“You’re upsetting the generous givers of the church,” I was told after teaching one Sunday. I knew then that I’d need to be careful or lose my job. Maybe pastors aren’t supposed to be angry but I was after picking my jaw up off the floor.
Later, I shared my experience with another pastor. His response was that he’d only ever read about stories like that in books. I envied him. I wished that my experience had been that sterile. I sensed that the well-being of my family and church family were in a risky situation. My senses weren’t misguided.
Here I was in a different country with a wife and soon to be six kids. All was not well but I did my best to fake it for as long as I could. It didn’t last too long. I have a terrible poker face.
That day, I didn’t lose my faith in God. I did lose more faith in a broken religious system, though. Money in the church isn’t evil. That would be a foolish conclusion to draw.
But the more of it that there is, the more complicated things become. There’s greater potential for the abuse of power, misuse of funds and corruption. There is more danger in missing God’s plan altogether.
That Homeless Man Named Jesus
I often used to wonder why Jesus lived the way He did. He was homeless. That just seemed crazy to me. It doesn’t surprise me so much anymore. I realize that He desired to relate to the down and outers. You know. The ones that most churches don’t know what to do with when they pay them a visit.
These people were complete nobodies in the fake religious system that Jesus walked among. To them, Jesus was a nobody along with the rest. The “pastors” of that day despised all of them.
The “refuse” of society couldn’t benefit the “spiritual leaders” in any material way and so they were ignored. In their minds, they were the living, breathing curse of God.
Jesus didn’t come to earth to pass the plate. He already owned everything. He wanted peoples’ hearts. He knew that their souls were the most valuable possession that the entire world held. He saw everyone naked and stripped of any wealth or prestige. He loved them anyway.
The destitute couldn’t fill the coffers so they were spiritual outcasts. The religious system was prosperous in what mattered least and bulging with fat. In the leaders’ minds, wealth equaled spiritual blessing.
As I shared in my last post, though, spiritual blessing rarely is accompanied by physical blessing. The American church system has proven that maxim well. We live and move in that life-sized case study that is soon to start changing.
I’m not pulling that idea out of thin air. I want to explore it more in a future post. The Bible is full of examples of the poverty-of-riches paradox.
Jesus refused to be controlled by the money. The flourishing “pastors” could not understand such actions. They bowed to wealth all the while pretending to bow to God. But you cannot do both and Jesus knew it. He graphically exposed the greed of the high and mighty religious powers and they eventually murdered Him partly because he was hurting their previous standard of living.
Organized religion rejected Him. Jesus knew that He’d be censored in his teaching in that system. After all, “he who has the gold makes the rules.”
I’m thoroughly convinced that Jesus would have been fired his first day on the job if he’d attempted to work under that framework. He didn’t even bother.
He didn’t need the fancy clothes and paycheck. He would do just fine without a place to lay his head. He displayed his power by willingly becoming weak and poor with very few overhead costs by the way. No, the church does not need millions to make an eternal impact. Too often, all that cash just gets in the way.
Fool’s Gold or the Real Thing?
Ever walk into a church that had great teaching, programs, music and everything it could have? Did you ever walk out of that same church feeling dead inside? Those feelings you wrestled with may not have been groundless.
When churches embrace money over people, a suffocating poverty settles in. It’s the poverty that happens when you place something of limited value over something that’s priceless. You wouldn’t think of throwing out a thousand dollars, would you?
Many churches consistently do far worse. They ignore the people and God, both priceless in value. The reality is that we should burn “priceless” centuries-old Smithsonian artifacts first.
A Few Of My Many Failures
My last post was aggressive. It wasn’t meant to attack any individual but an American religious system that, by and large, has been terminally ill for a long time. The message could work as well for any developed country of the western world, too.
There’s something that you can do as a blogger that you can’t do as a pastor. You can be completely honest without losing your job. No one holds the money bags. I kind of love it.
Pastors must do more than preach against the love of money. They have to resist it on a regular basis in their ministry. The pressure often proves to be too much. I admit that there were times after the “money conversation” that I should have spoken up and been courageous. A loving friend in the church told me I acted timidly when preaching like I was trying to hold something back.
Instinctively, I knew he was right. Unknowingly, I was starving the many for the sake of the few who held a little more of the almighty dollar. I was walking on egg shells and he noticed the anemic results long before I did.
I chose money over God at those times. My family needed money. What I forgot was that God could provide for me in a million other ways besides a church salary.
I got an up-and-close view of something that most pastors persistently fear that day when I crossed the invisible money line. All too often in the church, God must whisper, “will it be money or me because you can’t love both.”
What do you do when your salary depends on pacifying that unhealthy control? Either seek resolution or look for the eject button and pray to God that your parachute is in good working order. As it turned out, I was not fired. God hit the eject button instead. You would find that story very entertaining. I have no doubt of that. And at the right time, I’ll share it with you.
So was the old beggar from Aladdin right? Actually, he was. “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” Who has all the gold? God. He makes the rules.