The New Testament writers, in outlining the responsibilities, authority and duties of a “pastor,” which they more commonly referred to as the “overseer” or the “Bishop,” probably never envisioned the kind of wealth that individuals could accumulate when they advocated for his being “worthy of his hire,” or even “worthy of double honor.” And even in the most commercial, consumer society in the world, there are probably no more than a small number of people in general, and church members in particular, who would not be shocked by the exhorbatant and lavish expense account, along with salary and benefits, provided by the Grapevine church pastored by Ed Young, Jr.
Apparently, there are those among Young’s congregation who have gotten wind of what is happening to their contributions, and they are making an exit. Fair enough under the circumstances. Accountability to the congregation is not a popular concept among megachurch leadership in America, and it really never has been. But even so, there is certainly a question to be raised here regarding why someone would join a church and hand over their tithe check in a situation where there is no open accountability with regard to the way it is used.
I have sat through plenty of arguments in church business meetings in recent years, in which disclosure of staff salaries and benefits in the monthly or quarterly budget reports was demanded, and I’ve heard all of the reasons why pastors and church staff should object to them. After all, how many church members would tolerate having to disclose their salary to other members of the same church? The only problem with that line of reasoning is that it is a direct product of thinking which essentially ignores the basic principles of scripture. The church is a community of faith, supported by that same faith, and built on trust. Authority is invested in the entire body functioning together as a unit.
In light of that perspective, there are several inherent problems related to this particular incident in Grapevine, Texas. At what point does extravangant spending of church funds become an expression of the love of money? I’m not quite sure how to measure that, but for me, I think the bottom line would be the willingness of this particular pastor to serve in a small church that might struggle to pay him the equivalent of a local high school history teacher. Would he be willing to do that if God called him to it? Only he can answer that question.
A second problem relates to the efficient and effective stewardship of the money. While it may be true that people from a jet-set lifestyle, with jet-set money to give, expect their pastor to have the same priviliges and opportunities as they have, is merely allowing them to do so good discipleship? The Christian experience is supposed to be a life transforming one. It seems that your wallet, your view of money, your spending habits and everything else associated with it would be “baptized” so to speak. And this doesn’t look like it has been immersed in much of anything related to what the Bible has to say on the subject.
A third issue related to this scenario has to do with the shroud of secrecy that must be drawn over the activities to keep public relations problems from happening. Why does a faith community built on mutual trust have to be kept in the dark? There is a fear, especially among those who lead such large groups of people, that the connections to the congregation by many members are somewhat shallow, and that unpopular policy and moves of the leadership might cause enough fringe members to leave to affect the bottom line, which is the budget. Success is measured by continuous growth, and if that is not occurring, then there must be some problem keeping it from happening. So, to stop public relations problems from happening, you simply do not disclose anything you are doing.
A fourth issue is the one which determines who owns the church’s “intellectual property,” which would include the pastor’s sermons and writings. If a church is a faith community of which the pastor is the designated “elder” or overseer, then anything that is produced by him for the exclusive use of the congregation would, in my way of interpreting the scripture on this subject, belong to the whole congregation. Outside of that, I would think that any personal writing or intellectual property would be his own, provided that its production did not interfere with his normal duties as pastor of the church, or that it was not produced on the time that was scheduled to be devoted to them.
Perhaps the largest issue related to incidents such as this is the impression which is left by many people who are not part of the Christian community. Stuff like this simply serves to give credibility to the claim that the church is after your money, will always be involved in asking you for more, and this is why.
When you have massive financial resources at your disposal, it is pretty obvious that there is little need for the presence of the Holy Spirit, and you are a long way from the humiliation and suffering of the Cross.