Volume 13, Issue 3: Poimen
Few things devastate the church as thoroughly as a compromised pastor. To be sure, no pastor
is sinless, and indeed, each must model confession and repentance of sin to the flock. But
some scandalous sins sully the white garment of integrity so badly that the reproach remains long
after the sin has been forgiven. Satan knows this and wages efficient warfare on God's church
by picking off pastors. In so doing, each blow has the simultaneous effect of four: Satan
marginalizes an enemy officer (1 Tim. 3:2), compromises enemy defenses (Acts. 20:28; Tit. 1:9),
demoralizes the troops with the betrayal, and, worst of all, arms the enemies of God with an occasion
to blaspheme (2 Sam. 12:14).
Most spiritual leaders stumble because they think
themselves strong, but are not "strong in
the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1). Thinking they stand, and failing to take heed, they fall
(1 Cor. 10:12). But when a pastor takes a bullet, the
whole church bleeds. And so pastors must be vigilant. With this in mind, we'll devote the next few issues to
taking heed to the three most common traps laid for spiritual leaders: money, glory, and women.
It is good to face temptation and prevail; but even
better never to encounter temptation in the first
place. After all, Jesus taught us to pray, "Lead us
not into temptation" (Mt. 6:13). But the naïveté with which
many pastors handle financial temptation invokes images of a cheeky white boy taking a midnight stroll
through the back alleys of Harlem, calling people namesthey're
begging for a beating. So following are a few
suggestions that might help pastors and their churches wise up.
The first way to avoid financial temptation, and you've heard this a hundred times, is simply to
live within your means. Make a budget and stick to
it. Avoid debt like brussel sproutsit is a form of slavery
that divides loyalties between two masters. As the weight of the stack of bills begins to bow the desk, the
pastor will be frantic for new sources of capital. And by the time "Massa" starts calling to collect, he'll be
justifying behavior that his true Master forbids. The sin of fiscal impropriety is often heralded several years earlier
by the sin of over indulgence. "Better is a clunky Datsun B-210 with righteousness than a shiny new Land
Rover with injustice" (Prov. 16:8). So when considering a purchase, distinguish between that which meets
real needs, and that which strokes your ego.
Next, watch those taxes: take care with the manse allowance, be sure to report all honoraria, and
only claim valid expenses. It is astonishing that pastors will sell their ministry, their people, and their Lord
so cheaply. Want to write off a $50 meal that
wasn't quite a bona fide ministry expense? Do the math: if you
are in a 28% tax bracket, you've just sold out your Lord for fourteen clams. Judas Iscariot came off only
slightly better. Is fourteen bucks worth it? Is fourteen thousand?! Isn't it better to take a loss rather than
give opportunity for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme? So when in doubt, either consult your accountant,
or eat the expense. Integrity is a very fragile thing.
Third, practice generous giving. Not only is this a good model for the flock, but it also keeps your
eyes where they belongon the self-existent God who doesn't need your money, and who Himself gives to
all creatures their portion (Acts 17:24_25; cf. Mt. 6:19_34). So focus on God to meet your needs, and you
won't feel the need to massage the budget yourself.
And finally, don't be shortsighted. A little long-term planning
now can help you avoid temptation thirty years from now. Many ministersespecially missionariesneglect to observe the ant, and don't put
away funds for their autumn years. In light of this, if you are still within two years of your ordination, opt out
of Social Security. Use these liberated funds, and others, to invest wisely. Families are primarily obligated
to care for their aged, not the State.
Next, let's address what churches can do to help their pastors avoid financial temptation. Churches
must look to their pastors to model fiscal godliness. This presupposes, of course, that pastors have finances
to manage. Many churches embrace the devil's adage, "We'll keep him poor, and God will keep him
humble." But this opens wide the door to temptation. When a man sees his children hungry and the desk piled
with bills, filtching a loaf from Safeway doesn't seem all that wrong. But Jesus said, "A worker is worthy of
His wages" (1 Tim. 5:18), and the previous verse exhorts the Church to pay teaching elders
double (1 Tim. 5:17). Out of this they will be able to feed and educate their families, provide for their latter, less-productive
years, show hospitality, and give generously.
Second, keep your pastor away from the dough. The pastor should never touch the offering, except to
put something into it. Nor should he ever be given a clue that the Smiths are loaded but there's no record,
and the Johnsons are not, but give sacrificially (James 2:1ff). Instead, deacons should handle the money,
deposit of checks, etc. Similarly, the pastor should not be given signing authority on any accounts if it can at all
be avoided. One cannot be accused of mishandling funds to which he has no access.
Sinners are clever, and so all thorn hedges can be circumvented. Ultimately, the best protection
from financial temptation is the fear of the Lord.