Posts Tagged ‘money and the church’

How much influence should people with money have in a local church?

According to the New Testament, while wealthy people are welcome in a church – after all, everybody needs Jesus – they are not to use their wealth to make demands or influence decisions.

Probably the best passage along this line is 1 Timothy 6:17-19.  Paul writes:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

During my 36 years in church ministry, I cannot remember a single time when a wealthy believer threatened to give or not give unless I did what he or she wanted.

Maybe some gave more if they liked the ministry, and gave less if they didn’t, but I was never aware of anyone using their wealth as a bargaining chip to get their way.

But this does happen in churches today … as the following two examples attest.

Several months ago, I received a phone call from a pastor and his wife on the East Coast.  This couple were both upset because he had been invited to a committee meeting that night, and he had received advance notice that he would be asked for his resignation.

Why?  Because a wealthy and influential woman on the committee didn’t like the pastor and decided his ministry was over.

While this committee could advise the pastor, it lacked the authority to fire him.  As I recall, the pastor could only be removed from office by congregational vote.

But, this pastor told me, this woman had run out the previous three pastors, and he was next on her list.

And because of her wealth and influence, nobody in the church had the guts to stand up to her.

I gave the pastor some counsel on how he could do exactly that … but I never found out what happened.

However, I do know what happened with a pastor friend of mine.

My friend had been pastoring a church for three years.  A wealthy board member insisted that the pastor do ministry a certain way.  The pastor resisted his demands.  (The pastor was typically labeled uncooperative.)

The wealthy board member then threatened to leave the church.  The pastor was willing to let him go, but the other board members wanted him to stay because he was wealthy.  (The more he gave, the less they had to give.)

So they talked him into staying … and then the entire board turned against the pastor and fired him outright.  Because of the pastor’s age, his career in church ministry is essentially over.

And that rich board member quickly hired a pastor that he wanted to run the church … but know that board member will really be running the church through the pastor.

And yet who does God call to lead a local church: a wealthy “board member” or a godly pastor?

Let me share three principles about pastors and wealthy donors:

First, pastors ultimately serve Almighty God, not the Almighty Dollar.

Most pastors cannot be bought, and that’s how it should be.  While pastors are sometimes aware of who has money in a church … clothes, cars, houses, and vacations make this obvious … no pastor can let people with money dictate how a ministry is going to be run.

As Paul says in the 1 Timothy 6 passage above, the rich are “to put their hope in God” … not wealth … and the pastor is to do the same.

If a pastor … or a board … or a congregation lets money make decisions, then money has become that church’s god, and the church will eventually experience freefall.

Every church needs to make sure that its priorities are GOD/MONEY, never MONEY/GOD.

Second, pastors are wise to listen to the wealthy, but not obey their dictates.

Some relatively poor Christians give generously to their church, while some wealthy believers give little, so there’s no direct correlation between wealth and donations.  In fact, some wealthy people manage their income poorly and are in debt up to their eyeballs.

So just because someone has money doesn’t mean they should be given disproportionate influence in their church.  I always tried to hear the concerns of those who donated generously – they were heavily invested in the church’s future, after all – but I could never allow their desires to determine ministry direction or priorities.

Finally, pastors need to confront anyone who uses money as a weapon – even if that means they leave the church.

“Now listen, pastor, I insist that we hire a full-time youth pastor.  If you do, I’ll pay for the remodeling of the youth room, but if you don’t, our family can’t stay at this church any longer.”

“Well, Joe, I’m sorry you feel that way.  I am God’s man, and I cannot be bought, so if that’s your attitude, I encourage your family to find somewhere else to worship.”

“Pastor, you need to know that others agree with me, and they are willing to remove you as pastor if you don’t do things our way.”

“Really, Joe?  Who are these people?  What are their names?”

“I can’t reveal any confidences, pastor, but if I leave, they’re going with me.”

“Well, Joe, that may be the case, but unless you’re going to pastor a new church, those people are fools to follow you anywhere.”

Okay, maybe the pastor shouldn’t make that last statement … but it feels good to say it!

I thank God for the wealthy believers that I have known over the years who loved the Lord … served faithfully … gave without strings … offered occasional suggestions … but let their pastor lead the church under Christ’s headship.

I suspect this is reality in most churches.  But when the wealthy try and buy influence in a church, they need to be confronted … or shown the door.

How much influence do you believe people with money should have in a church?

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