Is the Church Acting Like A.I.G.?

Sharon Church, Stewardship 9 Comments

Money 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?

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Comments 9

  1. sherri

    wow, great point. I have to admit that I resent pastors abusing (taking advantage) of given money but I also don’t view any money I give to God as my money anymore. So I give it to God, and if somebody abuses it it’s on their heads as far as I can see. I just try to be wise in my giving and generous (and allow God to guide me.)
    I hate to see money wasted but a pastor shouldn’t have to financially struggle just because they serve God. To me that isn’t christianity. But using people isn’t either, and if you ever look down on a member of your congregation because you don’t see them as of equal worth spiritually as you, you will use them (and that includes their money.)
    So it can always be a trap if pride is an issue, but pride is something we all have to work through. So past that if you don’t want somebody in leadership to abuse finance you have to really be careful about the point in Timothy about not appointing anyone to a leadership position who is a ‘lover of money’. (The other points are equally as relevent – but this is an example of the consequences of carelessness over this one.)
    And it’s interesting that you brought this up because I was sitting in a church meeting recently and the church was electing decons. All the points in Timothy were printed on a handout for everyone to go through before casting their vote, but the pastor also basically inferred that they were just a guide and the people voted into leadership didn’t actually have to fulfill them.

    ROFL.

    Anyway. Great point. Thanks for bringing it up.

  2. sherri

    PS. I think that if we view all our money as Gods and God as our provider, it doesn’t really matter if we give our money to someone who doesn’t spend it properly for the kingdom. I think people need to be able to have space to make mistakes and grow. Or course flagrant extortion or robbery is different. But if we view our gifts as Gods money then we don’t really have the right to stand in judgnment over how it’s used once it’s left our hands. Paul suffered want and worked as he preached because he didn’t want to do anything to damage some of his converts faith, even though it was catering to their ‘weakness’ (selfishness really) but he thought their calling was worth the price. However he answers in the same passage that he deserved his wages before God but just chose to give them up. Somebody can be weak in this area because their character is so bad that it needs help and others can just be deliberatly selfish. To pander to deliberate selfishiness would be sin. I think it can be really relative.
    I have to admit I haven’t really enjoyed seeing a pastor whip by in a super slick car at times their beautiful house in a nice suburb, when I’ve had so little, (particularly when they tell you that God will make you wealthy by giving to them, even though you know they started off with as much or less then you in bible college and only have what they have after years of a fairly good paycheck) -but I look to God for answers and provision because otherwise it would just be jealousy. If they’ve prospered dishonestly and are preaching a manipulative message over finance well he/she loses when eternal stakes are brought into it, and to me those are more important.
    But if they’re just prospering fairly then more power to them and it’s great to see.
    I love seeing a pastor have stacks when you know they’d give it up in a heartbeat and don’t manipulate people for money. You want those people to be abundantly blessed. And for the others it’s just a character issue. But the money ultimatly is still Gods.

  3. Adam

    Sherri makes the good point that once I’ve given it faithfully, it’s not up to me to be faithful with it. Oversight and accountability are important, but it’s not a right I earn by giving to the church.

    I faced this just this week from the other side. I was part of a planning group for an event. We met at TGI Friday’s and enjoyed a meal there while we planned the event. But while I could’ve gotten something more expensive, I didn’t. Instead, we split some meals and an appetizer. Of course we could’ve spent less, or paid for it ourselves. Where do we draw the line? What is worthy of ministry money and what isn’t? In a megachurch, it’s hard to know really. It’s easy to get lost, and if no one asks it must be okay. Sometimes vigilance with every morally gray area gets wearisome and you just go with it.

    I guess I see these planners as serving their fellow believers at church by planning this event. One or two free meals for their effort seems okay by me. Of course, they’d do it out of the goodness of their hearts, and they didn’t go into it expecting a meal as a reward. But it was a reward after they’d been helping for a while.

  4. Skeptic

    Hi Sharon!

    I very much enjoy reading your blogs. I very much like your honesty in all the issues that you discuss. Well I am crazy skeptic of the church in general. An average church looks like a palace and is a multi-million dollar entity. I rarely give money to the church, though I contribute very considerably to international humanitarian organizations.

    I really don’t care if God’s word is spread or not. To me if my money helps to change someone life, is all i care. I simply hate some of the pastors views of well give 10% to God and God will bless you. I still give 10% (not to church). I honestly don’t care if God blesses me or not. I feel it is every man/woman’s duty to contribute something, since there is so much hurt in this world and we need to do something about it.

  5. Post
    Author
    Sharon

    I think Adam makes a good point! It’s important for church leaders to be good stewards of the money with which they’ve been entrusted, but that doesn’t mean going to the extreme. I am reminded of the popular New Monaticism that exalts poverty as a kind of virtue. That is not Biblical. What’s more, our church leaders do a LOT for the church and sacrifice themselves daily, and they should be appreciated. I also appreciate your effort to share meals when you went out–that’s a nice way to treat yourselves but without doing so exorbitantly.

  6. Blake

    I have no problem with a church paying for the meals of church members in a ministry or discipleship context. If a small group wants to go out for a meal and the church wants to back them for a decent dinner (Applebees, Chilis, Baker’s Square, etc.) that’s fine. Small groups should not be going to fancy restaurants and country clubs. I know churches that pay for a pastor’s membership to a country club with the specific intent that the pastor is using the opportunity to witness to the wealthier classes in their area. That’s fine. Elders conducting a meeting about church business at a country club or any other restaurant for that matter should be out of their own pockets.

    The thing that bothers me the most are Christian leaders (pastors or denominational leaders) that are making $100,000 or more (including benefits) without a valid reason. I can only think of three possible valid reasons: raising a large family, family has medical bills, or the pastor or the pastor’s spouse have educational debt. I think it’s sinful for a congregation or denomination under any other circumstances to pay their pastors or leaders more than that.

  7. Blake

    I disagree with Sharon about New Monasticism. While I’m not on board with several things that the New Monastics are into I share their respect for the impoverished among us. Jesus and the disciples were generally homeless and comparatively had far more in common with the poor as far as possessions go than 99% of the church in Western society has in common with the global poor. We don’t know what poverty is. I think the New Monastics are on to something with connecting their lifestyles to spiritual discipleship and discipline.

  8. Ashbee

    Being engaged to a pastor, I’ve seen many of these “church covered dinners” as well. Even if the church isn’t taking the people out to expensive places, I tend to not agree with them. There are exceptions to every rule and I think Sharon made a great point about trusting your pastor … but …

    It seems to me that the church is not stewarding their money well if they are consistently spending the money to be eating out. The church in Acts used their money to help fellow struggeling Christians, spread the gospel, and bless those in their community. The church has too often become a country club for “Christians” rather than the body of Christ.

    Further, I also wonder what has happened to hospitality in the home? I know schedules are hectic (I know mine is) but Titus teaches us to open our homes and be hospitable. How hospitable is it for a pastor/his wife/church member to take someone to eat where food is already prepared, dishes are going to be cleaned by someone else, and the check is footed by the church?

    I always appreciate a home-cooked meal (even if it isn’t what I would have wanted or exceptional) because the love and effort of the people behind it are in it.

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