Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Some manipulative methods used by some pastors to get rich

Li Sui highlighted on Facebook an interesting article posted on a website Cultwatch that exposes how some pastors manipulate the congregation to line their own pocket. The website considers itself as founded as a para-church organization. It even has a doctrinal statement.

These are the listed methods. I have added some relevant local examples:
  • The Multilevel Marketing Pattern:
    "...they became rich by hyping dream-promoting books, tapes, DVDs, and conferences to their own private market of dream believers. [...] The dream is the prosperity gospel. Their captive market is their congregation. The products are, well you guessed it: books, tapes, DVDs, and conferences, and t-shirts, and most ominously spiritual rewards and the prevention of spiritual punishments."

  • Books:
    "Let's be honest, many of these books are below par. Like bad business books they have one good idea, if that, and then are padded with motivational sayings and anecdotal stories of how the leader obeyed the dream and so God hosed him down with wealth. The theological content is basically non-existent."

  • DVDs:
    "The same as for a hyped book."

  • Hyped Conferences:
    "Each speaker is completely amazing. The next best thing to the second coming. [...] The spiritual reward for going is implied to be life changing. The conference fee is nothing, compared to the fire-fighting-bomber worth of blessings and wealth God will dump on your head from upon high."

  • The Christian Speaking Circuit:
    "If you have a big market (congregation) and are willing to let others come and sell there, then your fellow pastors will invite you to come and sell into their markets (congregations) too. The bigger your own market, the larger the markets that will open their doors to you - as long as you are willing to reciprocate."

  • Pastor Owned Businesses that Feed Off the Flock:
    "Another way bad pastors extract money from their captive market is to set up a business, and then get their congregation to patronize their business." (For example, the fashion brand 'Ed Hardy' in Singapore is distributed by City Harvest Church's founding pastor Kong Hee's wife. Most of the congregation, if not all, wear the expensive Ed Hardy apparels.)

  • The Honor the Pastor Scam:
    "...the division of the church into exclusive rings: the all-powerful pastor perched at the center, the inner-ring of sycophants around him consisting of the pastor's lieutenants and the church's privileged class (the rich, the famous and the very pretty), and the outer-ring of the ordinary folk who would love to be in the inner-ring, but are not." (A somewhat similar local example is that practiced by New Creation Church's Joseph Prince).

  • High Pressure Offerings:
    City Harvest Church has established herself with this impression.

  • Cathedral Building Wars:
    "The most impressive churches require the most magnificent buildings, the most professional entertainment in their services, the best church programs, and the best conferences, the best websites, the best radio and TV programs, and the most members. All this costs a lot of money." (An example in Malaysia is the Calvary project.)

  • Siphoning Cash into Property:
    "Some of these pastors are very clever in how they hide the money trail. But ultimately if church money is paying for an asset the pastor owns, except via his wages of course, then it is almost certainly wrong."

  • Excessive Wages:
    "Openness regarding the pastor's stipend has been a practice of the Christian church for hundreds of years, and continues today. Only those pastors who have an excessive wage would be reluctant to let the amount become public knowledge." (New Creation Church revealed the large amount of money paid to their pastors but reluctant to mention names.)

  • Perks:
    "Expensive leased cars, holidays, clothing allowances, spending money, restaurant meals, hotels, flights, and expense accounts, are some of the perks demanded by these luxury smitten pastors.[...] Some say that if they are preaching the "prosperity gospel", then they have to appear prosperous to "walk their talk"."

  • Nepotism:
    "A good church will choose the very best people for the job, while a bad church will reward those closest to the pastor with the lucrative positions of power." Unless the closest people are also the best people.

  • Their Fabricated Tithing Doctrine:
    "This is such an important subject that Cultwatch has a special website dedicated to setting Christians free from this fake doctrine."

  • The Carrot and the Stick:
    "In these pastor's prosperity teaching, obeying the pastor and giving money are the two pillars necessary for a successful Christian life."
This article shares many points with the anti-prosperity gospel statement published by Lausanne late last year.


Beloved Princess said...

The problem with the tone of this article (which you may or may not have intended) is that it seems to suggests that ALL big conferences, pastors driving BMWs, honouring pastors / ministries with huge sums of money, pastor's relatives who run a businesses equal manipulation.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Beloved Princess,

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, all you have listed together with all that are listed in the post. That's the suggestion that I believe the post is about. :-)

reasonable said...

Beloved Princess may like to know that the tone of this blog here is mild when compared to John Wesley's condemnation inferred from Wesley's sermon against pursuit of riches. :)

YAPdates said...

Having lived in North America this couple of years, I can understand why many people branch out to books, DVDs and other stuff. Many of them do this to survive as their churches either do not pay them, or the church is too poor to pay them.

One particular Church leader I know personally, donates all proceeds to charitable organizations, and drive bent-up used car.

Do manage your perceptions accordingly. I agree with 'Beloved Princess' that we need to consider each case on their own merits and not to brand everyone as 'manipulators' etc.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi YAPdates,

Thank you for your comment.

Are those books written by your friends are like those described in the article as "below par. Like bad business books they have one good idea, if that, and then are padded with motivational sayings and anecdotal stories of how the leader obeyed the dream and so God hosed him down with wealth. The theological content is basically non-existent"?

If not, then we should not say that your friends' works is similar with those listed in the post.

I understand there are people who wrote and publish to survive. The article is not against publishing per se. It is against those who are already well-paid pastors who wrote "below par" books to gain more money for their already luxurious lives. So your friend who donated all his money to charities and drive a bent-used car is not included in this category. And I think you should not see any similarity with those described in this post because it is unfair to your friend.