Over the past 17 years — in the prosperity gospel, the seeker-driven church movement, and reformed-ish world — I’ve seen my fair share of manipulative tactics by greedy preachers and by wealthy parishioners. It seems that one cannot simply relegate money-manipulation to one theological camp, or only to leaders. Rather, it is common anywhere sin resides and wages war within every human heart. In other words, using currency to manipulate others and reach a desired end is a temptation easily found in the church today.
Like you, I have seen people rise to power in the church, buying their way up the so-called ladder. I have seen leaders turn a blind eye to sin because they don’t want the church budget to take a hit. I have seen great promise in the church turn into great peril because partiality to the rich took precedence over biblical priorities. It can happen to anyone — even, doctrinally sound teachers — not just shady preachers. Likewise, I have seen courageous warriors stand for what is right and refuse to bow to the rich. I have seen families bond together; choosing biblical principles over profiteering. I have seen men and women shunned by leaders yet still holding their heads high in godly confidence because they had no reason to hide behind the shame of pandering to the manipulative agendas. This is a battle happening in every heart, in every church, and every era.
But like all sin and temptation, the church should not sit passively on the sidelines regarding this issue. Will living in denial or choosing to ignore it be easier? Sure, in the short-term. But no Christian (pastor or not) is called to let sin rule the day. The gospel is the power leading to salvation and transformation. If we’ve been saved, we are no longer indifferent to sin. If we’ve been saved, we no longer lead lives with passive interest in sinful patterns. We no longer walk according to the flesh, but instead, we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). We long to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13) and take the divine escape that God has granted all who are tempted by sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). In short: the church does not turn a blind eye to the manipulative tactics of the wealth for any reason — even if it sinks the annual budget.
Partiality has no place in the church (James 2:1-9). God will not be mocked.
As you reflect on your role in the body of Christ whether as a pastor, staff member, lay leader, or new convert, my heart behind this article is that you be equipped to know (or be reminded of) what money shouldn’t get anyone in the church. My prayer is that this will serve as a trigger for thought, conviction, and affirmation that not only protects your brothers and sisters in Christ, but protects your own heart as well.
In the scenarios below, you’ll find three P’s that money should never get anyone in the church:
Bob is a money-man with no desire to be a pastor, but he sure does like to be in control. He’s run a successful business, received corporate awards for his decades of industry-leading performance, and is used to getting what he wants. His wisdom in the business world makes him an incredible asset to church leaders who aren’t usually known for being business savvy so he is eager to help. Whether he knows it or not, Bob begins to think his money gives him power in the church. Instead of viewing himself as a gospel-patron and servant, he starts to enjoy running the show. He says his generosity is free-will but starts to consistently push his agenda onto the pastor’s desk. Bob shares the correct view that pastors are also servants, that the Bible must dictate what the pastor preaches, and that the ministry vision and strategy is derived from a biblical view of the church and leadership. Yet his actions would indicate he believes his big offerings should play a key role in the direction the pastor takes as well.
Bob has become a problem, but an even bigger problem is the fact that the pastor lacks the guts to be clear with Bob. Perhaps worst of all is the storm brewing under the surface of this church. The other pastors see the problem, the staff see the problem, some members see the problem, and the pastor’s kids see the problem.
Without courage and conviction, this pastor’s leadership credibility is steadily decreasing. Conflict is inevitable and likely already beginning to rear its ugly head in other ways. If only someone would lead with courage and lovingly put Bob (and his checkbook) in his place.
Sam is a big giver who wants in on the elder board. He’s a newer convert with some suspect beliefs, but is a CEO who is such a big giver that he’s fast-tracked into leadership. Like a baseball player who shows up to Spring Training 30lbs overweight, the Senior Pastor figures Sam can just “play his way into shape” (spiritually speaking). Perhaps his role on the board can simply be to offer friendly advice and be loyal to the Senior Pastor, since ministry can be so lonely. What’s the worst that can happen?
Before long, Sam has happily worked his way into a position of authority in the church. He feels a sense of joy, calling, and fulfillment. His wife is so proud of him; telling friends and family about how her husband is an elder at their church. As time goes on, two key needs arise: budgetary shortage and staffing needs to run a certain ministry. Both of these needs must be met and Sam believes he has the perfect solution. He will lead the new ministry, and significantly increase his giving! The pastor can hardly believe his eyes and ears. It’s a miracle of both money and manpower. This must be God, the pastor thinks to himself.
Within a few months, the problems erupt. Sam’s immaturity and doctrinal confusions begin to leak into the ministry he is leading and as a result, the people he leads are even more confused. Some of Sam’s views even contradict the teaching from the pulpit. But perhaps worst of all, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Sam’s home life is plagued with habitual, worldly sins. He’s a drinker who insists on a few to wind down after a hard day — and sometimes a few too many. People behind to wonder, are all of the elders like this? Maybe some are just different? When it comes to doctrine and lifestyle choices, should they agree with the Senior Pastor or Sam? Aren’t both elders? After being given clear direction for his ministry role, he has abandoned that direction; insisting that he knows best. After all, the church wouldn’t have such a hefty budget if it wasn’t for him. Compounding all of the issues is Sam’s over-emphasis on shared leadership after misunderstanding a book he read on biblical eldership. In Sam’s mind, no one person is the leader. He’s taken plurality between elders to exaggerated levels and believes no one can tell him what to do (at least that’s how he reacts when slightly challenged). It’s an “even-Steven” and an equal share of position approach no matter what the org chart says.
Sam should have never been allowed onto the elder team, let alone the elder meetings. His doctrine was beyond suspect, his ambitions self-serving, and his ultimate goal was position. However, Sam isn’t entirely to blame. The pastors in leadership saw dollar signs instead of their divine mandate to protect the church and lead as exemplary shepherds (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). No one should be an elder in the church because of their net worth.
Stan is a very generous giver. He is part of a large family and extended family who attend the same church. Sam’s entire family clan consistently cares for others and even teamed up to buy a brand-new SUV for one of the pastor’s after their old mini-van broke down. Their membership at the church seemed like a match made in heaven,
Until one day when sinful actions came to light regarding Stan’s brother-in-law, who also attended the church. Not wanting his wife or their family to suffer the embarrassment of scandal, they asked the pastors to keep it quiet. To help show their humility and gratitude to the church, they not only gave the church a very large offering, but they also put $1000 cash into envelopes and gave one to each of the pastors for bearing such a painful burden on their behalf.
Choosing to believe the best and not assume “bribery,” the pastors graciously accept the gifts and still decide to do church discipline privately, since it would be perfectly normal to first approach someone privately regarding their sin (Matthew 18:15). They assumed everything would be fine, that Stan’s brother-in-law would repent, and all sides restored without ever bringing in two to three witnesses or “telling it to the church” (Matthew 18:16-17). Unfortunately, Stan’s brother-in-law did not respond favorably or biblically to being called out on his sin. He arrogantly believed the family had “paid their penance.” The pastors made the difficult decision to make a public statement, Stan threatened to leave the church and sue for defamation of character. He believed that after “all he’d done” for the pastors, they ought to side with his family’s reputation rather than the truth.
The situation ended up splitting family and friends in court, sullying the reputation of believers with the spectating world (1 Corinthians 6), and ultimately led to the exodus of hundreds of disillusioned church members.
The Gospel and Grace
These scenarios are common in churches around the world wherever arrogance and prominence breed to form an offspring of sinful manipulation. Is every act of ambition cunningly strategized and loaded with evil intentions? Hardly. The truth is, many people begin with the best of intentions, and discernment amongst church leaders is not always on point. We are all guilty of sin, deceit, ambition, pride, indifference, and complicit behavior. This is why we so desperately need accountability in the pulpit and the pew. This is why we need to employ the leadership principle of: truth and time go hand-in-hand. We do well, in serving Jesus and His bride, to go slow with elevating leaders — especially those who think their money means more than it truly does. This is why we need the gospel every single day.
Are you a money-manipulator? Have you been leading a church while your lack of courage makes you complicit in these sins? Is it possible, that like Eli in the Bible, you have failed to correct those under your care (1 Samuel 3:13)?
Turn to Christ again in repentance. Take up His mantle of mercy. Lay all manipulation at His feet. Humbly confess that you are His servant and that He is Master over your money and the mission of His church.