Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

In South Korea, a seventy-eight-year-old pastor was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of embezzling millions of dollars — he was the pastor of the largest church in the world. Pastor John, I know you’ve been following this situation, and you wanted to say something about it here…

Yes, I do. With every public dishonoring of Christ and every public dishonoring of his Word and his gospel and his Church it makes me angry and it makes me sorrowful.

I once heard David Hubbard, the president, the former president of Fuller Seminary say: We pay people according to how many dishes break if they drop the tray. And I thought at the time, that is right. I guess in American culture that is what we do. And here I say: Yes. And the more dishes break when you drop the tray the more indignation, you know, the restaurant owner has or the people who depend upon the waiter to carry the tray right. And so when a pastor drops the tray again... well, here are the facts.

Maybe people don’t really know about the situation. David Yonggi Cho is the pastor of the largest church in the world, Pentecostal Congregation {?}. It is called {?} Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea with a million members. He has been sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling about 12 million American dollars in church funds and his son was found guilty. As far as I know his son is already serving his sentence and the sentence of David {?} Cho has been suspended for five years.

And my response to this is really not to, you know, pile on with any additional condemnation of David {?} Cho, but rather to respond for the rest of us in a way that prevents this kind of thing as much as possible.

Paul said in Galatians 6:1: Brothers, if anyone is caught in a transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Now that is what I assume is happening with his elders and his leaders. I can’t do that from America. I am counting on the church there to do that. But then it says: Keep watch on yourself lest you, too, the tempted. Ok, now that we can do. That I can do and so I want to keep watch on myself and I want pastors to keep watch on themselves. So, Tony, I have five pleas. I am going to give five pleas to pastor so my hope is that pastors will listen to this and know, just take this 68 year old pastor’s heart aching that we not bring this kind of reproach upon the name of Christ.

So plea number one is kill every desire to be rich and get rich. Don’t want this. If you see the desire in your heart take aim at it with the words of Christ and the words of Paul and put it to death with the swift blow of the sword of the Spirit. Jesus said how difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom. In other words, don’t want this. It is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom. Why would you want to be rich? And Paul said those who desire to be rich pierce themselves with many pangs in 1 Timothy six. So that is number one. Kill every desire to be rich in the ministry.

Number two, I plead with pastors that if you see your income starting to grow, set a governor on it and keep away from accumulating more and more and communicate to your people that you lay up treasures on earth. One of the best ways to do this, I think, is to grow the percentage of your giving. I am not impressed with pastors who give 30 percent of a million dollar royalty check and keep 70 percent of it to buy luxuries with. I have heard pastors boast that they give 30, 40 percent. Or maybe even... I am not even impressed with giving 90 percent of a 10 million dollar royalty check and keeping a million dollars to play with while you look like every other millionaire and think that you have done a virtuous thing because you have given away 90 percent of your money. That is just not the issue. Money is insidiously deceptive. We have seen it over and over again and I am pleading with pastors: be content with what the church pays you and give the rest away with joy and strategic wisdom.

And, number three, I plead with pastors to be totally transparent with your fellow elders from inside your church so that they know what you income is from all your sources. And these elders should not want to be wealthy. No. Let me start that over.

These elders should not be the wealthy, powerful peers or friends from outside the church. That is an unbiblical way to lead your flock. It has no biblical foundation and it communicates distrust for your local leaders and the kind of pride that you are above their local accountability. Let all the books of your income be open to any member of your church who asks the elders. Secrecy around money is deadly. It is a sign that something is not right. So work to give you ministry the flavor we are not like peddlers or God’s Word.

Plea number four. I plead with you to live simply and to model for you people a way of showing that your treasure is in heaven and not on earth. Please, don’t write this off as calling... by calling it pauper theology. There goes Piper again with his pauper theology. That is absolutely ridiculous. The kind of distortion that that makes of what of I am saying is a sign of fear that what I am saying just might be true. You have to distort it with pauper theology to escape the truth. I said nothing about being a pauper. I am talking about get a car that works and gets you where you need to go. Get a car that doesn’t break down on you every few months. I am talking about a modest entertainment budget that doesn’t eat out every night. I am talking about a refreshing vacation, not an exorbitant one. I am talking about clothes that are unremarkable and undistracting both for not be shabby and not being brand driven. I am talking about a home that accomplishes your family and your ministry purposes leaning toward ordinary folks in your congregation, not the wealthiest.

Peter says to the shepherds, me and all the pastors: Don’t shepherd this flock for shameful gain. Eagerly, do it eagerly being examples to the flock. In other words, handle money in a way you would like your people to handle it a view to showing that the world... showing the world that Christ is your supreme treasure. And, lastly, I plead with pastors to lead your people, to put in place a leadership structure of a plurality of elders, a counsel of elders on which you, pastor, have one vote. You are a chief among equals in that you have the direction of the pulpit and the leadership by the Word of God, by persuasion, not by having veto power over everything your lay people say, not by maneuvering with organizational power.

So I am... Tony, I am so jealous for these things because I am jealous for the name of Christ. His name is blasphemed, Paul said. Paul said.... it is just so interesting. Paul said: Your... the name of God is blasphemed because of you. And what was he referring to? He said: You abhor idols and you rob temples. What was that? That was hypocrisy to the core. Calling idols bad names and pretending to be real jealous for God’s name and all the while what you want is money. He said the Pharisees were loves of money and, thus, the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles. That is what is happening today, because of pastors who love money.

Oh, oh, for every pastor to be ready to cut off his hand before he uses it to bring reproach on the name of Jesus by grasping for money.

Thank you Pastor John, and thank you for listening to the podcast. Please email your questions in to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. And visit us online at desiringgod DOT org to find thousands of books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper all free of charge. I’m your host Tony Reinke — we’ll be back tomorrow.