In my not too distant past… I found myself standing at an intersection with 4 different churches, one on each corner. I thought it would be fun and interesting to go in and talk to a couple of the priests and pastors of those churches about various aspects of their doctrine and beliefs. A couple of them had some time available because it was the middle of the day and not during their worship services. As we sat down, we began to discuss some of the many beliefs that each of us had and our interpretations of various passages in the Bible. I have always tried to keep my mind open to various belief systems and I’ve never wanted to be the guy that just shuns everyone else beliefs just because they’re not my own.
As we talked about different aspects of our respective churches, and how they compared to the primitive church that Christ established… I began to share with each of them my excitement over the fact that there was no financial conflict of interest between the leadership of the LDS congregation and it’s members. I explained that the leadership of the church was composed of its members and that any given person in the congregation could be called to lead and preside over others at any time without any financial incentive. If someone ask’s “Do Mormons get paid to serve in the church?” The answer is no.
The reason this principle was so exciting to me is because almost everything in this world has some sort of underlying financial conflict of interest. When a non-profit organization asks you for a donation, what’s the first thing you ask? “Where does my money go?” Right? What percentage actually goes to helping people? Are they being truthful on their administrative overhead declarations they display on their marketing materials? Are they using the fine print to pull one over on me to pay big executive salaries? An so on…
A non-profit charity that makes shoes for a third world country is one thing. But a non-profit church that relies on the scriptures and a pastor’s interpretation of those scriptures for sustainability is an entirely different scenario. A leader of a church that makes it their profession to lead a church must absolutely consider a few important points. Because they have made it their profession,
- They must rely on the church to pay their bills unless they inherited a large sum of money.
- They must choose what to teach, what to emphasize, and what to de-emphasize.
- If they want to become successful, they must become popular among a group of people.
These three things set up what I would consider an unavoidable conflict of interest for any man or woman that needs to make a living.
If a person starts a church as a professional clergyman with the intention to eventually draw a salary from that church to pay for the student debt from the theological institution they attended, and then to provide a livelihood for their family, then it is essentially the same as starting a new business. It may be a non-profit, but it is a business nonetheless, and popularity is always the name of the game when it comes to business.
The more popular you become, the more people will want to come to your church. The more people that come to your church, the more money the church will take in. The more money the church makes, the more room there is for salaries to increase…until one day, a pastor’s salary is doing things for that pastor that very few of its members could ever dream of doing financially. I have seen this personally.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that most of the pastors are not out there making boatloads of money, nor is it their motive for being a pastor. But… I would also suspect that most pastors wouldn’t turn away more members, and by association…more money. In that lies the problem of deriving a livelihood from preaching and administering the gospel of Jesus Christ. It creates a conflict of interest on each side of the financial spectrum. On one side of the spectrum, you have the desire for survival. The desire to pay bills, pay rent, and put food on the table. On the other side of the spectrum is a surplus of money, and the justification that comes when trying to determine what to do with the excess funds in order to not show a profit. We’d like to hope that all men and women would be able to bridle their desire to be just a little bit more wealthy in that situation. After all, that desire is not necessarily a bad thing. But when a person’s financial situation is determined by the popularity of his interpretation of the scriptures, he might make concessions if he his riding too close to either end of that financial spectrum. Furthermore, who gets to decide how to place a monetary value on the pastor’s work? Do some pastors deserve more than other because they’re better orators?
If you look at it logically, how can a man that is relying on money from his church members as his livelihood make perfectly unbiased decisions when it comes to church matters. Every member that leaves his church represents less food on the table. Money…especially when it comes to survival…can be a very influential foe. The pastor of the Saddleback mega-church might summarize what I’m trying to say best. He paid back all of the money he made from his church as a pastor after his book went viral and then summarized his decision by saying, “The Bible teaches that we are to love people and use money, but we often get that reversed and you start loving money and using people to get more money. Money is simply a tool to be used for good.” – Rick Warren (Founder of Saddleback Church) When money is involved in church governance, compromises are sure to be made because of man’s fallen and natural condition.
A church leader may choose to interpret the scriptures in a way that makes the congregation “feel good” about attending that particular church. Isaiah described that people would ask their pastors in the last days to “Prophesy not unto us right things, but speak unto us smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10) Instead of looking for a Church that teaches truth, many are on a quest to find a church that can satisfy their innate desire to worship God, and yet at the same time, live the lifestyle that they want to live regardless of how ungodly it really is.
If a pastor can accomplish that sort of atmosphere in his church, then there is no limit to the popularity that can be achieved. The money will follow. But sometimes those “smooth things” that a pastor might be tempted to preach are not in line with what the scriptures are really teaching, and instead of helping members become closer to Christ, they actually just help the people become closer to the pastor that teaches them. If the pastor can endear himself to his members, then they will never want to leave and he will have ensured that his church prospers and thrives.
I actually know people that would never move because it would require them to find another pastor. But in Mormonism, if I decide to move, I am greeted with the same doctrine and teachings anywhere that I go. It’s not the pastor or leader of my congregation to whom I am endeared to. It is Christ. Wherever I go…it is Christ.
As I discussed these concerns with a few of these pastors whom I had met with, I asked them how they reconcile 1 Corinthians 9:18 wherein Paul, who by profession was a tentmaker, asked the question, “What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. (King James Edition) The New Living Translation said it even more plain: “What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone.”
Peter and Andrew were fishermen by trade. Paul a tentmaker. James and John were also fishermen and business owners who hired others to work with them and for them. Never would any of them have imagined getting rich from the tithing funds of the people they were teaching. They taught the truth without worrying about whether or not it would offend their listeners. You never had to worry about a conflict of interest. You knew you were going to get it from them straight and without reservation. It was much easier to get at the truth.
And that’s a major reason that I’m drawn to Mormonism. It reflects the primitive Christian church in every detail…and not having a financial conflict of interest between it’s members and it’s leaders is a huge detail to me. As a leader or as a member, there is no financial incentive to preach “smooth things” or half truths. We can truly strive to teach, learn, and grow together in the gospel uninhibited by external pressures and demands.