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The Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Success?

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.

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  1. Thank you so much for this post Phil. There are so many hard hitting truths here that we all need to hear. One quote that stood out to me is: ” a business is driven by profit, but a non-profit is driven by mission. The two can’t be confused.” Ultimately what matters most is whether or not we, who say we follow Christ, will hear His words on that Day: “WELL DONE MY GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT. YOU’VE BEEN FAITHFUL OVER A FEW THINGS… NOW ENTER INTO MY JOY. I was reading in 2 Cor 5:10-11a: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord…” How we live before God and the world is not a joke. There’s a difference between struggling with an issue and being a willing practitioner. I pray we will be mindful of this truth and seek the genuine deliverance which only God can provide. The Apostle Paul realized this when he talked about disciplining his body and bringing it under subjection to Christ, lest he preach the Gospel and he himself ends up being a castaway. Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  2. "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." 

    Wow, great post….I need to put that what's in quotations on my wall. Definitely food for thought and what is really important!

  3. In my years as a Christian media director/producer I have noticed leaders of large ministries have created their own sub culture. They live with gates around their house and surround themselves with "Yes" people and get whatever they want. Over the years I have seen their view of reality bcome warped. They no longer view themselves as "normal" people. They justify to themselves that they deserve special treatment because the media has done bad things to them in the past or people have hurt them. All the while their view of a normal life becomes more warped. They have no idea what it means to have to pay more $$ at the gas pump, or pay a mortgage…all this is paid and provided for them. However, they are the ones who are supposed  to reach the normal people. I believe it is time to come back to earth. God desires that we prosper but not at the expense of losing touch with reality and those whom we are trying to reach.

  4. AMEN! 

    Phil, this is spot on. I have said the same thing many times in my own blog and in my "shows".  The fact is, I am conflicted in being a Christian Comedian.

    Churches hire me to perform at events that draw in the curious. But after the event, what happens? Generally those who are curious enough to check out a comedy show at a church come from people who are in other churches, disconnected from church and a few un-churched.

    So more times than not it is simply more "sizzle" and lite on substance in than it is an event.

    Alright, I have to go think more. 



    Marty Daniels


  5. How sad that so many Christians in America want to justify the prosperty message. let alone mansions, jets and nice cars.  A bigger problem is that we think more in terms as Americans than Christians.  Do you really think that the prosperity junk will work in the Middle East or in Asia?  Will this message help the Christian couple with a strugling marriage? or a wayward child brought up in the admonition of the Lord?  The answer is a resounding NO!

    I Peter 5:2 exhorts Elders to not be greedy for money.  2 peter tells us to " be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with the Lord."  In fact the Gospel of Christ should not be peddled. (2 Cor 2:17).

    I hope that we stop this sillyness in the church of justifying greed, wealth and lust and realize that we have the answer and it is JESUS!

    Phil, I trust Charisma won't drop you even though you express your opinions on some of these ministries.

  6. Like you I have heard this comment many times before, but why do we really want to get into this. I am personally tired of the debate. What do we really care how pastors spend their money ultimately they have to answer to their God in heaven, not you. You don’t have answer for their spending, or poor financial decisions, if you don’t like their lifestyle and showman ship then don’t listen or attend their church. I think we need to stop pointing the finger at other ministry leaders and focus more on our selves and how we can improve our relationship with our father in heaven.
    I have a series problem with other people pointing the finger at other ministries about their finances and spending. Is really our place to pass judgement?

    Lets say it was our place to pass judgement on big houses or nice cars, lets just take a moment and anlayze it.
    If you see a millionaire who makes 100,000 a month driving a Bentley that cost $250,000, who can pay off the car in two months or pay cash for it, and pass judgement on him becuase in your eyes he drives an expensive car; then you see a someone who makes 100,000 a year who drive an Acura that cost 50,000 who has to finance the car over 5 years and you don’t pass judgement on them. Come on folks, who really is materialistic the guy. The millionaire or the guy who can’t afford a $50,000 car and has to finance it over 5 years.
    Bottom line, you don’t know how much big ministry leaders make or their financial situation and if you did its all relative to income and perception, so stop pointing your finger becaue it only points back at you! be the best you can be and move on

  7. The scripture is clear about Jesus Christ and how focussed He was when HE was on the earth. HE was about missions and not about personal gain and fame. Many of the people who teaches prosperity will not escape the snare of it. The enemy's plan for America is to distract, and the shepperds are distracted by the the things of the world.

  8. Serious prayer is needed not only for we the people, but for pastors who are being seriously misled by spirits of greed and lust.

    I don't have a problem with a pastor purchasing a plane so that he can minister in the remote jungles of Africa or so that he can carry food and medicine to the starving people of third world countries. However, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why private jets are needed to fly all over the world to preach to folk who have already embraced the gospel. 

    I don't begrudge pastors having nice things…it's the world we live in, but when they are driven by excess and opulence, that becomes a problem and hinders their ministry. I honestly think that, if Messiah were here in the flesh today, He'd drive a bus just large enough for Himself and His 12 man crew. No private jets, no bentley, no million dollar home(s)…just a plain ol' bus.


  9. Dave – the issue is this – you're involved in the marketing of churches and ministries. Your work is incredibly damaged and hurt by these types of activities. As you know, in a media-driven culture, perception is reality, and as long as some pastors and ministry leaders keep up this stuff, your job of getting a client's message heard in the secular culture will be much harder. You're right, we might not be able to change them, but we need to point out to the secular culture that this isn't what Christianity is all about, and keep shining a light on these excesses within the Christian community to show how much they damage our witness to the world.

  10. If this is all there is then its great to just have it all now and forget about it. But if there is more than what is today far beyond what we can imagine maybe we need to see that we are not missing out much in this life if we really focus on what Jesus Christ told us to do and that applies to not just ministers/preachers of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God but to all believers in whatever field of life we are in. Maybe we should spend more time investing in building and working God's dream for our lives which is to love Him and the people He sends us to than our own because He will give back to us and sometimes not in this lifetime completely.

    What I mean is kind of like when we were in high school and some guys where like on top of the world and it was like boy you were just a nobody but fast foward ten – twenty years and the guys who were nobodies in high school went on to achieve things that made them known all over the world or had impact intheir environment. Whereas the kings in high school ten – twenty years from now are just a fleeting shadow – nobody remembers them. From an eternal perspective people may be kings in life today in this world but when Christ Jesus comes back (first in His millenial reign) no one would even know them at all.

    The Bill Gates and the big Hollywood producers/Financial giants of this world if they do not surrender their lives to Christ Jesus will be completely non-existent in that time because it will be all about the King and His eternal Kingdom forever.

    But what is much more sad today is those of us who claim to serve God maybe rejected if we do not humble and die ourselves now and just serve God willingly without compromise. We will not be in this life forever.

    I think it is time for me the individual to serve my community under God and forget my own agenda. I say this because I could have very easily be doing what many of my prosperity preaching brothers & sisters are doing if not for the radical mercy of God that opened my eyes to His reality. Life here is not as long as we think – there is an eternity to consider.

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