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Volume 13, Issue 3: Poimen

Pastoral Pitfalls—Money

Joost Nixon

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 names—they'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 sprouts—it 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 belong—on 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 ministers—especially missionaries—neglect 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.

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