Tithes and Offerings: Why Megachurches Need A Makeover
Tithes and Offerings: Why Megachurches Need A Makeover
The tale spins back to antiquity and Biblical times. Jesus flipped tables over misuse of tithes in the temple. Back in November, pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong was relieved of his duties as pastor of the large Megachurch after admitting to numerous extramarital affairs.
Infidelity was not the only crime here. A few days back, members of the popular megachurch have come forward to disclose the gross misuse of tithes and offerings for fancy restaurant meals, designer duds, luxury real estate and vacations. This is not shocking. This is not the first time that something like this has happened. This is happening daily and has swiftly become the megachurch model that has turned off Christians and non-Christians alike.
Hillsong is the behemoth that has been under scrutiny for some time now. The Australian movement made an impact years back with catchy worship music and trendy, young Christians. It was suddenly hip to follow Jesus. We’re not talking Flanders, Rod and Todd types of Christians here. These are the beautiful people. Sharply dressed, with bright, shining faces-all Instagram-worthy. Not an ugly one in the bunch. They vacation on the islands, they respite on some of the best golf courses. God “gave them” a luxury home, the perfect family and the $2,000-dollar shoes. He provided because they had faith…and book earnings and, sadly, tithes from the flock.
Now I may be generalizing here but we’ve not only seen this play out at Hillsong but in other large churches. This is how the charismatic church pulls you in. There’s an entourage of friendly, happy people up front who welcome you. There’s a coffee bar, people hugging in the lobby, and plenty of opportunities to get connected. The worship music blares from the auditorium, filled with young and old excited to celebrate God. About three worship songs later, there are professionally produced testimonies flashing on the big screen. The testimonies come from younger, reasonably attractive people. No one in these testimonies is missing their teeth. “I can identify with that”, you say. “They look so happy”, you think. There are about three minutes of announcements and hype about what God is doing in the life of (insert megachurch name here) and by this time you have FOMO and want to get involved. Then comes another few minutes dedicated to tithes and offerings (very important because this is a business and this is their business model). About a half an hour into service, out comes the lead pastor with a sermon about a broken time in his life. God delivered him from the brokenness, and He can deliver you. Look how far he’s come! He has it all! The beautiful family, the beautiful life. That could be you.
Nothing is inherently wrong with this but sometimes it all sounds a bit more like something you’d hear at a Tony Robbins seminar. I’m personally the one who prays and reflects quietly during worship but some Christians love a great worship session with state-of-the-art sound systems and fog machines. I, personally find it a bit too theatrical for my taste. As an aside, the women I have met through these groups are still some of my dearest friends. Community is important. Appealing to younger Christians and speaking their language is essential in building God’s kingdom. A powerful testimony is nothing to underestimate. Some of our pastors have had to overcome some pretty heavy things. But, sometimes, they get lost along the way. They are human just like us.
It goes something like this-followers of Jesus are replaced with Instagram followers for said pastor. These mega pastors will throw in the inspirational in their news feeds peppered in with promotions of their new book on church leadership. “Leadership” is the ongoing buzz word in the charismatic community these days, so it seems. “Leadership” comes with a certain status. Well-intentioned leaders eventually move on. Any decision made is executed by a governing body of insiders in the “inner circle”. Financials are not published, fiduciary responsibility is null. The Instagram profiles of these pastors consist of trips to the golf course, hanging with other “leaders”, with celebrities and a few cute photos of their kids who look like fashion models. These children are the chosen ones, the future leaders, the ones they will pass down their church legacy to. Some may call this nepotism, they call it “Levitism”.
The Levites were the one of the 12 tribes of Israel. They were in charge of the Tent of God’s Tabernacle. They are the designated pastors, the leaders of the large buildings that are far from the tent God dwelled in back in antiquity. These are the buildings we know as our megachurches. Desire for leadership of someone from another “tribe” is met with a runaround, a frustrating lack of communication, and eventually, disappointment and rejection followed by gaslighting and someone telling you to “stop being offended”. Those who have a desire to lead in this place they called “home” are disheartened and give up. If they’re not completely jaded, they serve and lead elsewhere. Those who stay must sign an agreement to follow along with the script, not crafted by God, but by the leaders. Some become affected and numb to the fact that the “tithes upon tithes” are not being used to comfort the widow and feed the orphan first, they are being used to buy a boat and a sports car for the pastor, a “starter home”/parsonage for one of the children, who is of course, a paid staff member. Meanwhile, your friend in your community group just got evicted and is living out of her car. Calls and messages to the church are not answered by the charismatic, omnipresent on social platforms pastor but a gatekeeper, who maybe is given the authorization to throw $100 at this problem. Meanwhile, the pastor is vacationing in Hawaii and you and your friends in your community group have organized resources and set the friend living in her car up in a motel with Safeway cards for food and gas to get to and from job interviews.
The “Levites” are only in the tent when it suits them, it seems. They are only “in the tent” when the time comes to be recognized as The Levites. They only deliver the message. They are the elite and that is their job. Stay in your lane. It’s up to every one else in the lower rungs of the congregation to offer words of encouragement, a leg up, food, shelter, comfort. They’re only doing this, it seems, on the stage, when the spotlight is on them.
But congregants are supposed to shout loudly, repeat after them the catch phrases they throw out on the pulpit and reassure them with applause, these DIRECT messengers from God. If the shouting, repetition or applause is not loud enough, or a joke is met with a handful of chuckles and not uproarious laughter, they ask “if anyone is awake” and they’ll ask again for another round of applause. They’ll do this all while wearing designer duds that cost more than a month’s rent for congregants. During the sermon, someone on their team will capture key moments, which they will subsequently post on Instagram and followers will comment back: “COME ON!” Or, one of my personal favorites…”LET’S GO!”
Let’s Go?! Where exactly are our pastors going? Out the backstage door after the sermon so as not to mix with the “commoners” in the sanctuary or in the lobby. They’re late to a tee time where they will discuss, you guessed it-leadership. Or they are getting ready to board a plane enroute to a “speaking engagement” that is inevitably in a fun, luxurious destination across the world with more golf where they will give their tithes to their buddy’s church. None of them go to the hood. Nobody goes to Newark. Someone might mug them and steal their Christian Louboutin fanny pack. Those who remain in the sanctuary and lobby are the ones deemed “good enough” to serve (but not quite “good enough” to lead). Family members of said elusive pastor may loom about but they are seldom the ones talking to the individuals who raised their hands and said “yes” to Jesus that morning. They are seldom the ones hugging the crying stranger. Nope, the servants are the designated ones to tackle them upon exiting the sanctuary with a copy of the New Testament and what sounds more like a sales pitch to hop on board a “growth” seminar featuring videos of lead pastor that discuss his “vision” for his kingdom.
But you’re already involved. Say you want to get your children involved. The youth program is more of the same. Lead mostly by white guys who were most likely nerds in high school but now like to think they’re deeply entrenched the Hip Hop culture because they listen to Post Malone. Some of them are PKs (pastor’s kids) wearing the best of kicks while never ever having to clean a toilet, they are placed directly into leadership. (Levitism, not nepotism, remember?) They greet your kid. They tell him they like his Champion shirt, they ask him what his Insta handle is. The girls are busy in the corner talking to the “cute guy” with the gold chains, nice shoes and trendy teenage boy perm that all the “cool kids” are sporting. (Your son refuses to “boy perm” and you secretly thank God). The girls will later do duck face in the photo booth and get each other’s Insta handles. Every other photo of these girls when they are not at church involves tongues. Not speaking prophetically in them, tongues hanging out of their mouths for no apparent reason. Add in random bikini photos and booty shorts, some wanna-be gang signs and there you have it. And lather, rinse, repeat. Youth pastor gets up on stage. Someone takes a video and posts it on Instagram. The popular kids comment, “COME ON, LET’S GO!”
No one is taking up tithes of food, their used designer clothing or shoes for less fortunate kids in the neighborhood. They’re showing up for the MacBook Air giveaway. They’re showing up to buy a $40-dollar sweatshirt from the “tight merch” store. These churches need to pull future tithes in somehow, I guess. The point is, Jesus is not the selling point here. There is no character building besides the false facade of “character” these kids post on their Instagram accounts thinking they know the first thing about character and following Jesus. These kids “leading” have known nothing else, it is not their fault. Be careful if you question and challenge this as a parent, though. You may get called out as a whiny “Karen” in a Sunday sermon by lead megachurch pastor.
We live in a superficial culture. We’re all guilty of vanity. But kingdom building in the eyes of fallen megachurch pastors (and those who don’t even know they’re heading for the fall), is more focused on building their own kingdoms instead of God’s. All the while, the competition is real. The striving is apparent. Who is planting more churches? Who has the bigger building? Pastors throw on the “drip” for Sunday service (disclosing the $500 sneakers were a “gift”) and some of their wives start to look more like someone out of a Real Housewives episode. Sure, they’ll talk about the challenges of motherhood from their professionally decorated, immaculate homes while said toddler is hanging on their leg. Tithes are funding these lifestyles and the gym memberships and maybe even some Botox sessions.
All of this is happening and the lead pastor just did a sermon on striving!
Again, nothing is inherently wrong with any of the above. Pastors should live a comfortable enough life to take care of their families and enjoy themselves. Most of us enjoy a good luxury item but we tithe first and we have to work for these items. We did not purchase them off the backs of hard-working people promising them hope and prosperity in the name of Jesus and asking them to trust us with their earnings all while they can’t pay their mortgage.
I would be guilty if I said that I wasn’t writing this from a place of hurt. I have been inside the walls of a megachurch and noticed when I got special recognition from the said “Levites”. Sadly, it was because of something material. So, I experimented. One week, I would dress to convey a bit of wealth-basic clothing and one “wow” piece of jewelry, a dab of pricey perfume, a designer purse or a pair of shoes. The next, I’d come as I was with little to no makeup, workout clothes and a $30-dollar jacket I bought at Target. My friends approached me regardless. But, I only squeaked out a hug or a smile from the elite circles when I revealed just a tiny shred of opulence. Sadly, if I looked a certain way, I got noticed. I tried to offer the benefit of a doubt. I tried to not be a cynic. Ultimately, I started taking my tithes elsewhere.
And we circle back to Hillsong and the tale of Carl Lentz. It is a cautionary tale of the damage the ego can do. I’m not saying I know what is going through the minds of some of these leaders. At one time, their intentions may have been pure. For the young ones, intentions may still be pure but they don’t know any different. But I walked away from a career in radio because of the egos and had to walk away when I saw some of the same patterns resurfacing in church. I have not walked away from God. I just couldn’t bring people to God in that type of environment. Some of our hard-working, lesser-known pastors have also walked away to following God’s calling and we need to pray for them. We also need to pray for the “superhuman, omnipresent, messenger from God megachurch pastor”. This phenomenon-this cult of personality pastor-is not doing himself or us any favors. This egocentric behavior is not bringing us any closer to Jesus and is certainly leading our children astray. Don’t we have enough in this world leading our kids down a wrong path? And I will say it. This past year has made it glaringly apparent that the modern megachurch needs a makeover. Perhaps, as we take our tithes, offerings and opportunities to tangibly help the widow, the orphan, the lonely and the destitute outside of the walls instead of towards an expensive, tricked-out sanctuary with sound and lighting to match-our megachurch pastors will wake up. Perhaps we can show more people the true love of our Father. For crying out loud, our world needs this right now. The last thing we need is another Instagram video of the perfect birdie.
Photo Credit: Jiaren Lau/FlickR/CC BY 2.0