Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Greed and Bitterness: Why Nobody's Got it Right About Money and The Church

This month's SynchroBlog is a variety of thoughts on Money and The Church. These are two hot topics. They both engender feelings of love and hate in people. Money is both needed and detested - loved one moment, and despised the nexxt. Church is increasingly becoming a topic like money - both loved and despised. Put the two topics together and it goes nuclear.

So here are some thoughts about paid ministry:

For years, the churches I have pastored have been rubbing shoulders with the House Church Movement. Many poeple involved in the House Church Movement believe that one of the primary problems with the IC (Institutional Church) is paid ministry. Now the logic involved in their opinions is clear, concise, persuasive, and not wholly Biblical - but not wholly unbiblical either. Paul's work as a tentmaker is used as a model, and his observations on paid ministry are often ignored.

Yet, the abuse of paid ministry positions in large churches, and television ministries has been a scourge on Christianity, adn greedy ministers have abused scriptural passages such as 1 Timothy 5:17 ("Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.") to justify living ostentatiously.

Somewhere between the two extremes is the answer perhaps, or maybe the answers are independently determined by human hearts. A bitter heart holding unforgiveness towards greedy preachers, and demanding a new law of financial accountability may be no better off in the eyes of God than a greedy heart looking for riches from the free Gospel of the Kingdon of God.

That's what I think. What about you?


Anonymous said...

I'll add to the splitting of atoms ...

I think we need to start calling a spade a spade. When the so-called ministers of greed start doing that, they have strayed from the teachings of Christ. And Jesus made it pretty clear ... the fruit of the Spirit would be readily apparent. So, I'll call it ... by all the measures given to us, that is rotten fruit, and those leaders need to be removed, not politely ignored.

(have I stirred the pot enough?)

Alan Knox said...

... a greedy heart ... may be no better off in the eyes of God than a greedy heart ...

I completely agree. I do have a preference in this discussion concerning paying pastors/elders and I've written about it on my blog. But, the key here is the heart. Someone can accept pay without a greedy heart, and someone can refuse pay with a greedy heart. One is demonstrating the Spirit, and one is not.

Good post. Thanks!


Agent B said...

Yeah, it's definitely a heart issue. And it's also a faith or trust issue.

ie: if one must alter god's mission/instruction on ones life in order to get the $jack.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Sonja,

I do think spade calling is good - but I wonder if we too easily call a greed spade a spade, but leave the bitter or judgmental spade alone, because it looks like truth declaration. Know what I mean Verne?

Pastor Phil said...


Thanks - and thanks for weighing in on this subject as well. You have some good things to say about this issue.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey B,

What?! I can't sevre God and Mammon? Why didn't anybody tell me this earlier? ;-)

cern said...

You know the impression I get as an outsider is that there are pastors who serve themselves- always looking for ways to get more money for themselves and incidentally for their churh. Then there are pastors who serve their God and their community, truly giving of themselves far more than you'd find in any regular job. Who d'ya think gets the most financial recompense? Yep, the dude who's looking out for himself. Thre's something screwy in the logic of that when placed up to the essence of Christianity.

I don't think Pastors of the second variety get financial recompense in proportion to what they give. But I DO think there is a ringing of honesty and decency and true faith in what they do and, maybe there are rewards of a different kind- spiritual rewards and rewards of human love that help to redress the balance (not that those different rewards help to pay the bills).

Pastors of the first variety come across as fakes and phoneys, taking advantage of those who want to be seen to be faithful believers.

Money is a necessity for life. The larger the church, the more money that will be necessary. But greater sums of money perhaps create a temptation. Perhaps that is what is happening with the Pastors of the first kind- they are succumbing to temptation.



Anonymous said...

(writing with twinkly eyes and grin on face ... )

Ahhhh ... I am flayed!!! Done in and convicted.

Most excellent point, Phil ... and thanks!

I was actually much more gentle and even-handed in my own post. As my husband says, sometimes I just get in this button-pushing mood ;-)

Pastor Phil said...

Cern bro,

As always the outsider's view of those of us in the Christian Church is often more accurate than we see ourselves - thanks for a great reply!

Pastor Phil said...

Filet o' Sonja?


Steve Hayes said...

Have just encountered some problems caused by a greedy one, and was feeling gobsmacked and not a little discouraged.

The bishop said "We will fix it tomorrow, by God's grace. The only places where there are no problems are cemeteries."

Pastor Phil said...


I've been in your shoes. It takes work not become the bitter one over it. Grace on you brother.

Adam Gonnerman said...


My post on this topic is rather long, but towards the end I offer what I hope serves as a sort of middle ground. I'm glad at least you and I are seeing the same problems with two extremes.

Anonymous said...

Before reading this post, I never knew there was a debate over the idea of paid ministry in any part of Christianity. I'm happily surprised to discover this, as it means another point of common interest. (After all, whether we Pagans should adapt a paid clergy model is a hotly debated idea within our communities.)

I think that to me, the question becomes whether or not a minister is doing sufficient work that (1) he deserves a full-time salary and (2) enough of his time is consumed by his ministry that he doesn't really have the time to devote to other income-generating activities. If the answer to both of those questions are "yes," I think it is both reasonable and morally required that those he ministers to find a way to meet his financial needs. If the answer to either of those questions (or in the case of the pastor of one of my old churches -- in my opinion at least -- both of them) is "no," then I think said minister should be responsible for his own income needs. (Of course, I'm also open to some middle ground, such as a part-time salary based on the amount of time actually devoted to ministry.)

Of course, this leads to the question of what is a decent salary for a pastor, and I won't even begin to claim to have an answer to that. Personally, I think salaries in this country are arbitrary numbers that don't make sense in general. (For example, I find it strange that as a software engineer, I make considerably more money than my mother, who is a nurse and actually helps people get healthy and in some senses even has a hand in saving lives. Our differences in salaries brings questions to my mind about where our values as a society really are.) I do think that some "mega-church" pastors and televangelists are way overpaid. But I certainly don't think any minister (or anyone else for that matter) should be expected to survive just above the poverty line. So it's a difficult thing to gauge, in my opionion. In fact, I'm rather glad it's not my call to make. ;)

Of course, I also do find myself wondering to some degree if paid ministry at all contributes to what I view as a problem in many churches where the minister is "the guy who does it all" and the congregants are just there to "watch the show" or "fill the pews." It sometimes seems to me that maybe that much of the work a minister does might be better spread out over multiple people with varying talents.

I apologize for the length of my comment. I guess I just had a lot I wanted to say. ;)

Sally said...

as a Methodist Minister I earn a Stipend ( an allownace to live), it is not huge, along with it comes a house 4 beds and a study milage allownace and other expenses.
On top of that come expectations that you will be available 24/7.... that you owe the church something.... it is difficult to get the balance right. Like you Phil I believe that we need to find a sane middle road, if you find it, let me know!

Anonymous said...

yup, definitely a heart issue. There is a lot of skepticism towards paid ministers and sometimes for good reason. Since this is a heart issue the solution I think would be relational. Instead of making a new law of financial accountability which does not require relationship (nor love for that matter) a natural accountability should rise up from family like love. Everyone is accountable, not just the minister.

Anonymous said...

Accountability is the key. For sure.

Pastor Phil said...


I like your post. Somewhere there is balance, but it will never be in programatic changes, but in hearts serving honestly.

Pastor Phil said...


Great response. I have a file I call "When Pagans Preach." You just might make that file. That was some great thoughts, and yes there is a similarity in the struggle between your world and ours on this issue. In your world they are thinking of moving toward paid ministry, and struggliing with it. In our world, some people are moving away from it, and struggling as well.

Pastor Phil said...


People do think we get overpaid for doing nothing, when in fact we often get underpaid for far more hours than the average job.

Pastor Phil said...

Carl, and Reba,

Yes, yes accountability is key, but of course that can become a law instead of a relational dynamic also.

Pam Hogeweide said...

what a timely discussion in light of the recent furor in the senate over lavish megachurch spending. have you been following that story? things could get rather interesting in the next few months if the targeted megachurches are audited by the government.

(do a google on Paula White and you'll likely find the story, or go browse my blog. I posted about it last week...)

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Pam,

I've not been following it, but it is the pot calling the kettle black - don't you think. One group of corupt public servants calling another group of public servants corrupt. Jeepers. Yet, they do have a point.

Jenelle said...

The house church movement has a difficult time teaching soundly about money, too. In my (wonderful) experiences in house church, no one knows how to, nor do they want to teach about giving.

Way to generate good discussion with a few good words, Phil.

Anonymous said...

In our experience as a church community we have recognised that the danger is either never talking about money or talking about money all the time. So we don't, we talk about it a couple of times a yr, once when the interim accounts are produced so we can be accountable and then we have one month a yr called stewardship month where we reflect on where we are going as a church and how much that is likely to cost and our honest about it with everyone. The expectation though is that the leaders give to the church and set the example in their giving - if we're not committed why would anyone else?

Pastor Phil said...


I find myself having a hard time talking about the issue in church, because of the stain of corruption which has fille our ears. The fact is that there really is far more sacrifice than greed, but greed makes the headlines.

Pastor Phil said...

Paul - yes, yes, and yes again. Always the sound rule. Thanks for that simple reminder.

taocode said...

I only just stumbled my way into this discussion, but I'm really pleased to know that the issue is broached in as many circles and in as many ways. I came here via a chance search for Tacent and downloaded Cum Tacent Clamant. I rather enjoyed the song and the riddle (of sorts) so first I want to say thank you for sharing (or would that be second to the issue at hand?).

As a quasi-outsider, I have my view into this world through the stained-glass of popular culture and news media that tend to cause a slot-machine effect in their reporting. In short, slot machines make it seem like everyone is winning because the noise and fanfare of a win, while in reality they're taking in far more than they're doling out. With that said, I do have an appreciation for what could be seen as a conflict of interest. I recognize that it's not just a simple matter. The comments sparked have certainly spanned the spectrum and I don't have any clear answers on the subject either.

From what I've read here and on a couple other Synchroblog posts (When will we..., from More Than Stone) I think your voice and insights would fall on eager ears at It's a forum suited for discussing such matters and I'm confident that your contributions would be appreciated. Say hi to me there, where I'm known as taocode.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem with the church is that it really isn't the church to begin with. ANYONE can start an untaxed religious church business. ANYONE. On my block we have five churches. Just on my block. ANYONE can start a "church" for any reason and yes, I will admit it, some of those who start churches are pretty weird folks. I think it is reckless and absurd to consider all of these "businesses" as God ordained churches. And to me I consider it just as reckless as to view these kissing cousin groups as churches in the New Testament way. Of course there is no accountability over money, it is all about one dude being lord of the room, and often hand picking the board or stuffing leadership positions with yes men who will always support him.

Occasionally, it is a power board and the role of minister is reduced to ego massager for the "true but secret" owners of the church. Your own former denomination, the squares, sure protected an embezzling abusive pastor and refused to hold him to accountability. I know that because I am related to people who suffered at his hands. Gee, if they wont monitor abuse, what hope is there that they would monitor over finances? A pastor goes on a trip to Israel EVERY YEAR, using church money, bringing back thousands of dollars worth of souvenirs and the Squares do nothing. Nothing.

We cannot solve church corruption until we define what a church is and isn't. Since any creepy dude, dominatrix, paroled felon, private perv, or kissing cousin can start a business and call it a church I think the situation is flawed from the start. There wont be accountability without outside groups monitoring. But that wont happen until we realize that the creepy dudes, dominatrix, paroled felon, private pervs and kissing cousins have been LYING TO US for years and claiming that their little hobby has a divine pedigree.
ANYONE can start a church. ANYONE and because of that financial accountability is impossible except in small, highly monitored structures. And since we can leave the AG, Vineyard and Squares out of that group then I see little hope for financial accountability.

The corruption of money is a symptom of a deeper underlying evil.

The church is not THE CHURCH. It is a business. A business anyone can start and often for the wrong reasons. And dare I say, the church is a rather poor way of spreading the Gospel? I guess I did.

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