Many TV pastors and evangelists are rich because of greed. But not their greed. It’s our greed. An earlier generation donated money to help those in need. Growing up, my mother taught us about those “less fortunate” and we gave because the Bible expressed great concern about the poor and suffering. But as I grew up, a concept came along that turned giving on its head.
“Seed faith” teaching transformed everything we knew about raising money. The original concept was actually Biblical – based on planting a seed and expecting a harvest. But it completely changed our attitudes toward giving. For the first time we weren’t giving money to help others, we were giving to help ourselves.
The idea caught on, and with the instant global reach of Christian radio and television, it spread like wildfire. Not since the days in the early 16th century when the Catholic Church sold indulgences (paying money for forgiveness of sins for you or your dead loved ones) has the cash rolled in and church leaders lived in such luxury. Johann Tetzel, the most aggressive of the Dominican friars selling indulgences had a saying. “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the rescued soul from purgatory springs.” It doesn’t sound that different from today’s “Plant a seed to meet your need.”
As the teaching grew, less trained pastors and leaders mixed in errors until some preachers created entire ministries around having a “financial anointing.” And they were in high demand during telethons for their ability to raise money on TV.
But that was OK. By then, we had all become trained to believe that giving wasn’t about helping others, it was about helping ourselves. So it didn’t really matter if the preacher spent the money on luxury living. God was going to bless us, and that was all that mattered.
But no matter what you believe about it, the question is, 40 years later, where does that leave us?
On the plus side, it’s built some massive outreaches. There’s little question that incredible influx of money created many of today’s major ministries, colleges, churches, and TV networks. That’s a good thing.
On the downside, we created a generation addicted to the rush. This audience (and I use that word on purpose) now has to feed their addiction with gimmicks. They race to conferences looking for a “fresh anointing,” as ministries desperately create more and more “Jesus junk” fundraising offers. The cycle never stops. Because when you give to get, you have to get something even greater next time around.
And now, something new is on the horizon. We’re facing a generation that isn’t so addicted. Younger people today have seen the excesses of giving to get, and want nothing to do with it. They’d rather help a cause driven by U2’s Bono, than a TV evangelist. They just want to make a difference.
So major churches and ministries are caught in the middle. Right now, a significant group of givers are still looking for gimmicks like prayer cloths, anointing oil, and little packets of seeds. But that group is dying, and a new generation is coming.
In that light, from a very real perspective, giving to get has not served us well in the long term, and although many of these TV evangelists live in personal luxury, many of their churches and ministries are now deeply in debt. And I won’t kid you – the transition to the next generation of givers will be painful. And only if pastors and ministry leaders put their teaching in balance, and teach people the real purpose for giving, will they survive.
Let’s re-think giving to get, and start giving for the right reasons. Looking inward only feeds the addiction, but looking outward can actually change the world.