I was in college. I was a young Christian. And I remember walking past my pastor’s luxury car into the church office one day, and was greeted by a sign on the door that read, “We are no longer accepting requests for benevolence due to budgetary constraints.”
It’s not necessarily wrong for a pastor to own a luxury car. It’s not necessarily right for a church to use all its discretionary money to care for the poor. But the juxtaposition of these two things in that moment caused me to start viewing the church through a different lens almost immediately, like when you buy a new car and then starting seeing that model everywhere.
Over the coming months I started noticing similar distortions throughout our church: in what it measured and evaluated (numerical growth, physical health, financial well-being); in what it celebrated (new cars for the pastor and his wife, new facilities); in what the church and its members did and did not spend our money on.
Here’s one way to summarize the larger pattern: Money and stuff and outward things generally were treated as an indication of God’s blessing. They weren’t treated as an instrument for blessing others and doing gospel work. So we spent it on ourselves. Cash came into our cul-de-sac and didn’t leave.
The church was its own little private kingdom. Ministers and up-and-comers were rewarded so long as they stayed “loyal” and supported the church. If someone tried to leave and start a new gospel work, the moral and financial support would stop. Missions and church planting and taking the gospel to the nations were seldom, if ever, mentioned.
If you haven’t picked up the clues, I was part of church influenced by the prosperity gospel.
To understand how churches and Christians should view money, we should start with a biblical view of blessing. Listen to what Psalm 32 says is true blessing: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
The forgiveness of sins, as it’s declared and discovered in the context of a church community, is the true indicator of God’s blessing.
In other words, don’t measure God’s love and favor toward you by the money you have or think you should have. There are lots of rich people who are going to hell. Remember what Jesus said about the camel going through the eye of the needle?
You know he loves you and favors you because he’s forgiven you! “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
Money and resources, then, are instruments for propagating this message. Churches and Christians shouldn’t be cul-de-sacs for cash. They should be thoroughfares for finance.
Don’t be like the fool who only knew how to build bigger barns and horde what God had given him, thinking that it was his security. Spend what you have for the kingdom. Pay pastors to preach the gospel. Support other individuals, missionaries, and churches when they go out to do gospel work. Then ask God to give more so that you can spend that on kingdom purposes, too.
So forget about identifying the most blatant “prosperity gospel” offenders. What about you? Do you lead your church to view wealth as an indicator of blessing or an instrument for it?
Here are a few more questions to ask yourself:
- How does the church that I lead view and manage resources?
- What are the things that our congregation celebrates? (Chances are they learned it from you.)
- How long have we been “meaning” to increase our mission’s budget? What things have we used our money for that have kept us from doing this?
- Why am I so concerned with how many people attend my church? Why is numerical growth so important, and why do I envy other pastors?
- Why do I hope that our budget increases this year? Why am I praying for God to provide more resources?
None of us are immune to faulty thinking on how to view the money that God gives us. Is money a blessing? In some ways, yes. But more than that, it’s an instrument for pointing people to the real blessing—a knowledge of him!
John Onwuchekwa is the teaching pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia.