There are two things I need to get off my chest. I’ve vented privately to friends about these two issues, but I feel the need to speak out publicly. I’ve been observing these two things for several years and am compelled to say something.
There are two nasty trends among Christians that need to come to a screeching halt, and both have to do with how we treat one another, especially our ministers.
1. We have little to no respect for copyright law and personal property.
I don’t know who decided that everything in the church building was community property and legal to poach, but I bet it was a deacon!
Seriously, in church-world, we steal stuff without ever realizing we are stealing it. We are cavalier in following copyright law in this country. We photocopy stuff without permission. We plagiarize without apology. This is wrong. It’s a sin. It’s stealing. We need to repent.
A year or two ago, I received a nice message from a lady who was really enjoying one of the books published by Start2Finish. She was very complimentary of the material. She liked it so much that she was teaching it in her Ladies Bible Class…and copying out the book for her students…without permission. She believed she was paying me a compliment. And I knew she was trying to be nice. But it saddened me that she was blatantly violating the copyright notice in the book. She was also taking money out of the pocket of the author (not me).
Along the same lines, we believe that any physical object in the church building can be taken or moved without permission. Even if the object has someone’s name on it, it’s fair game. I don’t know where this comes from, but unless you’re sure something is yours, ask before you move it, take it, use it, etc.
This leads me to #2:
2. We make people feel guilty if they are financially successful.
I’ve encountered this from few people (thank the Lord), but I still get it every now and again. People allege that you are “profiting off the Gospel” or “in it for the money.” I just roll my eyes. Let’s get a few things straight.
First, if I or anyone else provide resources that help you grow in your Christian walk, I’m not profiting off of the Gospel. Charging someone money to hear the Gospel is profiting off the Gospel. All the books I write and/or publish are for people who are already Christians for the most part. No one is profiting off of the Gospel.
Second, no one is getting fantastically rich off of selling books. No one is retiring early. No one is purchasing their own jet or their own private island in the South Pacific. The most I can reasonably hope for a book that I publish is that it sells 500-1,000 copies. Two of my books have sold 3,000 copies each. But those are very rare. And when you factor expenses related to completing a book and bringing it to market… Well, you might be able to take your family on a nice Summer vacation, but that’s it. The rest, you barely break even on.
I’ve also seen Christians shame ministers for making too much money. But what is “too much money”? Because the preacher drives a nicer car or lives in a nicer house? First of all, that may only mean that he is more responsible with his money than you are. Second, what he makes is likely none of your business. It’s the business of his elders, who are in turn responsible for evaluating his talent, competence, and value to the congregation, etc. But it’s not your business. If the preacher started investigating what everyone in the congregation made in their own jobs, we would rightly call foul! But evidently, it’s not tacky if the congregation does it to the preacher.
Along the same lines, if someone is making money the honest way, it’s no one’s business but the Lord’s what they do with it. I know of one preacher who invested his money in real estate and did very well. His brethren were really upset that he had this side business that was profitable. No one alleged that it was taking away from his ministry responsibilities. It really just seemed they were upset that the preacher was good at something besides preaching, and was making money off of it. If we are super honest, I think they were upset because they had lost a measure of control over him. Money is power, and if the preacher is making it elsewhere, we can’t control him as we want.
At the root of these two problems are the old-fashioned sins of greed and jealousy. We tear people down who are successful because we envy them. We make them feel bad for being successful in an honest way. We need to knock if off. Yes, some in the world are profiting too much off of people desiring to hear the Truth.
But those people are few and far between. A lot of ministers I know are good men, honest men, trying to do their best to provide for their families while also serving their churches and communities.
Some of us need to get over our own jealousy and insecurity and envy. Let’s stop tearing each other down or guilting each other on things that aren’t our business. Let’s leave a lot of this judging to God.
We’re good at weeping with those that weep. But some of us could do better at rejoicing with those that rejoice.