Profit or Prophet

prosperity-gospel-motivation1I make no claim at originality in the title that I have included above as it has been lifted straight from a comment on the Brentwood blog. Behind the witticism there is a serious point being made about the nature of a cultic church. Indeed the question as to whether a minister or pastor is more interested in the financial aspects of his ministry (profit) than in the vocational aspect of his work (prophet) is something that could be asked of a wide range of Church leaders. In my own Anglican tradition there is probably little scope for inflating salaries for the clergy, but over my ministry I have noticed that some clergy were able to negotiate far more generous expenses than others. Financial struggle is, however, the normal lot of most clergy in the mainstream churches. Although the traditional picture of a clergyman in threadbare clothes, which Anthony Trollope described, may not exist anymore, there are some who really find it hard to make ends meet.

We have several times in the course of this blog talked about the ‘Health and Wealth’ teaching which is dominant among quite a number of churches, not least the so-called ‘black’ churches. There the idea of a threadbare minister would be considered, not a sign of humility and self-sacrifice for the work of God, but a sign of failure. The emphasis is on receiving the blessings of God and that includes driving the right kind of car and living with the right standard of living. The teaching that God wants to bless his people by providing all them with adequate wealth for a particular life-style will start with the minister but will spread beyond there to include many in the congregation. If this teaching has gained acceptance among the congregation, it will often have a pernicious effect in the way that the congregation will treat those who cannot aspire to a particular standard of living. Once the idea becomes entrenched that God is ‘blessing’ the wealthy and comfortably off, it is but a small step to despising those who do not have these trappings. Poverty will then become something that is blameworthy. In practice the poor will not hang around in a congregation where they are despised and looked down upon. The rest of the congregation will then settle down to be a group of people who aspire to the same set of values and similar comfortable standards of living. That in fact seems to be the pattern at Trinity Brentwood. The ‘problem’ of accommodating the poor will be one that has somehow vanished of its own accord.

The issue of congregations dealing with wide variations of wealth and class is not just one for so-called ‘Health and Wealth’ congregations. It actually affects many congregations without often being discussed openly. Wealth or the lack of it exists alongside another great taboo within churches which is the issue of class. Many Anglican churches do not have to deal with disparities of wealth or class because in the parish system people are gathered from particular areas which are similar socio-economically. Poor people tend to live in poorer areas while better-off people live in more expensive areas. Many urban parishes are thus socially and financially monochrome. It is only in the rural areas that rich and poor come together for worship, though sometimes one feels the system here works in a somewhat feudal way.

To return to our main theme of pastors and ministers who enrich themselves at the expense of their congregations. This behaviour, as evidenced by the leaders of Holy Trinity, Brentwood, is something that is an obscenity on more than one level. In the first place it is sending out a message that to be poor is somehow to be outside the blessings of God. This is a grotesque teaching which is worse than the idea of our Victorian forebears that poverty was morally blameworthy.

The second aspect of a wealthy leadership in certain churches is that it can create a barrier between the minister and those he serves. The idea of a servant ministry is very hard to sustain if you, the leader, drive a car that is bigger than that of your congregation and sustain a wealthy life-style. In the reports about Trinity, Brentwood, it is stated that the chief pastor has his own private entrance to the church so that he is not ‘contaminated’ from mixing with the ordinary members of the congregation. It is a small step from receiving a huge salary to believing that you are worthy of that salary. If you add to this to some of the teaching from the Health and Wealth gospel, you convince yourself that the money you receive and spend is a sign of God’s favour. The more you amass in the form of wealth, the more you believe that you are specially chosen and blessed by God. This at the very least is a form of fantasy religion.

Thinking of my own experience as an Anglican priest for 40 years, I can see that there was always a problem of having to live in a larger house than the average home in the parish. That is one thing, but any excess of wealth would have compounded the problem of being able to be alongside every parishioner, rich or poor. It would have been both embarrassing and counter-productive ever, in any way, to flaunt wealth or social position. Living in a tied house, even if it was larger than many others, was in many ways an advantage as it fell outside the norms of social climbing that obsess so many in society. Arriving at the age of retirement still solvent and with two children safely married and independent, we are indeed fortunate. The path of ministry has not been for us, nor ever should be, a path to wealth. Any suggestion to the contrary seems to be a kind of blasphemy. God does not, as the Health and Wealth preachers promise, provide riches to those who serve him.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

5 thoughts on “Profit or Prophet

  1. Please read: “Losing My Religion by William Lobdell, very articulate and heart felt. Been so many people like Trinity Foundation, Dallas Tx and Bill/Jackie Alnor, So many News Expose’s that have tried to expose corrupt practices and NO ACCOUNTABILITY of TBN, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, so many News Articles, Books like Thomas Straub regarding Pat Robertson, even Blogs, Don’t Call Me Brother by Austin Miles exposing cult of AG/AOG; so run like Mormon cult; look at all Blogs on M. Bickle/ihoprayer; or David Wegner DVD on corruption of B. hinn’s Ministry and they still exist and have a following that gives to them. so sad. Also: spiritual soundingboard site, and and, so many sites, people need a different Jesus I guess!
    Appreciative that you have this site.

    1. Thank you BOS for your continuing interest. I note that all the books you mention come from the States. Publishers in this country do not, by and large, publish books of this kind but those of us who are interested can read an enormous amount on-line about the misdemeanours. I will, from time to time, refer to these American issues, but I have to concentrate on the British scene for the most part. This is partly because there are few blogs for this side of the Atlantic on this subject. We keep these issues under wraps but the blog here wants people to talk about them far more. The books you refer to, all make the point that the American scene have a greater awareness on all this. Benny Hinnn does appear here from time to time but I don’t want to tackle the subject of religious broadcasting too often. It is growing here but will never get as big in this country because people here find it distasteful and ‘yucky’ for the most part.

  2. Just musing, here. I have heard of the prosperity gospel, of course. But how do they explain away that Jesus was so poor he couldn’t even afford a donkey?

  3. Thanks E/A

    How do they explain The poverty of Christ? Buy jumping up and down, repeating their herecies so many times that they give God hernia of the ear drum, cuddling each other, going into mental orgasms, sticking their heads in the sand and smiling!

    Peace & Love


  4. Have you read: Thieves by Trey Smith posted on net for free? Also, Jackie Alnor’s book? Battle Hymn by John Scura/Dane Phillips (must read about England/American History) there’s a segment of corrected church leader’s (he should have named more). Along with Marketing of Evil/How Evil Works by David Kupelian (has a great christian heritage explained in the book, also Editor of “Whistleblower Magazine and World Net Daily”. Phillip Yancey who come across so many men who appreciate him/pastor’s he’s written some excellent books on the church! Know this is old post, but gathering sites to be posted and this came up. Also, still collecting books on church abuse and the education of it all. Have your book in my list when it comes available. Friend told me about Steve Sampson’s books.

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