May 27, 2024

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Upending the Prosperity Narrative

In recent decades, pastors of growing congregations and those fitting the megachurch profile have fallen under scrutiny, often for unsubstantiated claims regarding pastor salaries and the way funds are raised and dispensed. 

The Breakdown of Pastoral Wealth

Pastors profiled for their wealth are often moguls in their own right, bringing in millions based on elaborate media campaigns to sell books, videos, speaking engagements, and other wealth-building assets. When large church congregations enter the conversation, the first names to come to mind are those of prominent televangelists and online names who have reached celebrity status in their own right.

Two prominent theologies dominate the top churches in the Western World, and their very different approaches to the salvation message intrinsic to Christianity are as polarizing as they are prolific. From prosperity preaching to the poverty—or giving—gospel trend, the big and growing churches have their own unique ways to bring support to their organizational missions.

Prosperity Preaching and the Celebrity Pastor

Seed faith, success gospel, and health & wellness gospel are just a few names affixed to the prosperity model professed by many mega churches today. Among Protestant Christians, prosperity theology proclaims that physical health and wellbeing, as well as financial blessings, are the will of God—the chances of receiving which are mandated by our positive talk, faith level, and contributions to religious causes such as the Church. Success in these areas is considered divine favor to preachers of prosperity gospel, and as such, the financial successes of televangelists and branded religious leaders such as Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer and more are embraced by congregations and audiences as the sign of proximity to God.

Through this interpretation of the gospel, high-profile pastors such as Joel Osteen have continued to grow their ministries, on and off the pulpit. Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, is cited as having a net worth of $100 million, a sum amassed from his preaching, books, recordings, and other business endeavors specific to his pastoral path. Pastors living into this narrative profess the importance of giving while maintaining a higher net worth and embracing the lifestyle that net worth has granted them.

The Poverty Pastoral Narrative

The celebrity pastor is not the only voice in the conversation anymore. In the wake of a changing church landscape, pastors of growing populations who give more than they receive are finding their footing and their voice to stand up against claims of mismanaged funds to refocus the message.

The reality for 50% of all pastors in 2022 is a lifestyle based on an annual salary of $50,000 or less. Churches like Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas have historically implemented a pay structure that maintains a static pay structure for all employees, from admin staff to pastor. Any difference in pay is determined not by the position but by the number of dependents or other lifestyle factors.

Pastor Greg Locke has built his ministry in Mount Juliet, Tennessee on the foundations that those blessed with abundant gifts have a singular purpose—to give and give radically. As the leader of Global Vision Bible Church, that’s precisely what Pastor Locke does. 

“Does our ministry bring in large sums? Absolutely,” says Locke, boldly and unapologetically. “That’s the beauty of our ministry. We have become a vessel for passing gifts on to our community and our brothers and sisters serving missions abroad. Abundant giving begets abundance, and we are charged with continuing the cycle, over and over, giving back as our congregation gives to us.”

The churches’ accounting reflects the large sums leaving the church each week, designated as soon as they’re collected to other missions and families in need. Since the beginning of 2022 alone, the church has initiated reverse offerings—giving back what comes into those from the community who are in need—and turned its eyes to the local community where poverty is found aplenty.

In churches like Antioch Community Church and Global Vision Bible church the benefits of internal wealth are less evident as they present a different mega church mentality. As two very disparate theologies dominate today’s Christian Church, time will tell how this narrative continues for each. In today’s church narrative, Biblical giving is relying less on artform and presenting itself as a more natural expression which espouses the individual values and viewpoints of each church and its pastor.