In a generation that regards Christian ministry as the next “big thing”, where young men, who ought to be using their productive lives for worthwhile ventures, now regard “ministry” as a short cut to quick wealth, it is important we remind ourselves that if Christian ministry is carried out in the manner stipulated by the Bible, Pastors will not be wealthy talk less of being millionaires. Therefore if you have a desire to be rich, which in itself is not wrong, Christian ministry is not a career path for you. Consider with me a few reasons why I am convinced Pastors cannot be rich.
There are no biblical examples of wealthy Pastors. There simply is none. Rather we hear the Bible writers making stringent call on those in ministry to stay sway from the love of money (1 Timothy 6:6), not to be lovers of filthy lucre (1 Timothy 3:3), to be men given to helping the poor (Galatians 2:10), etc. When Jesus sent out the 70 disciples to preach in all cities of their time, he instructed them clearly to eat only whatever is set before them (Luke 10:7). The idea of negotiating a salary or a honorarium is foreign to that text. In 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul argues vigorously for a Pastor to be paid a wage, he insists on the fact that his greatest authority to speak truth to the Corinthians was because he was not indebted to them financially in anyway. The general notion of the Christian minister’s financial status in the New Testament is that it is usually bestowed on him as a gift – a reward for his spiritual work.
The Old Testament itself does not give any proof of wealthy ministers. The ministers at the temple at that time where the Levites and not once do we find any of them wealthy. The sons of Eli, who were pictured as something close to rich, were young men who were defrauding the Israelites of their offerings to God. And for this they were judged. It will be inappropriate to list men like Abraham, Isaac and Solomon as wealthy Old Testament ministers. While these men were rich, non of them occupied a position of priest or minister to people in a strict sense.
Secondly, there are no historical records of godly, wise and influential pastors who were wealthy individuals. Right from the early Church fathers to the 16th century Reformers, God’s servants were known more for their wisdom, writing and godly influences than for the amount of money they had. Augustine was Bishop of Hippo, a city in present day Algeria. His books are still being read by millions of Christian adherents all around the world. There is no record of his wealth anywhere. Among the Reformers, there was probably no greater theologian than John Calvin. When he died, his will indicated that a paltry amount of money was to be donated to the Theological College he founded.
And then we have the greatest of the Puritan, John Owen; the preacher of “Sinners’ in the hands of an Angry God” – Jonathan Edwards; John Wesley, George Whitefield, John Bunyan (whose book “Pilgrim Progress” is the all time best selling Christian novel – information for those who credit Pastors’ wealth to book sales), etc. Non of these were rich men. After years of laboring and preaching at the London Terbanacle, the Prince of Preachers himself, Charles Spurgeon, was bought a house to live in by his congregation.
On other hand, one of the things that precipitated the 16th century Reformation was something called “simony”. It was the practice of Roman Catholic Priests selling religious items to devotees with the promise that it will incur God’s favor. The result was the tremendous wealth it brought the Catholic clergies. They made so much money that it was enough to build the luxurious St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Catholic Popes and priests were the wealthiest folks of those times. In reaction to growing wealth in the churches and reduced piety, the monasteries were birth in the 6th/7th century. The monasteries encouraged the cultivation of piety mostly through a sworn oath to poverty and celibacy, and at the same time a commitment to living a communal life.
Today we may frown at the idea of a monastery but God in his Providence used them to preserve much of what we have – both scriptures and early Church father’s writing. They were also often a rebuke at the hedonistic lifestyle that the Priests then pursued. The whole idea of modern Universities began in monasteries because they were often centers of learning. Eventually, the Reformation itself began in a monastery 500 years ago when a little known monk by the name Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the wall of a Church in his hometown, Wittenberg, Germany, protesting the Roman Catholic practices of indulgence and others.
When one reads Church history one cannot but marvel at how history is being replayed today. Medieval churches got their wealth by selling faith to ignorant church people after they had either misconstrued clear Bible doctrine or having mixed superstition with truth. Similarly, the modern wealthy Pastor gets his money from false doctrine and pure superstition. If for example, the true nature of the biblical tithes are taught in churches, people will learn that there is no compulsion to tithing. In fact they will discover that tithing is not a Christian practice, and church finances with deep. All the other variants of tithes: firstfruits, prophets offerings, etc, will also stop and then the true financial state of these churches will be revealed. If money was removed from the matter of ministry, 90% of those with a certain claim to a call to ministry will vanish.
The strongest reason why a pastor cannot be wealthy is simply this: our Pastor, Jesus Christ himself, left no such example for us. Jesus was a poverty stricken Savior. In his words, while he walked the earth, he had nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). He left his glory in heaven, humbled himself and took the form of man. He was made poor that we may know the riches of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 8:9). Unfortunately, some use that scriptures to justify being wealthy today but then we found no such example in the early churches. The Apostles who took the baton from the Master themselves were poor men (1 Corinthians 4:10-1 ). So also were many of the saints of that time.
The simple argument of this piece is to state the fact that Christian ministry is not a means for making money and becoming rich. If you will be a servant of Jesus Christ and minister his word, you must rest content with becoming poor. Though the overall testimony of many who have taken up this challenge was to find out that the Master is faithful and always does meet and even surpass our needs. But the Master does not make his ministers millionaires. Any of such around have sought that status via vain and non biblical means. If you must be rich, do pursue secular business as an entrepreneur. Work hard, be productive and with God’s favor, riches will come your way. But do not go into the ministry with the intent of making money.
I say it with all confidence, and according to the records of scriptures and history, the term “millionaire pastor” is a misnomer. All those bearing such are thieves and robbers, and their judgement before God lingers not.