Creative Leadership

The Danger of Ministry Flash Points

Having worked with some of the largest churches and ministries in the country during my career, I’ve seen a lot of controversy. Some is legitimate, and some is manufactured by disgruntled ex-church members, or the local media bearing a grudge. As a result, I’ve been keenly aware of what I call “Flash Points” that pastors and ministry leaders should avoid – no matter what size your church or organization.

A flash point isn’t necessarily a matter of what’s right and wrong or what’s legal or not, it’s a matter of engaging the community or culture in a positive way.  It’s a matter of avoiding unnecessary criticism or conflict that diverts attention away from the gospel message.

For instance, while I don’t rule out the use of private jets in some ministry situations, there’s no question that having one is a flash point.  I’d like one myself, but the cost is insane. And for a ministry leader who’s funded by donations, is it really needed?  More important, is it really worth the hassle and controversy?

For a smaller church or ministry, driving an expensive car may be a similar flash point.  Sure it’s not illegal or even wrong, and I love a great car as much as anybody. But if your real passion is the gospel, is it worth distracting those you’re trying to reach?

Remember: Everything communicates. 

The way you dress, the vacations you take, the house you live in, the car you drive, and the way you treat people. That doesn’t mean you have to live like a pauper, but it’s an important principle to remember. The last generation of pastors and ministry leaders spent too much time trying to justify mansions, limos, expensive vacations, and jets. But when it comes to connecting to people who are  donating their hard-earned money to pay your way, it’s not about justification, it’s about what’s appropriate.

Live well. But never forget that everything communicates, and sometimes things like the distraction of a lavish lifestyle or an abrasive personality creates PR havoc that can be far more damaging than the temporary inconvenience of driving a Chevy.

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25 Comments

  1. Agreed. (Amen, Amen, and AMEN.) I scratch my head at the fact that this even needs to be said. (Though I shouldn’t.) Jesus wept.

  2. One main reason that I tremendously appreciate and admire Billy Graham is because he keenly understood this principle, and strived to be careful to always “abstain from the APPEARANCE of evil”. It’s amazing that despite his tremendous success, he hasn’t attracted attention for a lavish or gaudy lifestyl. I read somewhere that Rev. Graham’s rule of thumb regarding spending ministry or even personal money is to always buy “in the middle”. That is, not to stay in a cheap motel, but neither the most expensive resort, instead select a nice place “in the middle”. As a result, Billy Graham’s ministry has been fruitful for over 60 or more years, never bringing reproach to the precious gospel of Christ….to the glory of God. Way to go, Billy!!!

  3. A good definition of liberty is “mutual dedication to self-retraint.” Today’s banksters have simply followed today’s mega-rich ministers. They, like socialist politicians, believe that plebes must support their exceptional lack of self-restraint. And they call it good, when any person with common sense knows it ain’t necessarily so! Mutual dedication to self-restraint, except mega-rich ministers, is not liberty. Heck, it is licentious! It turns the nose. UGH!

  4. Phil,
    I agree with you on your thought of Pastors buying these extravagant items, but what are your thoughts on Pastors being given some of these things as gifts?

    I know for a fact that Crefflo Dollar has said from the pulpit that he’s been given at least one Bentley in the past. Is it then wrong for him to keep that gift? Or should he be required to keep it under wraps to avoid controversy? And if he was to sell the item he was given, how would that affect the person who gave the gift?

    Just wanted your thoughts from another angle. 🙂

  5. Gifts are no different for me.  How you use your money, or how you handle gifts have the same perception in the eyes of donors, congregation, or the public.

  6. People who continue to support “ministry leaders” that exhibit poor judgement and ostentatious spending are also seriously responsible for misuse of the Lord’s treasure. Discernment in all things…

    This recent article from ICR provides a bibical perspective on these trangressions.

    http://www.icr.org/articles/type/6/

  7. Once had ministry leaders fly to an event on the Concorde (because they supposedly had waited “too late” to book normal air tickets). They had the boldness to ask for a discount on our group’s rented camera gear and lights.

    Heard about an extremely well-known evangelist that will not allow the crew or fellow passengers to use the bathroom on his private jet. Only the evangelist can.

    Entitlement…what a disease. Where is the Apostle Paul when you need him?

    Like the “middle” approach Al Cortez cited about Billy Graham.

  8. I wholeheartedly agree, and appreciate Billy Graham’s longstanding commitment to avoid the very appearance of anything that would jeopardize his ministry.
    Having said that, the perspective from this pastor’s wife is that too many churchgoers feel no compunction about coveting what the pastor may have. We have been criticized over the years for buying a used K-car(!) and for having more options on a Honda Accord than a parishioner had on her (nearly) identical model. Even the “middle” approach doesn’t keep people from criticizing, but it’s still the right thing to do.

  9. As far as ‘where the money goes’……perhaps there should be an emphasis on wisely understanding what is bread for food and what is seed to sow?

  10. During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s my father pastored a number of churches here in California. And in every pastorate, he had to be careful what he wore and what he drove.

    It was OK if the evangelist showed up in a Cadillac (luxury car of choice back then), but Dad had to drive something more modest — because church members wanted to know how their tithes were being used!

    So, instead of a Cadillac, he would buy a Buick or Chevy, loaded with all the extras. In some cases it would have been cheaper for him to buy a Cadillac vs. a loaded Buick, but he chose not to let “things” get in the way of “the message”. It was only after he passed away that my mother felt free to buy a used Lincoln Continental.

    Oh, and back then he didn’t have an “Armor Bearer” to hold his briefcase and hand him his bible — or sit behind him on Sunday morning like a Secret Service Agent, in case somebody rushed the platform.

    Hmmm, maybe Phil can bring that up on a future blog?

  11. I absolutely agree that “everything communicates,” and that ministry leaders live their lives under extreme scrutiny. I’m fortunate enough to be in a church now where the pastors don’t engage in conspicuous consumption. They live at about the same level or perhaps even a bit below that of the average member of the congregation. And the church itself is a model of financial responsibility (the church does not borrow money — no mortgage, no vehicle notes — all is paid in full at time of purchase).

    But I haven’t always been so blessed. I’ve also been in churches where conspicuous consumption was considered a form of evangelism. The rationale went something like this: If we’re NOT financially blessed and living better than everyone else, why would anyone in the world want to be like us? I’m ashamed to say that I actually believed this sort of thing at one point in my life… but I did. And it made me a miserable person. “Keeping up with the Jones'” was not only a measure of social success, but of spiritual success. Financial failure was faith failure.

    Even if a church doesn’t teach a “prosperity” gospel from the pulpit, that message can still come through loud and clear when the leadership engages in conspicuous consumption. Pastors and other church leaders are role models, whether they like it or not. The things that they do and the attitudes that they project have a far greater impact than the words they speak.

  12. There is great risk in attempting something “big for God.” There is risk of great failure, there is risk of great success. Even worse, the risk of being successful THEN failing.

    The role where there is little risk is that of the critic.

  13. We as individuals bring nothing to the table but our sinful nature. Everything we have and will ever have; health, talent and money are gifts from the Lord. We just need to offer the surplus of these gifts back to him, allow ourselves to be used in his service and give him all the glory.

    For self proclaimed “Christian” leaders to wallow in luxury when so many people are suffering physically and spiritually is never excusable.

  14. RE: Ministers of Bling. Generally, they are not educated in Western Enlightenment. Western Enlightenment, from Greek-Jewish-Gothic Christianity, has a tragic view of reality wherein human nature has self-interest problems that need constant self-checking and self-limiting mechanisms; which if followed enable openness to higher ground. That is Western Enlightenment’s reality. And it is a reality that is curious. It inquires. It asks the prophet, what do you have? What is God’s Higher Ground?

    Opposed to that, sad to say, is Pentecost Christianity as practiced by bling preachers: It is a therapeutic reality very close to progressive so-called reality. Which is to say, no reality at all. It is a utopian dream/scheme of some sort. Their doctrine stinketh.

    And the rule of thumb with all utopias, is that there are no utopias possible. They are just a scheme for leader proponents to gain some advantage, since they have not the faith to do it the Western Enlightened way, God’s reality.

    (For a utopian scheme to work, human nature must change. They’d have to be god to do that! Short of that, they have to do extreme reality distortion!)

    So bling preachers (and progressive liberals) are incurious. They don’t inquire. They pay prophets to say they are great. They will never ask a true prophet, what do you say? Because they are scared of the answer.

    Bling preachers (and progressive liberals) have to exert a tremendous reality distortion field to build up their utopia dream/schemes. They need apologists. They need lotsa media. They need to copy each other’s same message! They exalt a bread crumb and enshrine a piffle! Nonsense!

    And the amazing thing, they get lots and lots of apologists, folk who are primitive, under-educated, easily-herded, gullible, taught to never question, touch-not-shenanigan-wolves, and perfectly ready for the next dictator to abscond with what the bling-leaders have not already taken. Anti-American!

    Bling leaders talk forever of revival. It won’t happen under their watch. Ever.

  15. I have no problem with a pastor owning nice things. But I DO have a problem when a pastor parades his wealth by way of a mansion, a top-of-the-line luxary vehicle for himself, his wife, and children, high end designer clothes, etc… while many members of the church staff live near the poverty line, and have to turn to the church’s food pantry and clothing donations for their own family. Something is grossly wrong there.

  16. What others percieve is their reality. Be real and transparent and there should not be a problem. Its when your talk and your walk are not congruent problems arise.

  17. One of the many things that I like about Ravi Zacharias is his modest spirit and humility. Even though he is a world evangelist, he has said that he needs to preach in third world countries to keep in mind the great needs of the people there. Being from a poor area of the world has greatly helped him, even though he could, I’m sure, have many things other evangelists have. On another note, it seems that television evangelist are generally the worst as this. The camera seems to bring out the worst in most people. It begs one to live rich like the Hollywood live. Surely people would not want me to look like a pauper on television seems to be their idea. The are like wind without rain, as it says in Peter I believe.

  18. There is absolutely no need to own a private jet when you have Marquis Jets and NetJets as contract services for chartered air travel.  The per-hour direct operating costs and maintenance when having your own plane are unbelievably large.

    Remember Schindler’s List… “I could have saved one more.”?  A minster with his own plane seems more like a “Could have saved thousands more” kind of thing.

  19. I’m fortunate enough to be in a church now where the pastors don’t engage in conspicuous consumption. They live at about the same level or perhaps even a bit below that of the average member of the congregation.

    Thus sending the message that the pastor is “one of the guys” instead of some sort of CELEBRITY.

  20. As a pastor for nearly thirty years I have learned that if I live a lifestyle similar to the working men of my congregation things go well. I don’t live poor and pitiful, but I also don’t live above my congregation. There is a balance.

  21. What is it about Creflo Dollar’s ministry that would lead someone to think that a Bentley for his personal use would be an appropriate gift? That’s the issue. A media star “Pastor” driving a Bentley, frankly, disgusts me: I don’t want to learn anything from him. I can do narcissism and greed on my own. The greatest pastor, and best Christian, I’ve ever known, lives in an apartment and drives a Honda: and that humbles me. And we need humility a lot more that we need Bentleys.

  22. A new attender to my church later confessed to me that he drove by my house once just to see where ‘the pastor lived’. A pastor must realize he’s always being watched. His example in the smallest things matters.

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