Here’s a situation that might surprise some church members to know preachers deal with and that it is frequently a problem.
The pastor visits in the homes of his members and notices that they live more luxuriously than he and his family. Their house is larger, built better, and is located in a classier neighborhood. They dress well, have a pool, and their cars are always the latest model.
The pastor and his wife notice these things; count on it. And as their children grow into the teen years, they also become aware that some in the church are wealthier than they.
Now, every family is different. One would hope the pastor’s spouse and family are so intent on serving God in this community that material things are a distant second to them. You would hope they rejoice in the success some families enjoy, and let it go at that.
That’s not always the case. At times, the pastor and family come down with a severe case of “why not us, Lord?” Also known in the medical books as “Why can’t we live the way they do?”
Here are a few thoughts on this issue.
1) That will almost always be the case.
Almost every church will have some members who earn more money than the preacher. In fact, you hope they do! Churches are blessed when wealthy families have their priorities right and are generous. I know I’ve been greatly blessed in this way. One family offered to furnish our living room when we moved from an apartment into the larger church-owned parsonage. (We thanked them, and asked if we could take a rain check on the offer, saying our sons needed the living room for a playground for a time. Two years later, I called them and said, “Is that offer still good?” It was.)
And–let’s admit the obvious here–some church members may appear to have more money but are simply living beyond their income and are swamped by debt.
You will not know. These things are private.
2) When invited to share in their hospitality, unless there are good reasons why you should decline, partake of their generosity and enjoy it.
There is nothing wrong with your family accepting the invitation to dine in luxury or to have Sunday lunch at the country club with one of your families.
3) Never feel you should apologize for your lower standard of living, that your home is not as finely furnished or your car is older.
I would hope this goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway.
To do so makes your hosts uncomfortable and embarrasses your family. It’s also a poor reflection on your own values as well as upon the Lord who called you into this work in the first place.
4) In truth, the wealthy church members may actually envy you for not being caught up in the race to outdo others in the neighborhood regarding the size of your home or the luxury of its furnishings.
If you are living within your income and have no burdensome debt, you will be envied by a lot of people who wish they could master the craving for material things and the addiction to debt.
5) Never envy them.
Keep reminding yourself, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which He possesses” (Luke 12:15).
If good and godly people are prospering, rejoice with them and let it go at that. But learn to enjoy what God has provided you, and you will bless your own family immeasurably.
6) If they invite you to borrow their lake house for a few days or the mountain retreat, I suggest you take them up on it.
Let your family enjoy one of the few perks of the pastor’s life. (Okay, some pastors’ lives. Not all, unfortunately.)
Because of the generosity of church families, several times my wife and I and our three children spent weeks at magnificent beaches, in the mountains, and on lakeshores.
7) In discussing their home, their car, their lake house, etc., watch your language.
No hinting, no envying, no inquiring about costs. Only appreciation for their kindnesses.
8) Never count too heavily on the hospitality of one or two families in the church.
Church members without those mountain homes or beach condos cannot compete and may feel slighted in some way. So you must be careful not to show favoritism within the congregation.
9) Take care not to compromise your position of leadership in partaking of their hospitality.
Some situation may arise in the future when you find it necessary to oppose your hosts when they get out of line, when they cause trouble, or when they are pushing something you stand against. Always avoid the appearance that they “have you in their hip pocket.”
When a group of leaders presented a friend of mine with a new car in appreciation for his faithful service while the church was pastorless, he thanked them and said, “But first, I need to ask you. Am I obligating myself to you for the future in any way?” They assured him that this was in gratitude for what he had done, period. He wisely was not tying his hands or promising something he might have trouble living up to.
10. Write your thank-yous and if you can, give your benefactors small gifts of appreciation. And then, one thing more….
Do not assume that beach condo or mountain home will be there the next time. Never assume anything. Do not let your children get their hopes up too high, or tell others what great things “that family” did for your household.
Satan will use anything he can to discredit you and the Lord’s work.
11. Keep no secrets about any of this.
If there is even the slightest hint of the possibility of the gift being misinterpreted, discuss it with a small cadre of church leadership. You will learn in a New York minute whether declining the offer would be best.
Transparency is a wonderful thing. Showing impartiality to God’s people is a gift to the poor and the needy.
12. When the poor (or less wealthy) give you something, take it with appreciation.
In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch received as payment for legal services a sack of hickory nuts from a farmer. Anyone who knows those nuts knows they are mostly wood, hard to crack, and hardly worth the effort. Yet, the Gregory Peck character gives his daughter Scout a wonderful lesson about respecting the gentleman’s self-esteem.
My friend Cindy was married to the church’s youth minister. One day, she turned down an offer of collard greens some farmer in the church offered her. His face dropped and he went away disappointed. The pastor’s wife saw this little scene play out and gave her some good counsel. “Never deny someone the opportunity to make you a gift, Cindy. Even if you cannot use it and want to pass it along to someone else.”
Cindy never forgot that lesson. And since hearing it from her, neither have I.