As 2009 begins, this is the final conversation that represents a significant stumbling block to the Christian community’s ability to impact the culture. Remember that in today’s media-driven world, perception matters, and regardless of your theological persuasion, it’s time to realize that some of our efforts – even well intentioned efforts – can have damaging consequences. Yesterday we talked about what’s called the “prosperity message.” Today, the next step is
how the luxury life of many TV evangelists is coming to an end. Talk about stumbling blocks to the culture. There is more criticism leveled at luxury cars, mansions, jets, and other accoutrements of rich ministry leaders than anything else. It’s not a matter of being deserving – whatever that is. It’s about our perception in the culture, and from that perspective it’s killing us. The interesting thing I’m finding is that the unrelenting desire to be rich comes about 90% from the first generation of media ministers. When it comes to today’s younger pastors and ministry leaders, I find that most live very modestly by comparison. Could it be that first generation leaders grew up poor and were determined to show the world they were successful? Could it be the second generation leaders grew up in a better lifestyle, and it doesn’t matter so much to them?
From the perspective of African-American churches, I believe we’re seeing a dramatic shift as well. During slavery, when few slaves had access to the outside world, a pastor acted as the emissary to the white establishment. He was the person who became the intermediary representing the black community. During segregation, that idea still was in force. In those days, it was perfectly understandable that black congregations wanted that representative to look like he belonged there. So they wanted him to drive a nicer car, live in a nicer house, dress better. The problem is, today, any member of the black community can be a person of success (Especially in a country where an African-American man is now president). But in too many of these congregations, the pastor still enjoys being celebrated as the “representative,” and really enjoys living like a king. While some black congregations and ministries struggle financially, their pastor is driving a Rolls, and living in a mansion. But as more and more members of those congregations start asking these and other important questions about their leader’s lifestyle, I believe we’ll see some significant changes.
The bottom line is that no matter what the race, age, location, or doctrinal position, I predict we’ll see less and less ostentatious luxury among serious Christian leaders in the future – especially from those who are committed to reach the next generation.