You might remember this past Spring when the news broke about insurance heavy weight A.I.G. providing its employees with $165 million in bonuses. During any other year, no one would have even blinked at that amount, but not this year. Why? Because AIG had just been bailed out by the U.S. Government, receiving more than $170 billion of taxpayer money. To the watching world, these bonuses seemed ludicrous–why reward the very people who brought the company to the brink of collapse?
It was also a slap in the face. After bailing out an undeserving company from its almost certain demise, A.I.G. was taking advantage of that generosity.
Well I was reminded of the A.I.G. fiasco last night as I had dinner with my fiancé. We hadn’t gone out on a date in a long time, so we decided to do it up right! We picked a nice restaurant that we couldn’t normally afford and got all dressed up for night on the town. As we sat down at our table, we noticed that at the table next to us sat a group who clearly attended church together, if not served on staff. One of them was, in fact, the pastor. They talked about baptism services, Bible commentaries, and church attendance. They seemed like a fun group, and I was really close to interrupting their conversation with a socially awkward, “Hey, I overheard you talking and we’re Christians too!”
But then something happened that stopped me. When the bill came the pastor paid for all of them, and I heard one of the members of the party say how nice it was for the church to treat them all. Even with their small group, the prices at the restaurant were so expensive that their bill would have easily been hundreds of dollars.
And the church was paying for it.
I’ve been processing this experience ever since, and I still feel very torn about it. Granted, I do not have all the information, but this sort of thing is not uncommon. I spoke with someone the other day who said their church pays for their pastor’s meals with church members at the local country club. But is this really how we should be spending our church budget?
In economic times like these, Christians are giving sacrificially to their churches, providing for staff salaries that are often higher than their own, and trusting that those pennies are being used to further the Kingdom of God. So while I don’t believe that a pastor should be poorer than the poorest member of their congregation, I wonder where we should draw the line of extravagance. Even if a member or potential member is a high profile person in the community, and the pastor feels it is more appropriate to meet with them at the country club than Bojangles, I would think there are a lot of cheaper options on the spectrum between the two.
Now there is an extent to which we must “be all things to all people,” but how far do we take it? My dad actually agrees with pastors who do this, and he reminded me of the importance of trusting my pastor’s judgement. That point cannot be understated. So I’m going to open up the floor to other people’s input. I’m going to be honest, I am VERY skeptical about all this–Jesus didn’t exactly schmooze people into the Kingdom with steak dinners–but I’m open to having my mind changed. What do you think?