Friday, November 16, 2007

Money, money, money...it's a rich man's world!

Okay, it's soap box time so prepare yourself. There have been a number of stories in the news recently about Christian leaders being under the investigative spotlight of the IRS and the U.S. Congress for gross financial mismanagement and misapropriation of funds designated for charitable purposes. The reports suggest that many of these leaders are "milking-their-flocks" and getting rich off the income earmarked for ministry.

I have been on a number of blogs that I visit regularly, and many of them have expressed opinions about this issue. One of the reasons that I decided to write about this is the fact that, as I have observed many of the comments written in response to the blogs, I recognize that, not only is this a volatile issue, but it is potentially divisive for the Body of Christ. First, I would like to suggest that the only reason the Church is being policed by secular organizations is because we have failed to police ourselves effectively. Scripture is not silent on matters of integrity where finances are concerned and, unfortunately we all bear the brunt of the poor choices made by a select few. It is amazing to me that while some are forming organizations such as the "Junky Car Club" so that they can spend less and give more, others are buying Bentleys, Rolls Royces and multi-million dollar mansions with income derived largely from the benefits of pastoring a large congregation.

I am persuaded that it is not my role to judge or adjudicate on matters that don't concern me. I don't know anything about the income sources of any of these leaders under investigation, so I am not in a position to determine whether or not they are able to afford these "luxuries" without dipping into church coffers. I do know however (from both Biblical and first-hand experience) that while "all things are lawful, all things aren't expedient." My committment to my calling precludes me from driving a Bentley simply because I don't want to have to constantly explain why I drive a Bentley while people in my congregation can't keep the lights turned on. Am I responsible for their electric bill? No. But I am responsible to demonstrate a sacrificial lifestyle before them in order that I might earn the right to speak into every area of their lives. What does a sacrificial lifestyle look like you ask? Since that is personal, we must each let the Scriptures as well as our purpose and calling speak to us about what that looks like.

Before you begin to protest, let me assure you that I have heard (and at different times even made) all the arguments about different people having different callings, and different income levels and so on. I don't seek to impose a lifestyle standard on anyone. On one of the blogs I read, someone had suggested that the lifestyle level at which we should live as Christians can be called "reasonable man standard." He stated that while he agreed that it was somewhat nebulous to define what that meant, he knew it when he saw it. My response: then your so-called reasonable man standard is subjective, since we will all have different parameters for measuring it when we see it. What I do seek to do however is to point us back to the Bible. Jesus spoke a lot about finances during His ministry. At the risk of over generalizing, I believe we can sum up a lot of what He said as being, "Don't be owned by your possessions so that they don't blind you to the true purpose of having those possessions." A hedonistic lifestyle cannot in any way be complimentary to the message of the Gospel that we preach.

At the end of the day, God is the one who sets the standard of integrity (In His word), and if we find our selves facing a barrage of accusations from the secular world about our extravagant and hedonistic lifestyles, then maybe it's time to take personal inventory and fix whatever needs fixing before the IRS or Congress does it for us in a very public and humiliating setting. What are your thoughts about this issue?

2 comments:

Hope Clark said...

"Don't be owned by your possessions so that they don't blind you to the true purpose of having those possessions." So well said!

Joseph said...

Thanks for your kind comments. As you well know, this is a lesson I am learning the hard way and I am truly greatful for the opportunity the Lord has provided for us to prove ourselves worthy of His trust and calling.