Is the church just after your money? If anyone wants to believe that’s true, he or she will have little trouble finding supporting evidence.
There are the TV preachers, crowding the airwaves, urging their video flocks to send them money in return for God’s blessing. Then there are the jet-setting prosperity gospelers, whose ten million dollar private jets whisk them off to wherever prosperity gospelers go.
And what about the media evangelist whose staff emptied supporter’s mail of their checks, then dumped the prayer requests without bothering to read them? They got caught because they threw them in the dumpster behind the bank where the ministry kept its money.
Then there was the famous evangelist who told his audience that God would take his life by the end of the year, if the ministry was unable to raise 8 million dollars. The following January, he repeated the dire warning, this time saying that God would take him home within two months, unless the money was raised. Only about half the money ever came in, and he did die … twenty-two years later.
There have been many others: the pastor whose pet enjoyed an air conditioned dog-house; the preacher whose multi-million dollar organization kept two sets of books and who went to prison for fraud and conspiracy; the pastor and wife team who drove his and her Ferraris – the stories continue ad absurdum.
There is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that some church leaders are after people’s money. But is that really so surprising? The church is full of giving people, which makes it the most likely place for “taking people” to gather. If those scoundrels could finagle more money at the Elks (or the New York Stock Exchange, for that matter) that’s where they’d be.
They’re in church because of the big-hearted and open-handed people there. Yes, some preachers give the impression the church is all about raking in money, but there is another side to the matter. Who is more generous than the church? The Hoover Institution reports that “Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money … and 23 percentage points more like to donate time.”
The church I belong to is a case in point. It gives between twenty and twenty-five percent of its entire income to missions, and that doesn’t count the offerings it gives away once or twice a year to support ministries or to provide relief to people in crisis. And our church is hardly alone in this. Local churches, denominations, and Christian organizations like The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities have done extraordinary work to help individuals and families in need.
Over the years, I’ve been privileged to know pastors who are so committed to God and his people that they support themselves through full-time secular jobs, while working nights and weekends to pastor small or newly launched churches. I knew one man, a teacher, who received a salary from his church but gave every penny of it back to the church to use in ministry.
These people are not “in it for the money.” They couldn’t care less about the money. They join their voices to the eighth century Irish poet who said to God: “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise. Thou my inheritance now and always. Thou, and thou only, first in my heart. High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.”
This is the attitude of the apostles and saints, who knew (and condemned) gospel peddlers and hucksters in their day. Jesus called them wolves in sheep’s clothing, and St. Paul referred to them as those who “peddle the word of God for profit.” “Their god is their stomach,” we are told, “and their glory is their shame.”
How sad that some people believe every sheep is just another costumed wolf! The real sheep may not command a lot of attention, but they’re really making the world a better place.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 3/5/2016