomes minimized or even transformed into a character that has little or no resemblance to who he really was, is and is to come in the Bible. While there certainly are some committed, humble pastors who don’t allow money (and the false teaching that accompanies it) to ruin their churches, in America that seems to be the exception and not the rule.
Fortunately for us, Paul, as a great apostle and teacher, specifically addressed how he lived and provided for himself as he travelled the world with his companions, laboring to preach the kingdom of Jesus Christ, regardless of the personal cost to him…and thus, by example, showing us what to expect from those who teach and preach to us in this present age. Paul didn’t seem to think that preaching should be a full time job, as we will see later, but instead, he viewed the gospel as a sacred trust, given to him by God, and thus, he had no problem laboring with his hands daily as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3) in order to provide for himself as he preached. He was willing to suffer anything in order to avoid raising questions about the purity of his heart towards his little flock…as the following scriptures will illustrate.
In Acts 20:22-37, Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders regarding his upcoming trip to Jerusalem, which he knows will result in imprisonment, afflictions, and eventually death. Yet those facts did not deter him from making the journey, as he boldly stated that he did not count his life valuable, if only he may joyfully finish the ministry he has received from Jesus Christ – to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God. Paul then goes on to warn the elders about the ravenous wolves that will spring up from amongst the brethren in an attempt to draw them away from the truth.
Paul also reminded the elders that God is preparing an eternal inheritance for His children, and that he, as an example to them, did not seek any material things from anyone, but instead, provided for all of his own needs and also for the needs of others, and he did this with his own hands…for as he said (and lived!), it is more blessed to give than to receive. As Paul was preparing to leave them, the elders crowded around him, embracing him, weeping…and kissed his neck. This beautiful picture of deep love through Jesus Christ – from the sheep to their shepherd – can only come through that very rare breed of teacher who speaks and lives with a pure, loving, and selfless heart.
In Romans 16:17-19, Paul tells the brethren to mark those among them who cause divisions and offences, which are contrary to the teachings they received from the apostles. Paul noted that some people do not truly serve Jesus, but instead are actually serving their own appetites through smooth talk and flattery in order to deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. He then praises them for their obedience and tells them to be wise in what is good and innocent towards evil. Paul was warning the Roman believers, as he so often did to the other churches, to be on guard for greedy, false teachers who openly and often subtley, lie in order to obtain improper benefits for themselves from amongst the brethren.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1-17, Paul states that he has been given a trust by God and thus, must be a faithful steward of that trust. He then goes on to say that God has called him to be a fool for the sake of Jesus, like a man at the end of a procession, condemned to die in the arena. He says that as Apostles, he and his companions are willing to be despised, to be poorly clothed, to be beaten, and to be homeless. He states that he labors with his own hands, being reviled and being treated as the trash and the filth of the world, if only to spread the message of the gospel.
Paul’s point in this passage is that his one and only goal is to further the kingdom of Jesus Christ, despite severe and unending difficulties, which at one point while in Asia (per Acts) even caused him to despair of life itself. Furthermore, in verses 16 and 17, he implores believers (us included) to follow him and his ways. The suffering Paul brought on himself by his selfless attitude may be great…but in his eyes, they are far outweighed by the eternal reward he will receive in heaven. May we, along with those who instruct us, live for that eternal reward rather than for the temporary pleasures of this life.
In 1 Corinthians 9:14-19 (see, also Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7-8), Paul states that, while those who preach the Gospel do have a right to have their basic needs met from their teaching, he personally rejected that right in order to keep his message pure and to avoid being a burden on his flock. He states that he preaches the Gospel free of charge so that he can truly be emancipated from all men, and can serve everyone freely, that he might win even more to Christ. Winning more souls to Jesus Christ was his only purpose. His goals were not to win others to Jesus while maintaining a decent lifestyle. Every single thing on this planet was a loss to him except for knowing Jesus Christ and spreading that eternal message to others (Philippians 3:7-14)…so that perhaps, some might be snatched from the flames.
In 2 Corinthians 2:16-17, Paul noted that he and his followers were not like those who peddled the Gospel for profit, but instead, they trusted in the sufficiency of God to provide for their needs. They knew that they were sent by God himself and thus, would be cared for as God saw fit, in obvious contrast to those who preached primarily as a vocation. Because of this trust, Paul said that he and his companions were able to share the Gospel sincerely and without questionable motives.
In the above passage, I believe that Paul is, at a minimum, questioning the whole concept of preaching the words of God as a job. Paul never even considered soliciting one cent for his ministry work, despite the fact that he had been entrusted with the gospel by a visitation from Jesus himself – and despite a miserable material existence. Paul also seems to question the sincerity of those who teach and preach the eternal kingdom of God for material reasons, and I think we can see why he feels this way based on what we see in many of our churches today. While preaching and teaching the word of God may take place…the flow of money to fund lifestyles and trendy programs often slowly and quietly becomes more important, and the Jesus of the Bible and the hard truths of the word, slowly fade into the distance….
In 2 Corinthians 11:7, when distinguishing himself from false prophets and teachers, Paul again notes that he preaches the Gospel free of charge. In 2 Corinthians 12:14-16, the very next chapter, Paul tells the Corinthians that he does not seek anything of theirs, but instead, he simply wants them! He then gives an excellent analogy of how a teacher should view his flock by stating that parents (him) ought to lay up treasure for their children (them), and not vice-versa. Paul did not want to be a burden in any way on those he viewed as his precious children. What a beautiful heart this man had toward those God gave him to teach and to love! May we find men like him on this Earth.
In Philippians 4:10-16, Paul, despite the fact that he has no possessions to his name except for the clothes on his back, tells the Philippians that he has no needs of any kind. He then teaches them a deep truth of the spirit… that he has learned to be content in all circumstances, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or living in want. He has learned to do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens him. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul expounds further on that thought by communicating what a blessing it is to be entrusted by God with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because he views it as a blessing and as a sacred trust, he makes it clear that he did not share the message with guile, flattery, as a pretext for greed or for the glory of men. Instead, he shared the Gospel for one purpose – to honor God, and he did so with great gentleness – sharing not only the Gospel with them, but his life as well.
When writing to the Thessalonian church Paul states that, he, Silas, and Timothy worked day and night so as not to be a financial burden to any of them. He says that the three of them behaved with purity, righteousness, and blamelessness amongst the believers. Paul then seems to make the point that, because of the integrity with which they lived among the people, they were able to exhort, comfort, and command everyone with love and integrity, just as a father does a child. They had earned the trust of the Thessalonians by their selflessness. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, Paul, when again discussing his visit to Thessalonica, condemns idleness and reminds the church that he and his fellow apostles were not lazy while amongst them, but worked tirelessly, toiling night and day that they might not be a burden to any of them. He then notes that, while they did have the right to receive something for their preaching, they gave up that right as an example for others to follow. Clearly, preaching with pure motives, and teaching others to do the same was an important goal of Paul’s ministry.
Shouldn’t those who want to teach us God’s word follow the example of purity laid out by Paul and his companions, who cared only about glorifying Jesus and thus, constantly refused to take anything from the precious flock lest their heart and motives be questioned and the message be spoiled? Paul was willing to do whatever it takes, even if that meant toiling with his hands night and day, to make sure that the message of Jesus Christ was preached with purity and power through the Holy Spirit.
In 1 Timothy 6:5-10, Paul seems to define what a teacher should consider as sufficient if he desires to receive a material benefit from the preaching of the Gospel. (see also, Matthew 10:7 and Luke 10:7-8). In this passage, Paul tells Timothy to avoid corrupt men who equate financial gain with godliness, because godliness with contentment is great gain. He reminds Timothy that we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. He also tells Timothy that those who desire to be rich often fall into temptation, and into many foolish and harmful lusts, which drown men in ruin and destruction. In verse 8, Paul then advises Timothy that, if he and Timothy have food and clothing, they should be content. I think that is an excellent instruction to those who seek to obtain anything material from their flock, and it is consistent with what Jesus said to his disciples when sending them out in Matthew and Luke (per the above citations).
In Titus 1:7-13, Paul, when describing what an overseer in Christ should be like, states that such a man should be blameless as a steward of God, hospitable, full of sound doctrine, and not greedy for dishonest gain. He notes that many deceivers, who must be silenced, subvert whole households by teaching for dishonest gain. Those people should be rebuked sharply so that they may be sound in the faith.
Peter addresses the issue of money and discipleship as well. In 1 Peter 5:1-5, Peter exhorts the elders of the church to shepherd the flock of God eagerly and willingly, and not for dishonest gain. He then teaches them not to lord their authority over the people, but instead to be examples to the flock, so that when Christ, the Chief Shepherd appears, they all will receive a crown of glory that will never fade away. Peter, like Paul, was reminding the church to focus on eternal rewards, and not on short-term temporal gain, lest the flock sense greed and reject the message of Jesus.
In 2 Peter 2:1-3 and 14-18, Peter warns the believers that many false prophets will appear blaspheming the way of truth and in their greed will exploit them with deceptive words. He goes on to state that these false prophets entice unstable souls, and that their hearts are trained in the ways of greed. They speak arrogant words of vanity, enticed by the lusts of the flesh and by depravity. We all need to heed Paul’s warning, and be on the lookout for this type of teacher by testing every sentence our leaders speak, and every demand they make, with the unchanging, everlasting word of God.
In light of the scriptures referenced above, and especially in the face of Paul’s willful and severe deprivations, shouldn’t we all be asking why so many of our pastors seek middle class lifestyles through the money they receive from their flocks? Aren’t they supposed to be teaching us (and themselves) to seek eternal rewards instead of storing up earthly possessions? Why then do they refuse to follow or even acknowledge the examples of Jesus and Paul, and take little or nothing from their disciples?
Clearly, scripture states that the apostles should be content with food and clothing if they take anything from their churches, but Paul refused even that! Perhaps the large buildings and the fancy programs should be abandoned and pastors should consider taking a job full time elsewhere, lest they become a burden on their flock, or worse – slowly become greedy polluting and weakening the gospel of Jesus Christ to suit their own needs and the itching ears of their congregations. Perhaps meeting in the homes of the flock, and redefining the role of pastor in order to meet the biblical example of a true church might be a radical, yet appropriate option. This would require a huge change in expectations on both the church and the pastor and will require each person to use their gifts more actively, rather than have one or two people up front doing all of the teaching, sharing, and shepherding.
The key problems that arise when money becomes an integral part of a “church” are that many pastors inevitably end up giving undue influence to wealthy donors who may or may not have good character in Christ, and/or allow false teaching to take root, in order to draw in more people who will be attracted to the worldly message which is often shrouded in Christian language. The unspoken hope is that the new attendees will start giving money as well, thereby perpetuating the worldly programs and of course, the ever increasing salaries.
Slowly and quietly money starts to breed corruption in the church, but Paul made certain that where ever he went there was never, ever even the slightest question regarding his motives for sharing the message of salvation through Jesus. Paul adored his flock, and he gave up everything to make sure that they knew they were loved. That is why, as his ministry wound down and he began his long march toward death, the elders in Ephesus embraced him lovingly, kissing him, and weeping knowing that the next time they would see him would be in the eternal kingdom he preached about so passionately.
While I certainly don’t have it all figured out, I do know that we, in the west, have ignored the biblical model of church and instead have largely followed more of a business model in establishing churches, despite the clear contradiction between that model and the church form as set forth by those who established the church in the years immediately after Christ ascended. Let us demand the same type of selflessness and humility from those who preach and teach us as Paul and his companions exhibited, and as church goers let us release our pastors from the unnecessary burdens we place on their shoulders so that we can all work together as a healthy and complete body of Christ. May our congregations begin to model those of the early churches, where large buildings, wealthy pastors, cool and attractive worship leaders, big stages and flashy programs were absent, but…the sharp and flashing double-edged sword of the word was relentlessly preached.
In Acts 9:31, Luke notes that the early church grew when the people were…edifying each other and were walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. I cannot say that I have seen many churches that are edifying each other in the truth of the gospel and are walking in the fear of the Lord. Instead, what seems to be popular these days, in order to encourage growth(and donations) all while earning the acceptance of the worldly masses, is preaching a weak, temporal success oriented message, with eye catching media and worship that mirrors the ways of this wicked world. The message of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” is rarely if ever heard, while false, “positive” teaching and so-called “prophecies” are omnipresent. Every one wants a reputation…either as a healer or as a prophet. Yet Jesus was of no reputation and Paul considered his status as jewish royalty (Philippians 3:4-5) rot.False Prophets and Teachers: Wolves Among Us
When I think of walking in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, I think of living in a place of trust with God – not trying to squeeze every dollar possible out of every attendee, and most certainly not watering down the word of God to attract more people. As Jesus Christ said, when He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. May we lift up Jesus Christ as He truly is in the word, and nothing else, regardless of the financial cost.