Argue all you want to about pastors and leaders of ministries and non-profits owning mansions, luxury cars, or jets. There are people out there who can justify about anything, so the argument will continue. When they are used in the service of the mission, I can understand and stretch quite a bit and have defended some of these things on this blog. However, I think the tipping point in our thinking is the fact that we’ve simply become way too accommodating to the culture. Whatever happened to salt and light? Whatever happened to a higher calling? Whatever happened to “In the world, but not of it?” Are we trying so hard to fit in, we’ve lost the distinctive character that God has called us to?
The very thing that made Mother Theresa and her ministry to lepers in India distinct is that she turned her back on the trappings of success. She didn’t value possessions in the same light as the CEO of a major corporation, or the CEO of many religious organizations today. As a result, her work became legend. I think what we’re seeing with many pastors and ministry leaders today is a yearning to be “successful” in the eyes of the world.
I’ve written before that far too many church and ministry leaders are insecure, and having the “prizes” of success surrounding them helps shore up their fragile egos. But Jesus didn’t care about the trappings of what was considered successful in His world. Some of his harshest words were for those who had sold their soul for the appearance of success. But what is the measuring stick for success in the teachings of Jesus?
Love. That’s it.
“Love your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, Jesus said all the laws of the prophets hang on that simple (but difficult) principle. Note he didn’t mention anything about having more servants, staff, disciples, houses, or golden chariots. He didn’t even mention freedom from their Roman oppressors – which is what every Jew wanted more than anything. He only mentioned love.
I’m not against wealth or material success. I wouldn’t mind having a beach house before I die. I admire leaders who know how to create financially successful companies, or innovate in the marketplace. But when it comes to ministry, if you want to be distinctive, why are you pursuing what the world considers successful?
For years, we’ve used a “business” model in church – in a legitimate effort to get religious organizations working at a more efficient, business-like level, trying to make them more productive. But the fact is, that won’t ultimately work, because as writer and consultant Jim Collins (Good to Great) says, a business is driven by profit, but a non-profit is driven by mission. The two can’t be confused.
Often that pursuit of success in the world’s eyes comes at the expense of people. I know major ministries that are growing and expanding, but not paying their vendors and suppliers for 90-120 days (or more). Or flying in jets and living like kings, but paying their employees minimum wage. Unless they’ve recently changed their policy, one national media ministry refused to pay for their employees health insurance. Ask them why, and they’ll probably say that they are just trying to reach more people and use the money for ministry. But what kind of ministry happens when it’s at the expense of the very people who work there? How do you justify abusing the trust of those you’re in charge of, in any effort to extend God’s kingdom in the world?
Jesus could have done a lot of things in His lifetime – build a temple or synagogue, start a new religious sect, preach to thousands, or get involved in politics. But He chose something radically different. He picked 12 guys and invested his life into those 12 people. He loved them, taught them, and cared about them.
And that handful of people changed the world.
Get the attention of the world by being distinctive. And be distinctive by pursing love. Not by having your pastor drive a Rolls or Bentley, or having a mansion, or having a retinue of servants (sorry- assistants) at his or her disposal. Or even having a successful media ministry. Be distinctive by telling the truth, loving people (whether you agree with them or not), and by pointing others to the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of success.