Is it wrong for ministers of the Gospel to have an extravagant income? Before you say “yes,” let me share a story.
I personally know the brother of a staff member at a well-known Charismatic “megachurch” (if I named it, most or all of you would probably know it). According to this friend of mine, one particular popular singer at this church has an income of roughly a million dollars a year from record sales. Yet she lives in a modest apartment and gives most of the money away. The pastor of the church–who has authored a handful of books and is renowned around the world–lives in a small, ordinary American house with his family and drives a cheap, used car. He too gives most of his massive income away. Additionally, they don’t flaunt this generosity, which is why most of you are probably still wondering which church I’m talking about.
These ministers make a lot of money. I know this is only a snapshot, but based on this information alone, would you call them corrupt?
Admittedly, I don’t have a huge income (at least for an American). I say this because I want to be clear that I’m not trying to justify my own standard of living. My wife and I live in a mobile home. We have two cars–a 1999 Ford Taurus and a 2008 Focus (we wanted a newer car with safety features for our baby). My wife works two jobs, and I work three (though, admittedly, we both get to do most of our work from home). God regularly provides for our needs, usually just enough to make ends meet, and we’re content with that.
I clearly don’t make a lot of money. But would it be wrong if I did?
Last month, someone wrote an anonymous question as a comment on one of my blog posts. He (or she) asked:
“How much income did you claim last year on your taxes? I believe transparency is the best way to show you truly care about your ministry. Thanks and God bless.”
The problem with this question is that it implies that corruption is equally proportionate to income. There’s a problem with that. It’s not biblical. And it’s not true. (Consider the story I mentioned above.)
Generally, when people ask such a question, they think they’re doing God a service. Really, what they’re doing is revealing their own jealousy under the guise of being a watchdog. “The accuser of the brethren” is Satan. (See Revelation 12:10.) Those who fault-find are children of their father, the devil. Our Father, on the other hand, chooses not to find faults. (See James 1:5.) In the Kingdom of God, we celebrate the success of others while encouraging one another to manage our blessings well.
If a brother has a lack of compassion or generosity, the problem is not with how much money he makes. How do I know this is true? Because if he suddenly quit his job to “rectify” the matter, he would still have just as little compassion and generosity! Making more or less money does not change one’s heart. Rather, it exposes what is already in the heart.
When I first read that question from the anonymous commenter, I had the initial knee-jerk reaction that most of us would have: I’m not going to tell someone how much I made! That’s private information! Then the Holy Spirit asked me, “Why?” and He showed me how to expose the hypocrisy of the person asking the question.
Here’s my reply:
$23,718, filed jointly with my wife. About a fifth of that was ministry related; the rest was secular income. I was on staff at a church and had (if I remember right) an $8,000 housing allowance, which really helped with our new baby.
How much did you claim on your taxes? I believe the best way to show that you truly care about any human being is practicing what you preach.
One last thing: Next time you demand transparency from a person, please sign your name.
Nearly a month later, I still haven’t received a reply.
Apparently, ministers should be held accountable, but other Christians shouldn’t. And this is precisely the point: We’re all ministers! If the Holy Spirit is in you, then you’re a minister too!
Now, suppose you’re a renowned surgeon who makes a million dollars a year…and you’re a Christian. Don’t you see that this means you’re a minister who earns a million dollars a year? And now you have to ask why you do what you do with your money, because you should be held to the same standard as every other minister of the Gospel. We are all ministers!
Just because you don’t run a “Christian Organization” doesn’t exempt you from the Biblical instructions regarding money. And just because you don’t make a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re not corrupt. My income has nothing to do with whether or not I love and serve Jesus.
Corruption does not increase with the level of income. Rather, the exposure of the heart increases with the level of income. If the heart is corrupt with a little, then it will be corrupt with a lot. Others will just notice it more. And if your heart is humble and pure with a little, then it will be humble and pure with a lot. Though, admittedly, you might not be any more noticed than when you had a little (if my friend’s story is any indicator). Money exalts the proud. God exalts the humble. A true Christian has the capacity in Christ to be consistently pure regardless of their income. Notice what Paul said:
Philippians 4:12-13–I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (NLT)
So is it wrong for a minister of the Gospel to earn millions of dollars a year? Well, is it wrong for anyone to earn millions of dollars a year? No. What’s wrong is serving it rather than surrendering all of it to the service of God.
That’s also true of people with a small income like me. It doesn’t matter how much money you make. You’re a minister. Everything you have belongs to God (not a mere percentage, like 10%). Are you stewarding it well? Are you asking the Lord how He would have you spend/save/invest/give His money?
If not, then you’re no better than a pastor with a lavish private jet, three massive vacation homes, and a $20,000 toilet.
It’s time to stop thinking that we’re more holy because we make less money. It’s time to rejoice in the success of others. It’s time to love more than we point. It’s time to hold ourselves to a higher financial standard than we hold others. It’s time to obey and honor God with whatever amount of money He allows us to have.