Is it OK for Pastors to Dress in Designer Suits and Drive Luxury Cars?

WEALTH IN THE USA

WEALTH IN THE USA (Photo credit: er00mb0b)

I asked myself this question this morning because during my time in ministry, I’ve seen so many pastors, whether on TV or close proximity, that seem to parade their wealth like a badge of success.

It’s important to say that when I’m describing wealth, I realize that I, as an American, am wealthy.  My wife and I collectively make about $40,000 a year, so in a global sense, we are wealthy.  If we looked at a chart of the global distribution of wealth, we’d even realize that some who are in the lower middle class of America are wealthy in an international sense.  This chart will baffle you when you look at the wealth in America compared to other countries (reflects the statistics of the year 2000):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wdpiechartppp2000.gif.

But what are we to do as pastors in an economy that is ever changing?  Things have likely shifted since the year 2000.  There is an ever widening gap between the upper and lower class, and the middle class in some ways seems to be disappearing.  No doubt that many who attend churches are no longer well to do, but probably work multiple jobs and struggle to make ends meet.

Yet I often see pastors, and not always necessarily those that would openly advocate a “health and wealth prosperity gospel” who seem to justify that it’s ok to wear expensive clothes- expensive suits, shoes and the like.  I also see many who drive luxury cars.  I do understand the argument that these could be a better long-term investment, and save money on car repairs or replacement in the long run, but what does having a luxury car communicate to Christians who are financially struggling?  Or the bigger question:  What does it communicate to people outside of the church?  This goes as well for people with large, expensive homes, or toys, or anything.  And I write this from a MacBook Pro computer, so I’m not completely blame free on this one.

And then there’s the other side of things… is it ok to drink an occasional beer as a follower of Jesus when so many struggle with alcoholism?  Is it ok to swear and use loose language as a Christian when the whole world expects us to act differently?  Is it ok to be cynical and bitter?  Is it ok to smoke an occasional cigar?  I mention all of these things because I’ve struggled with them in the past as a younger follower of Jesus, and it took time for the Lord to change my heart in these areas.  For example, I no longer drink at all because I see it as a stumbling block to many, and I make every effort not to swear because I know it’s a poor example.  God has changed my cynicism and bitterness and allowed me to have much more peace and joy, and I don’t ever smoke cigars, not even on special occasions.  I don’t say these things to appear all holy, I say them because it took time for God to remove these smaller struggles from my life.  We all as believers are in the process of being sanctified and more fully reflecting Jesus to a watching world.

I just believe that people view materialism and consumerism in the West as “no big deal”.  In 1 Timothy 3 Elders of the church are commanded not to be “lovers of money”.  Yet the 3rd World experiences poverty that we could never imagine- not having clean drinking water, or living on a ear of corn a day.  So with that presupposition we should interpret what being a “lover of money” truly is.  We live in an age where pastors drive luxury cars and live in lavish homes with big screen TVs, and 401K’s.  They take regular trips to Barbados.  They have a large collection of new designer clothes, and they have all the latest toys- iPods, expensive computers, iPhones and iPads.  But there are families of 6 in Bulgaria that live comfortably in a 4 room apartment, and there are people in Africa who are living with families of 10 in a one room mud-hut.  Is there something wrong with this picture?  Yes there is.  We as pastors ought to live sacrificially, which in America is still a very comfortable life.  We’re afraid that if we drive a junk car people will make fun of us, we’re afraid that if we live in a smaller home people will accuse us of making our family suffer.  But we aren’t thinking biblically, we’re thinking in our American framework.  We as pastors in America shouldn’t make the excuses we do- the American church represents merely 4% of the total population of the global church!  The way we think and act is not in the majority.

And our solutions for “reaching a lost world” are often not working.  The answer isn’t to add smoke machines, better technology and music equipment, better microphones, or more polished and catchy sermons to seeker sensitive church services.  The answer is to look within our own hearts and honestly ask Jesus, “Am I living totally for You?” and “What do you want to remove from my life that is keeping people from truly knowing You?”

Is being an authentic and legitimate example worth the sacrifice?  Yes it is, because God provides for those who truly love Him.  If we can live in contentment with a simpler life impact for Jesus will grow, and we won’t be led into misery and sin, stemming from the traps that exist in our world.  This should be the case whether we make 6 figures or 4 figures in a year.  We should set the standard of a simple existence we will live and give the surplus away for the Kingdom.

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