We live in a world in which trust in the Church and religious institutions is at an all time low. While our initial reaction may be do become defensive and blame it on the “liberal media,” the fact is that much of it has been self inflicted. While the root causes are many, one of the main problems has been financial issues.
Jesus taught more about money than any other topic.
Money is a part of life and churches, like any other institution, must have it in order to operate. While the Gospel is free, the means to proclaim it can be very costly. It is perfectly appropriate for churches and other ministries to expect the people’s faithful financial support. Even Jesus had a donor base during His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3). In addition, our giving reflects our priorities. Jesus said that where our treasure is, our heart is also (Matthew 6:21). If our heart is truly set on God’s Kingdom, it will reflect in how we use our treasure.
Furthermore, there is nothing unethical about a minister being paid a good salary. Jesus said that the laborer is worthy of his hire (Matthew 10:10;Luke 10:7) . The Bible further teaches that those who share God’s Word with us are worthy of “double honor” (1Timothy 5:17-18). The word “honor” in this verse is the root of the word “honorarium,” and is connected, both by context and by definition, with financial support of the ministry (see Strong’s # 5092).
Ultimately, what you give is between you and God. Responsible ministries will recognize this and not resort to manipulation tactics. Our giving is often described in terms of “giving to God.” That is ultimately true, of course, but it obviously does not mean that God pulls back the roof of the church building, reaches in His hand and receives the money personally. It does pass through human hands. In other words, there are “middle men” involved.
I do not believe that the abuses are as wide as the media portrays. If a person has the leadership skills necessary to be a successful pastor, he is likely earning significantly less than he could working a secular job. Many pastors are grossly overworked, often being on call around the clock. Pastors generally also have to purchase their own insurance and pay their own Social Security premiums, both of which can be very costly. If your goal is simply to get rich, then ministry is certainly not the profession for you!
Nonetheless, the problem is a very real one which I have witnessed up close. I have personally left churches over what I felt were unethical financial practices. Based on personal observations, I offer the following guidelines:
- Do not give in response to threats or intimidation (2 Corinthians 9:7)
- Do not give to the extent that it creates an undue burden on your family (Matthew 27:6; 1 Timothy 5:8)
- Do not give to be seen (Matthew 6:1). Be wary of appeals such as “Bring your offering down front” or “Stand up if you can give $1000 or more (James 2:1-9).
- Again, there is nothing wrong with a minister being paid a good salary, but beware of those who claim a lavish lifestyle as some sort of entitlement (1 Timothy 6:5).
- Never be afraid to ask questions. Contributors to any organization have a right to know how the money they give is being used. Non-profit organizations are fully expected to publicize their financial records, including salaries. If a ministry refuses to do this, it is a definite red flag. Membership in an organization such as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is also a plus.
Finally, to all ministry leaders: Keep in mind that your responsibility on the receiving end is just as real as the people’s responsibility on the giving end. You simply cannot expect people to give if they do not believe that you are trustworthy. Please consider these Scriptures:
We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited (2 Corinthians 6:3, NIV, emphasis added).
We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man. (2 Corinthians 8:19-20, emphasis added).
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3, NIV, emphasis added).
I encourage every ministry leader to spend time meditating on these passages before every offering they take. If the giving level is not where it should be, you may need to ask yourself some serious questions. If the Church is to truly be light in this dark world, nothing less than total scrupulous honesty, integrity and transparency will suffice.
Keep It Real,
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