A couple of decades ago, when I was working as a church consultant, I had an interesting conversation with a young pastor. He was probably 20 or so years younger than me, and it was obvious from our conversation that we had some generational differences. He asked about the differences between our generations among pastors. So, I explained it in terms he could understand.
I said, “When you interviewed with this church about being pastor, did you ask about vacation time and days off?
“Sure, what’s wrong with that?” he replied.
“Nothing,” I said, “but here’s the difference. I never would have asked about either one of those things. I didn’t expect to have days off or even a regular vacation. In fact, I wouldn’t have even asked if they were going to pay me.”
I was taught that if you accept the task of being the pastor of a church, it’s a call from God, not a job. When God calls, you don’t ask about the perks.
Things have changed greatly since that conversation more than 20 years ago. Churches have become more businesslike, and they approach securing a pastor using the same process they would in hiring an employee at a business. Salary and other benefits are carefully negotiated. Perks like time off, vacations, conference time and expense reimbursement are normally provided. Accountability is not at a late-night deacons’ meeting but is completed with quarterly reviews by a personnel committee.
Churches have become very sophisticated in marketing. They search for pastors who will attract an audience and build a large congregation. The payoff is a growing, profitable business (eh, I mean church) that will be known by everyone within driving range.
One of the biggest changes over the years is that being a pastor has changed from a calling to a career. Like most careers, those who excel are rewarded financially. Just how rewarding?
An Instagram site is devoted to posting photos of evangelical pastors wearing excessively expensive clothing. One of the first was a pastor wearing $800 sneakers on the Sunday morning stage. The site also features pastors with a $2,541 crocodile belt, a $3,600 Gucci jacket, and a $1,250 fanny pack.
More than 100,000 followers check in regularly to see what pastors are sporting. Obviously, since these are photos taken in public settings, there is no attempt to hide the luxury. If you’re especially successful, you might even own a mansion or a jet.
The church world has come a long way since my time.
It has come light years from Jesus’ time. Jesus told his followers not to take a purse, bag or sandals when he sent them out (see Luke 10:4). He also taught that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (see Matthew 19:24). Apply all the mental gymnastics you want to that verse to try to make it say rich people can still enter the kingdom, but he said what he said. Camels and needles.
“Can you think of one person Jesus encountered who walked away with more money than he had when he met Jesus? “
Can you think of one person Jesus encountered who walked away with more money than he had when he met Jesus? Neither can I.
Jesus often talked about money, but he never made anyone rich. In fact, he did the opposite. The rich young ruler asked about salvation, and Jesus instructed him to give all his money to the poor. Zaccheus, another wealthy man, met Jesus and voluntarily gave away much of his money. The widow gave her last two coins; the prostitute wasted an expensive bottle of perfume.
Jesus never made poor people rich. However, he did make rich people poor.
Today, the church has reversed what Jesus taught. We’re not interested in a preacher who doesn’t even have a purse or a cheap pair of sandals. The church is looking for that guy who will look winsome in a $3,200 fanny pack and $2,000 shoes.
I’m not suggesting churches should keep their pastor in the poor house. However, I am suggesting they look for a pastor who understands that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (See 1 Timothy 6:10.)
If you see your pastor’s photo on the Instagram site wearing designer fashions, it might be time to pray that Jesus would show up and turn a few more rich men into poor ones.
Terry Austin says from his first day of life he was taught to love the church. He has lived out that passion in various ways as a pastor, church consultant, author and critic. He is currently a full-time writer and book publisher and actively engaged with house churches.