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The Ministry Money Train: Getting On or Off?
David Yonggi Cho, founder of the world’s largest megachurch was convicted in February 2014 of embezzling the equivalent of US $12 million. After 50 years of ministry, the 78 year old South Korean pastor of more than 1 million members was accused of using church money to buy stocks from his son at an inflated price. Cho said he was trying to help his son out of a tight spot.1
The purpose of citing Cho’s story is to illustrate that greed can topple the best of the best, who seem to have no other flaw. For him and so many other preachers, trouble comes when they begin to view themselves as owners, instead of stewards on the ministry money train.
Our concern in this article is not to criticize Cho or any other gospel minister. Neither is it to downplay the need for purposeful gospel ministries. It is to warn the misguided people who fuel the “prosperity-pimping” gospel money train,3 on which their leaders take the express ride to heaven-on-earth.
The Need for Individual Responsibility
Everyone has the right to give their money to whatever causes they choose; but it is foolish to part with money irresponsibly under the guise of obeying God. Many devout believers are committed to the Biblical tithing system which requires one-tenth of their earnings to be returned to God for ministry use. Even so, they can make the effort to find a church with a system of accountability.
On a weekly basis, so-called ministries are beginning in our neighborhoods, and people we know are being asked to fund them with free-will offerings. While we cannot see the hearts of these ministers, we are not obligated to support everybody’s passion, especially if we have doubts.
Besides, why does our regular,sacrificial giving not include the needy among our own families? We are primarily responsible for them.
Three Ministry Situations to Avoid
It is God-fearing and dutiful to invest in church ministries, but not without responsibility. Here are three clues which can help steer us away from unworthy causes. If any of these situations are characteristic of a new or existing ministry, not only should we not get on the money train, we should be brave enough to say why.
- (1) One-Person Leadership
It is alright for a person to solicit financial help; it is not alright to make the giver believe that he or she is donating to a ministry if the money is for personal use. If someone feels a divine calling to a ministry, he or she needs a start-up ministry team before a start-up collection.4
When approached by a single person to make a ministry donation, suggest that the person becomes part of a team that is already established. Some people organize ministries with the intent of being the sole conductor on the money train.
It is irresponsible to fund a new or existing ministry with one person in complete control.
- (ii) No Money, No Service
The owner of a restaurant offers to share with his customers a message God revealed to him. Those interested are solicited for their email addresses.
He follows up with an invitation to a group meeting at his restaurant and a reasonably priced ticket for the event. The notice informs would-be attendees that the cost includes an all you can eat buffet. Sorry; no opportunity to hear the testimony without paying for the food. It is a package deal.
People are free to grow their businesses however they want. Still, if someone wants to sell food, why marry it to a testimony? Why use the testimony as the bait? There is room for much speculation on events like these.
If in order to hear a message from God, the hearer has to pay for something else, what is the real reason for the money?
- (iii) Everything for Profit
The church pastor embarks on a weight loss program. His congregation cheers him on as he announces his weekly progress. When he gets to his desired goal, he records his journey on a set of DVDs and offers them for sale to his members.
His weight loss does not qualify the pastor to guide other people in their weight loss efforts. Some members will buy whatever the pastor sells because they are in the habit of supporting him in his many efforts to make profit on their sense of obligation.
They feed the pastor’s greed when they buy products they do not need, just because he recommends it. They allow him up to write books, record music, create other products which are often substandard for lack of expertise. The media criticizes him for making profit on his members, which he really should not; but how many mansions and helicopters does a preacher need to own before the members realize that someone in the pew needs shoes?
On or Off the Ministry Money Train?
Will you stay on the train despite irresponsibility by some leaders?
Five Good Reasons to Give
Some of the largest churches in America major in prosperity giving. The criticism they receive is mostly for the large gap in the standard of living between the leaders and followers. The folly of the vulnerable followers underscores our need to give to the ministries we consider worthy. Here are five common sense reasons (among others) to give.
- (i) Giving reminds us that we are stewards not owners of God’s Providence.
- (ii) Giving helps us overcome selfishness and greed.
- (iii) Giving is one way to help bear the burden for those who do not have to give.
- (iv) We get a sense of joy and usefulness when we give to ministries which follow Scriptural guidelines.
- (v) God’s love is demonstrated in His giving; He requires us to follow His example.
We do not doubt the significance of ministry, but we must be wise and responsible in our support. We have the right to get off when the money train makes detours. We also have the right to air our opinions for the benefit of all.
1. Moon, Ruth: Christianity Today-Gleanings, Founder of World's Largest Megachurch Convicted of Embezzling $12 Million, February 24, 2014
3. Bartholomew, Richard: Talk to Action, Prosperity Gospel: Pastor Decries "Prosperity-Pimping" September 16,2006
4. Gladden, Steve: Pastors.com, 10 Things to Think About Before Starting a Small Groups Ministry, (http://pastors.com/before-small-groups visited March 12,2014)
© 2014 Dora Isaac Weithers