Every so often, you will hear people complain about the wealth of pastors in the church. Unbelievers and believers mock the institutional church because the leaders of the church prosper while the members suffer.
While some of these cautions of the extravagance of some pastors are in order, the proposed solution is not. I have heard many people advise church members to give their money to the poor rather than waste it on these accomplished and wealthy pastors.
Is it not better to spend money on people who need it?
People now have a hostile and suspicious attitude towards the church when it comes to money matters. They discourage friends and family from giving to the church and accuse pastors of embezzlement or hard-heartedness in some cases.
This suspicious attitude was the reason for the reactions when a church in Nigeria created a USSD code for members to pay their tithe and offerings during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The church has a bad press already, and people easily see such gestures in a negative light.
What should be the proper Christian response to this situation?
What business does the church have with mammon?
First, what business does the church have with mammon (money – Mathew 6:24)?
Should the church have anything to do with money, to begin with?
The short answer? Yes.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul was responding to those in the Corinthian church who doubted his apostolic credentials.
Paul responded by explaining that though he deprived himself of his apostolic rights, it wasn’t because he doubted his apostolic status. Instead, he denied himself of his apostolic rights, so he will not hinder the gospel (so that the gentiles will not think he is in it for the money).
So what are these rights of which the apostle denied himself?
In verses 7-12, Paul argues that gospel ministers should be supported by the people they minister to.
Just like a soldier does not spend his money on the battlefield, a farmer does not plant the vineyard without eating of it, and a shepherd does not tend the flock without drinking of its milk, so the gospel minister has a right to the support of the church.
The plowman plows and the thresher threshes in the hope of participating in the harvest. Even in the Old Covenant law, God instructed Israel not to prevent the Oxen from partaking of the grain it is treading (Deuteronomy 25:4).
Paul pulls together all these analogies to emphasize that gospel ministers who sow spiritual seed among the people have a right to material harvest from them.
Though Paul foregoes this right, he has it. A minister may decide to forgo this right, but he is not obliged to do so.
He reiterates this point in Galatians 6:6 – “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.”
Paul also used this principle in his instructions to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17, 18). The elders of the church who rule well, he said, deserve double honor, especially those who labor in word and doctrine. What is this honor? In the next verse, he quotes the text about Oxen (Deuteronomy 25:4) to show that he has a monetary gift in mind in verse 17.
Even Paul thanked the Philippians for supporting his ministry (Philippians 4:10-20). He also wrote to the Romans to support Phoebe, “a servant of the church in Cenchrea.” (Romans 16:1-2)
The church has to deal with money because it has to pay its ministers and support those who labor in the gospel. Those who labor in the gospel are deserving of such support.
The widows who are in need
The church also has responsibilities to care for the less privileged in its circle. A large part of 1 Timothy 5 is Paul’s admonition to Timothy on the care of the widows.
The church should distinguish between widows who are really in need, those who still have a family to rely on, and those who are using their widowhood as an opportunity to indulge the flesh.
Paul limits the responsibility of the church to the widows who were above 60 (they won’t remarry), were faithful to their husbands, well known for their good deeds, brought up children, showed hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, helped those in need, devoted to all kind of good works (5:9-10).
While the church should care for widows, they must not sanction laziness and immorality.
So the church (as a body) has a duty to the truly poor people (widows are a category that designates the truly poor in the church community) in the church. To carry out this duty, the church needs money.
Partners in the work of the gospel
Paul was going to pass through Rome on his way to Spain. Spain was a new mission field, so Paul requested in advance that the church in Rome will support him as he took the gospel to Spain (Romans 15:20-24).
The church has a responsibility to its missionaries (evangelists) as much as to its pastors. The support of the mission work is the duty of the corporate church.
United in one body
Churches with financial muscles must also support poor churches.
In two chapters in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul challenged them, while praising the Macedonians for how they responded to the call for gifts for the Judean church (2 Corinthians 8, 9).
He made the same request to the church in Rome. He reminded them that as they have shared in the spiritual blessings of the Jews (John 4:23), the latter should also share in their material blessings (Romans 15:25-27).
Wealthier churches should support the needs of the poorer churches as members of the one body (1 Corinthians 12).
For the above reasons, the church of God in all its local manifestations has to deal with money. Therefore, as individual believers, we must give to the church.
While the church does not exhaust our responsibility to give, it is an integral part. We are members of Christ’s body, and we must contribute to its material needs. Whether to give to the church is a non-question for a believer. The only question is which church.
But more on that later.
To tithe or not to tithe
Many people have demonized tithing in and out of the church.
Though I don’t believe that the Old Testament tithe is mandatory (the keyword is ‘mandatory’) for the new covenant believer, I think people on my side of the debate can go to the extreme.
What do I mean?
If we are reading our bibles, we must all agree that Christians should give to the church. Such giving should, however, be voluntary (2 Corinthians 8 and 9). The tithing system of the OT was unique to the Jewish economy.
However, while denying that tithe (10%) is mandatory, we must not affirm that believers cannot decide (on their own) to give 10% of their income to God.
It will be hypocritical to affirm the liberty of a Christian not to give a 10% and then deny the freedom of another Christian to give a 10%. Said simply, while no Christian is under obligation to give 10% of his income to God (via the church), he is doing nothing wrong if he decides (with a clear understanding that he is not required to do this) to give 10%. The problem comes when he mandates it for others or feel a sense of superiority for his 10%.
A Christian can give 10%, 20%, 5%, 17.5%, or what have you. Moreso, a Christian can decide to ignore the whole percentage thing for another system.
The only thing a Christian cannot do is to ignore giving to the church (or do so grudgingly or impulsively). Christian giving should be fuelled by our grasp of the gift that God gave us in the gospel (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).
There are times we will also have to go beyond percentages (or whatever) and give sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:2, Luke 21:1-4). However, sacrificial giving is not the default (if the widow always gave all she had to live on, she will die).
God loves a cheerful giver. We should, however, not use the whole business of cheerfulness as a cloak for possessiveness. If giving God #1000 (through the church) makes you cheerful and you will be sad to give #10,000 (though you can), something is probably wrong. We must grow to the point that we can be cheerful even when giving sacrificially rather than avoid sacrificial giving because we won’t be cheerful.
We must grow in giving as we grow in other graces of the spirit. The only way our giving grows is if our grasp of the grace and goodness of God grows.
It bears repeating that the believer has the liberty to decide how much he wants to give to God through the church, but giving he must.
Giving: Private and corporate
I have qualified my statements about giving to God with ‘through the church’ to emphasize that the believer’s responsibility to give extends beyond the church. One must not hinder the other.
We must work hard so that we can help the poor (Acts 20:35). Those who are rich should be generous and willing to share (1 Timothy 6:18). When we do good and share with others, God is pleased (Hebrews 13:16). We must always explore every opportunity to do good (Galatians 6:10). The thief should exchange idleness for hard work so he can have something to share (Ephesians 4:28).
Believers also give to God through our generosity to people around us apart from the church.
The problem begins when we use this as an excuse for not giving to the church. These two are not mutually exclusive. God commands us to do both. All those advice about channeling the money you give to the church to individuals is unnecessary. If we are believers, we do both.
Just as you decide to give to the church, you should also decide to give to people around (if percentages work for you, fine). Both kinds of giving also require us to be sacrificial sometimes.
The bottom line? Giving to individuals (directly or through charities) and the church are not mutually exclusive. They are not parallel lines that do not meet. It reminds me of Jesus rebuking the disciples for chastising Mary when she opened the alabaster box of ointment and poured it on Christ. (Mathew 26:6-13)
Why we have money problems in the church
So what do we do about the money problems in the church?
First, why do we have money problems in the church? I believe the primary problem is that we have moved away from two features of churches in the NT – independence of the local church and the rule of the elders.
Today, many local churches do not order their affairs but are subject to the control (including financial control) of a larger body. When all the money flows upward to a centralized system, there is a greater possibility of corruption in that central body.
While churches can choose to belong to bigger bodies, they should have the liberty to avoid such bodies and determine the extent of their participation if they choose to belong. A bigger body should not have control over the finances of the church.
Secondly, we have moved away from the rule of the elders. The New Testament churches were not under the rule and control of one man. Instead, a body of elders shepherded the church. (I make a biblical case for the rule of the elders here).
In that system, no single individual could control the church and subject it to his (not his or her) whims and caprices. While some of the elders have a preaching and teaching role (1 Timothy 5:17), all of them ruled in unison. The ‘Pastor’ should be the preaching and teaching elder, but he should rule over the church together with the elders.
When one man makes all the decisions, there is a greater possibility of corruption. Also, the body of elders will decide on the remuneration of the preaching and teaching elders. In this way, the pastor cannot pay himself as he likes.
Central control of local churches and a lack of ruling elders are two causes of the financial corruption in the church and the resulting suspicions from outsiders.
What then should we do?
It is our Christian duty and delight (all Christian duties are delights) to partake of the work of Christ in the world through the church.
What then should we do about all our friends – believers and unbelievers – who accuse the church of financial misdeeds and irresponsibility?
Their accusations and negative statements should bother you only if your local church is guilty of financial misdeeds. If your pastor and the local church are faithful with the money, keep giving and care less about all the accusations.
We cannot withhold our money from the local church he has placed us.
However, if your local church is embroiled in financial irresponsibility, you can leave, go to another church and give there. The irresponsibility of your pastor or local church is not a statement against giving; it is a statement against giving to him/them. So find another church and give again.
However, there is a caution here. Suspecting financial irresponsibility does not prove it exists. Timothy was not to tolerate an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19). We must not be quick to accuse God’s servants of financial misdeed without any evidence (my pastor is richer than me is not evidence). Bearing false witnesses is a grave sin.
If you are persuaded that there is such mismanagement, you can leave the church, but don’t turn your suspicions into facts and disturb the peace of the church (without good evidence and a willingness to come out as a witness rather than assume anonymity.
The gospel is the outpouring of God’s generosity upon us. As people who have received such grace, we are to give – to the church (who in turn uses the money to pay the ‘Pastor,’ support missionaries, support poorer churches and poor people in the church) and to needy people around us.
These two responsibilities are mutually inclusive. What God has joined together, no one must put asunder.
We must not allow the clamors from people about ‘rich’ pastors to make us neglect our duty to God (since it is God our master that we serve). We should avoid supporting corrupt churches or pastors by moving on to faithful ones. However, we must not charge God’s church and servants with corruption carelessly.
We must also do our best to return the NT model where local churches had independence and each local church was under the rule of a body of elders.
Beyond all these, let’s continue to reflect on the grace of God in the gospel; it is the greatest motivation for the kind of giving that God smiles on.