I was looking at a list of the wealthiest 25 pastors in the world not long ago. Surprisingly many of them are not based in America, though there were quite a few from there. But the wealthiest were based in African countries. Their wealth eclipsed even some of the more famous T.V. Evangelists from the USA with mere £20 – 50 million personal wealth pots, whose names we are probably familiar with. What troubled me most is that they are operating in the UK, including Scotland, and operating in some of our poorest communities, selling a message to the poor that if they sow into their ministries, oops sorry, as they “give to God” they will get more back. So while the poor give ,at the top of the pyramid is a multi multi millionaire! The occasional time that their theories work for someone, their testimonies are used to prove the “give in order to get back” message, giving false hope to the poor and making earthly riches the focus of why you come to Jesus. So the richest few at the top get richer while the poor get poorer. To me that doesn’t sound like the Church of Jesus Christ. It sounds like the world which as Christians we are meant to be in but not of.
I never thought this would take root in Scotland or indeed in the UK, but it has. Not every manifestation of church is healthy. According to Reformed theology, a proper church is one where the Word of God is faithfully preached, the sacraments properly celebrated and where church discipline is properly exercised. Well, sometimes time honoured and revered theology and the bible can contradict one another, but we tend to keep going with it rather than yielding to the Word of God. Just as fundamental a test of true church, if not more so, is the key question of whether poor people are honoured in their poverty. That is a test not only for the newer churches which are moving in from other countries to operate in the UK, but also for the longer established churches or fresh expressions of church or mission or whatever. Do the poor have a central place of honour, not only in terms of helping them materially with the necessities of life in whatever ways are possible, but also in terms of acknowledging we need what they know about God that can only be discovered in places of lack?
I am still fishing a bit for where this blog is leading. I don’t really know what to do with it, so I am pausing, listening…. Morag has just asked me if I have posted the blog yet as it seems to be taking a long time…. so I type on, still feeling my way… this really is hot off the press!
As Sunday comes around I guess I could at least ask you to look around this Sunday as you meet with your fellow believers. Is it obvious as you look around that the poor are honoured, not simply as recipients of charity but as those whose ministry the church needs?
Ministry that fleeces the poor is obviously wrong but it is happening. Ministry to the poor or among the poor has merit and is happening in all sorts of ways often to sacrificial extent, but it does not show fullness of understanding of the Kingdom. Ministry with the poor is what we should be aiming at…. I have met many people in Wester Hailes who are poorer than I am materially, but they have blessed me so much with their grace, their love, their unselfishness, their prayers, their concern, their smiles and humour, their good will towards me…at times ministering and being ministered to in this much maligned community, I have felt I am the richest pastor in the land! Nothing in my experience of life suggested I would become a minister in a place like this. The call was real, but I sometimes go into a cold sweat as I think how nearly I missed it.
It may be that as you read this blog you will feel the call of God to minister or be part of a congregation in a passed over place. Indeed it may be that that I have at last found the purpose for the blog that I have been fishing for! It could be that the poorer communities, those who live without Christ in these struggling communities, along with the churches that serve them are saying to you with the clarity of a vision, “Come over and help us.” They make you a true promise: “Sow into us and you will get much more back!” If that is what is happening to a few of you, then please do not be disobedient to the heavenly vision. Much joy, many riches and new adventures are waiting for you. Your name could be on “The Rich List” of Pastors!”
“Look and Listen” this Sunday. That’s it! I feel I got there in the end so I will press the “publish” button. Off it goes to Morag and the rest of you…
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In case you have not heard of them, Open Doors works to help our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world.