Do Churches Still Give Preferential Treatment to the Rich?

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I recently experienced an emotional response that surprised me.

I met someone at a church event and then later that day ended up at his home.  He and I were similar in age, but when I got to his house I had a ‘wow’ moment.  The home was large and modern.  The cars out front were top model luxury vehicles.

Let’s just say that there would be a lot of space for coveting if that were my type of thing.  Fortunately, I’m easily satisfied and I don’t often even have a desire to have a bigger home or newer cars.  I’m content to drive around our 10 year old cars.

That’s why I was surprised by the first thought that entered my mind when I pulled up to the house.

I thought to myself … I had no idea that this guy was so ‘special’.  Despite the temptation to do otherwise, I was able to work in the question “So, what do you do?”

Perhaps I’m the only person who has ever had this experience.

Isn’t my reaction simply a reminder of how easily wealth, money, and possessions can distract us?  I wasn’t impressed by his knowledge of the Bible.  I wasn’t in awe of his relationship with his kids.  I thought because he knew how to make money and buy nice things he must be someone special.

That’s the lure, isn’t it?  Work hard.  Earn money, and in this society you get an extra notch on your belt.  You’ll get some more. Repeat.  You’ll get better treatment.

In America today, the two fastest ways to get to a place where people automatically treat you better is by getting money or getting a gun.

Why do we view people as smarter, or better, or wiser just because they have more material possessions?

Consider our current love affair with celebrity endorsements.  LeBron James is a talented basketball player – and he’s got a lot of money.  As such, we allow him to be an authority on electronics (Samsung sponsorship), a food quality specialist (McDonald’s sponsorship), and more.

We trust the endorsement of people who are successful in one area of life – even if their endorsement has nothing to do with their expertise.

Another example is the Robertson family.  They are traveling all across America speaking at many, many wonderful events. (Honestly, I’m impressed by their stamina).  However, are they sought after speakers and presenters because of the quality of their messages or the level of their status and fame?

James tells us that we shouldn’t give preferential treatment to the rich.

Do we?  Do I?

Most churches, within my experiences, tend to give leadership positions to successful business personalities.  The theory is that if you can manage a business, you can manage the church.  Sometimes it’s quite possible that churches need more shepherds and less managers.  A church may need a leader who is more comfortable hugging than punching a calculator.  The church may need a leader who doesn’t know how to balance a budget.

If a significant contributor to the church has a concern and a small gift giver had a concern, would those concerns be treated with equal diligence and attention?

Think about the boards that run many Christian organizations.  I know that all the Christian colleges I attended have board members who made a name for themselves in business.

Perhaps it’s a wise choice.  I’m not arguing that those with gifts to administer business don’t have gifts to oversee boards, but are we overlooking qualified people simply because they never made it big in business or never made their mark in their work place?

Are we still just impressed by expensive things and unintentionally giving preference to the rich?

Have you ever experienced yourself being impressed with someone just because of their success in business?  Have you ever seen a church give preferential treatment to the rich?

Comments

  1. says

    I can agree with you, there is a certain halo that seem to sorround the wealthy and its kinda hard not to notice it. I think we might be giving preferential treatment to the rich without even realizing it, I have seen it at some churches. The rationale seems to be that the church could use the connections, money and influence of the wealthy to further the message and interest of the church, which on the whole of it is not so bad. All in all, I think people should be given opportunities in church regardless of their pockets. It should actually be more about their message, their example and dedication to spreading the good news. Very reflective post Craig!

    • says

      Simon,
      The thing that scared me most is exactly what you’re talking about. I was inadvertently evaluating my relationship with a person based on their worldly toy collection. That’s base and fickle, but I did it. Fortunately, I caught myself making those types of measurements, but I wonder how often I/we do it without even noticing.

  2. says

    In many cases I think the people who are best suited to help manage the churches are people who have been successful in other areas, and who may be wealthy. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t also look for people of integrity and faith to be put in positions of leadership as well.

    I think we do tend to give more preference to those who are better off in the church sometimes, in some ways it’s all a part of our sinful nature, . to give preference to those who are well off, in hopes that they’ll appreciate it and give us preference or favors in return. We look out for ourselves by giving preference to the powerful or wealthy.

    It is certainly something we need to be on guard for, to make sure that we’re displaying God’s love to all of the people around us, whether they’re rich or poor, successful or not. Get people involved in the church and the family of God, regardless of their station in life.

    • says

      Peter,
      I think you’ve helped identify the rub. Those who we ask to oversee the church are usually good at it because they oversee and manage other elements of their lives well. That’s what Paul seeks as a characteristic of an elder – manages their family well. They should also be respected by the community.
      Still, churches do need leaders who are poor managers, but great encouragers. They need people who will lead in prayer rather than leading with a calculator.
      Lord willing we’ll all be able to find the right balance.

  3. JD says

    Oh boy, I could write a book concerning the preferential treatment I have watched in churches to those that were wealthy. One church in particular had a couple that were definitely better off than the majority of attendees. On a certain Sunday he was acknowledged for flying the pastor to a State football game which was competing in nationals. The wide smiles and nods by most in the audience was a bit disconcerting. One tiny example of the accolades that some have received for possessing wealth. I personally found it a distraction and a sad footnote to the entire service.

    • says

      JD,
      I guess that type of gift giving (even if seemingly extravagant) is a way to honor a person. Where it becomes dangerous is when/if we try to ‘call in the favor’. Those types of politics have no place in the body of Christ.

  4. says

    There is absolutely nothing immoral with being -impressed- with someone because of what they’ve achieved. That is NOT the type of preferential treatment the Bible condemns. That isn’t even a weakness.

    That said, we often consider them smarter because they generally are. If you look at the IQs of people who make more, you’ll find they’re higher. No, not a billion percent higher, but it’s still higher.

    If this bothers you, then you’re not following Christianity – you’re just following some kind of “ignore economic reality because of random reasons” theology. I’m sick of seeing this in every single Christian group. It’s nauseating.

    • says

      Shaun,

      Thanks for taking the time to offer some feedback.

      I guess I wonder what types of people impressed Jesus. We tend to look at the outside, but I feel confident that what impresses Christ is matters of faith not material accomplishment.

      I wouldn’t have any problem saying that those who make more money tend to have higher IQ’s and that they tend to have a stronger work ethic. I would have a problem saying that a rich person is more deserving of my respect and admiration over and above a single mother who is raising a couple of kids by herself.

      Also, I would also say that there are a lot of idiots out there making a lot of money.

      That’s my true issue – we honor and respect some people simply because they are high income earners. That just means we miss seeing a lot of true hero’s of faith.

      What is the alternative you suggest? We all seek to become high income earns because those are the only occupations of importance? We seek to elect or appoint leaders in churches based on income level (and assumed related higher IQ’s)?

      I think we’re disrespecting Christ when our respect for a person increases when we find out they drive a Lexus instead of a Honda.

      • says

        Money isn’t the only kind of achievement, and nobody is suggesting that on any level. It is, however, a possible achievement, and should be treated as such — an achievement.

        If I saw someone was absolutely amazing at the piano, I’d be impressed. That doesn’t mean I’m showing “preferential treatment” or something silly.

        Respecting someone for achieving something doesn’t mean we randomly give them all the authority or the best seats in the church or anything like that. I don’t know of anyone remotely suggesting this either.

        • JD says

          Shaun, I would be willing to concede perhaps your experiences and mine are totally different. Having said that I feel it is disingenuous to suggest that preferential treatment would not happen to those of more affluence within a church setting. My husband and I have personally witnessed this in more than one church for over 20 years.

          My point is that should a person that has more monetary where with all be recognized above someone who dutifully taught Sunday School, volunteered in the community or to the ill or housebound within the church family? To me it is wrong for a pastor to stand in front of a congregation and faun over a wealthy member that was able to give/do above the norm. So maybe the question really is, what would Jesus do?

  5. Scott F says

    I have seen this enough, and probably even participated. It CAN be dangerous in many ways — especially when that person’s generosity ends up being a controlling factor in the church. “we can’t upset them or they will stop giving and leave.” So the church hires and fires staff and ministries according to that member’s wishes, chooses the direction it will go, etc. Of course, it is often not blatantly discussed, threatened, etc. but it is just one of those “understood” things.

  6. Ted Calvert says

    Great to see the topic debated in the west, in many ways it is much worse in areas that have been “missionised” vs “evangelised” in the Pacific, Africa & India. In those places it is done openly as it is a cultural norm not yet submitted to Jesus’ transformation. In the west it is more subtle and in my opinion generally done because we settle for the easy job of measuring what is measurable (man looks at the outside) than putting in the effort of discerning what it is on the inside (God looks at the inside).

  7. Violet A. says

    I think the situation of churches tending to prefer the wealthier members to run the church unknowingly or knowingly happens whether you are in a developed country like the U.S. or a small developing country in Asia. I used to attend a mega church and one of the welathier members grants overseas travels to the pastor and his family while the more important issue of evangelizing prisoners (in the prison building near the area of the church) is overlooked.

  8. Roz Innes says

    Hi,
    So agree that usually the outside is judged rather than the inside or motive for which something is done and this can be one of the most frustrating things. However shouldn’t we rather renew our minds Rmns12:2 and encourage and mentor businessmen and women to steward their wealth correctly and use it for the glory of God -they are normally a forgotten part of congregations(have been a Christian for 33 years) while at the same time ensuring congregants know who they are in Christ and that God honours patient perserverance and works all things together for our good (Rmns8:28). Also to be mindful that He will sort out things His church and our responsibility is to check our own attitudes(speak from having to do this continually in my own life).Just a few thoughts – maybe they make sense to somebody?

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