When Ministers are Like Politicians

This last week former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison for living the high life with the campaign funds he had been given. I read this story and it intrigued me. How did a person enter a position to serve the community of citizens only to live a life of being served by them? Didn’t he know? The judge who read the sentencing for Jackson and his wife (1 year sentence) stated “evidence points to only one conclusion, and that is that you knew better.” Jackson had a career few will ever have. He had an opportunity of a lifetime with potential and it was built on the trust of the people. Jackson began in an office of service, but he would eventually be overtaken by greed.

The Jacksons’ greed was manifested in over 3,100 illegal transactions. They included purchases such as a $43,350 gold-plated Rolex watch, TVs and elk heads (??). Mrs. Jackson used campaign funds for more than $171,000 in personal expenses. Items ranging from Disney vacations to fur coats, salon and day spas to sub-zero refrigerators.

Though politicians are not ministers, they do have something in common. They are both servants. They are recognized by the people they will serve with their gifts and talents. Though their position is one of service, they are often tempted to see their position as one to be served. They can become servants who can easily be consumed by their desire of title and privilege. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Braveheart. Wallace approaches one of the nobles who is in the middle of an argument for the title of King and says:

There’s a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom.

In Matthew Jesus says:

23:6-8…they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Ministers are cautioned against this mentality. The problem isn’t a desire for money. The problem is a loss of perspective. Ministers are often vulnerable because of their position. It is easy to find yourself in a position where compromise (intentional or not) is present. The money ministers spend isn’t a donation like campaign funds. The money ministers budget and spend are tithes and offerings. Ministers may not fly in personal jets or have their churches fund extravagant purchases to match those of the former Rep. Jackson Jr. But when they spend even small amounts with a perspective or mentality of being served rather than serving they are no different than Jesse Jackson Jr. A minister can do many things in the name of “ministry” and this is one of the reasons I appreciate a presbyterian form of government. The local church governed by a plurality of elders and not only by one person. Accountability is important for the sake of your minister and the people. Reading this article this week about Jackson, reminded me of how similar the offices are while obviously different.

Ecclesiastes 5:8–20 (ESV)
The Vanity of Wealth and Honor
8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. 9 But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.