Should Preachers Have Big Homes?
Several weeks ago, I saw Facebook posts criticizing mega-church Pastor John Gray for living in a 1.8 million-dollar house purchased by his church and for purchasing a $200.000 Lamborghini for his wife. There are other issues involving Gray’s life and ministry, but I wish to focus on the lifestyle question here.
A few things to get out-of-the-way before I continue…
John Gray does not appear to own the house. It is a church parsonage. That means, unless the church decides to give him the house, when he leaves it stays behind. Yes, it is a nice house and affords the Grays a good lifestyle, but it does not directly benefit them financially.
John Gray has earned money on books and other personal ministries and used these funds to purchase his wife’s car, which I understand he is still paying for.
Additionally, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not attempting to defend John Gray’s lifestyle or my own. My wife and I live in a very average home by community standards, and throughout our ministry we have driven “clunkers”, though now we drive a four-year old and ten-year old vehicle. Quite an upgrade for the Joneses! Our church family has been generous, and these lifestyle choices are our own.
Now, I continue…
Is it wrong for a preacher to have a big home? Or a big car? By “wrong”, we should mean, “Is it unbiblical?” We should not define “wrong” by traditional standards, or some preconceived notion we have of the ministry – that if you work for God full-time you should live in poverty. In reality, all followers of Jesus work for God full-time. Should every Christian who has “taken up his or her cross to follow Christ” live in poverty? If we can’t answer “yes” to this question, then we shouldn’t be quick to condemn people in full-time ministry when we think they have crossed a socio-economic line.
I do believe it is biblically “incongruent” for preachers to have extravagant lifestyles. Preachers in the Bible, whether they be Old Testament prophets, or New Testament Evangelists, lived modestly or in poverty. Some slept under the stars to avoid capture. Yes, there were followers of God who lived quite well, such as King David and King Solomon. And there were some prophets who had a few perks, such as Daniel. But the majority of those who gave their entire lives to God’s service struggled financially, relying on the generosity of others to support their ministry. Does this mean this is the way it must be for all full-time ministers today? I don’t think so. But this helps explains why wealthy ministers are thought to be doing something wrong. They don’t fit the biblical mold.
You should also know, if you don’t already, there are some distinct theologies that play into how preachers live. The “Prosperity Gospel” (of which John Gray is a part), promotes the thought that God wants to bless us materially. In this theological environment, material wealth, by default, becomes a litmus test of faith. “If we have enough faith and are faithful, God will make us materially rich.”
There are cultural issues which make it more acceptable for churches to honor their preacher with expensive benefits. In some communities, the preacher is the one through whom the church lives vicariously. In other words, his standard of living is a matter of pride for his people. They want him to live well, or at least to appear to live well.
With these random thoughts in mind, I will attempt to share some material lifestyle principles worth considering whether we are preachers or not:
Biblically, God blesses us to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). God doesn’t bless us so we can spend everything on ourselves. If we receive a financial windfall and our first thought is how we can buy more stuff for ourselves, we might want to search our hearts. At the very least, we should consider the biblical “tithe” as we dedicate the first 10% of our blessing to the work of God.
We should not fool ourselves with flakey rationales. “Prosperity Gospel” preachers are suspected of manipulating poor people into giving to their ministry so they can, in turn, support a lavish lifestyle. This is often excused by an old, but sly financial trick which involves begging for money to support some great need in a ministry while justifying expensive purchases because they are paid for with private funds. Jesus once addressed a similar scam with religious teachers who were putting their money in a temporary “God-fund” so they didn’t have to use it to care for their aging parents. (Mark 7:11-12) The premise of asking people for money to support ministry is that we don’t have the funds available to do the work ourselves. Therefore, the argument that money for expensive purchases doesn’t come from the money one receives for ministry is bogus.
We should never lose sight of the bigger Body of Christ. Ironically, some religious teachers use the “non-denominational” banner to draw funds from a broader scope of believers, but they live in a bubble when it comes to their sensitivity to the sacrifice others are making in ministry. While they live well, they are miserly and unjust in their treatment of those who work for them (often expecting others to donate their time for the Lord), and they ignore the voices of God’s servants in impoverished communities who are struggling to survive in their ministries. Anyone who uses money from a church for a ministry, should always remember there are others who could use it. This doesn’t mean it is wrong to ask and receive. But we can’t talk about “kingdom work” when the only kingdom we are ultimately concerned about is our own.
So, is it wrong for a preacher to have a big house? I may not have answered the question sufficiently, therefore, I will be specific as I close. No. As long he isn’t playing games with his rationale, uses his blessings to be a blessing, is forever mindful of servants of God who are less fortunate, and never forgets the goodness of brothers and sisters in Christ who give sacrificially to support his work.
These thoughts alone should help anyone find the right balance when it comes to possessions.
Whether one is a preacher or not.