Kagure Mugo
Kagure Mugo

The church has more money than God

In a world where many are continuing to tighten their belts and complain of the “financial pinch” there are some entities that seem to remain on the gravy train. Among the usual culprits one entity stands tall, a constant that no one questions or suspects.

The church.

It’s easy to speak of how big business or politicians eat from the trough but has one noticed how the church never seems to go through a recession? During economic strain there are certain things that people can do without and certain things they cannot and whatever the church is selling, people are buying.

Recently there was the “grass-eating incident” where a pastor convinced his congregation or “flock” to consume grass. This is just the latest scenario that shows how men and women of God have the ability to make congregants do things that the some may deem crazy, such as giving money, you clearly do not have, away.

The million-dollar question is: Why is the church going up a jean size while everyone else is tightening their belt? The answer is that modern-day religion peddles hope in what many see as a hopeless world. And people are willing to put all their money towards this commodity.

This congregational cash cow allows churches to go from small meetings held in private homes to buildings that make one reminisce of the Tower of Babel. A recent trip home to Kenya had the entire church praying for the completion of “Daddy’s Church” (the head pastor was strangely referred to as “Daddy”), a building within a compound that makes Nkandla look like a mud hut. I have also been to religious buildings that began as wooden buildings but now are so large that some congregants watch the service on HD screens at the back.

But this is not a phenomenon confided to the four walls, it extends to those within. There is a Forbes list for the richest pastors in Africa. One pastor, Pastor E A Adeboye, was named the most powerful man in Africa by Newsweek. As the Forbes article said “God is good, especially if you’re a Nigerian pastor with some business savvy”. African pastors pop up on wealth lists across the globe.

But worry not, in between the international travel, being world-class businessmen and real-estate moguls, they shall set aside enough time for all of us to come forth and give our tithes and offerings.

Now this is not to say that all those in the church should live in the gutter, as I myself do enjoy the finer things. But it becomes a hustle when you sell hope to the hopeless and they do not know that they are explicitly paying for it. When people hand over the (sometimes) little they have, they do not perceive that they are being “hit up for faith” but see it as being part of God’s work. This would be fine if it was not for the fact that at some point God’s work became a fitted suit, custom-made “gator shoes” and a Lexus. I have witnessed preachers driving a luxury car pass by their congregants. Congregants they will later ask for an offering, after reading the sermon from an iPad.

Often people who attend these churches (especially during the inception period) are those who live in the tax bracket of “little to nothing”. They are those who do not qualify to be in the “Save Africa” videos, but do struggle to carve out an existence. These are the people who are funding the “lifestyle” of the church. These are the people who turn up week after week with the little they have to “sow a seed” so that God will bless them. What then often happens is these churches grow on the backs of these believers and then the “real” congregants come in once the church moves to a “more spiritual ground”. Usually to a good suburb making it easier for persons (such as myself, I am ashamed to say) to make it to church without too much hassle. And this makes our purse strings far looser.

I once attended a church service in which I ended up giving offering three times. By the end I had nothing in my purse except a couple of receipts and my Smart Shopper card. I am sure they would have found a way to get the points off if I had stayed long enough. I am now at the stage in my spiritual journey where when the “good shepherd” asks me to hand over tithes and offerings I ask for his Cartier watch in return.

My mother once summed it up well when during the course of an especially gruelling church service said “let’s get out of here before they ask us for any more money”.

This is not to argue that “‘the church” is nothing but a money-grabbing machine, but with the rise of the “prosperity doctrine” it seems it has become more about the money than anything else. With the pull of religious entities on the African continent these spiritual leaders play a pivotal role in transforming the lives of people. There are many who are willing to give their all to them and even in some cases, eat a little grass.

There are people out there who could use the money for schooling, healthcare and many other things rather than bigger buildings for more “powerful” sermons. It’s time to stop peddling hope and start selling an actual future by investing in the flock they fleece.

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    • http://www.paganrightsalliance.org Damon Leff

      Why is the state still paying for annual public Christmas celebrations when churches get tax exemption and are thriving financially?

    • Paul Bluewater

      The one “western white thing” I have been waiting for Mugabe et al to ‘send back’, is Christianity as practiced in Africa. The role of religion in Africa in all it’s forms is huge, clearly destructive and instrumental in retarding individual responsibility, development, and creativity. Sadly, the herd instinct of the sheeple lends itself perfectly to further abuse of this sort.
      Your Mother is right! It is a cash register usually dressed in voodoo (of whatever sort is required in that location) designed to mine the public purse by creating false hope for the ignorant.
      Criminal! Typical!

    • Tim

      As a Christian, it makes me really mad when I hear about how there are many pastors who exploit their congregations for personal gain. This issue indeed does need to get some air time. I am a big believer in the necessity of openness regarding finances in an church setting, where congregants can see where their money is going. Pastors like this must surely be doing some selective Bible reading to justify their lavish lifestyles.

      Thankfully there are many amazing churches and pastors in South Africa whose efforts do go to benefiting the surrounding community. To my fellow Christians, let’s see more of that!

    • Stephen Browne

      Amen to this. Most churches command a MINIMUM 10% income tax, and that’s if you’re not being too righteous. The Baptist churches I grew up in had a slightly more subtle approach (what Baptist doesn’t like a bit of old-fashioned guilt?), but with similar results. What always puzzled me was the fact that there were ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ living down the road i.e. different class/culture, who were struggling to survive. The constant nattering about the humble, generous sharing across boundaries between those hallowed ‘early Christians’ eventually started to smell to high heaven.

    • tUMI

      The Bible clearly states that God loves a cheerful giver.No one is forcing anyone to give money to the church, if you do not want to give to your church don’t. God doesn’t need your money, His church will grow whether people like you give or not. You and your mom gave because everyone was watching and you didn’t want to seem stingy to those you think are watching. If you are remorseful about giving into the church you may as well have burnt your money cause it means nothing to God.

    • Faith

      This is powerful!! Thank you for shedding some light. I hope this articles all the desparate and blinded people.

    • http://ngkerksthelenabaai.co.za Richard Holloway

      Please note that under the term “church” you have a wide range of so called denominations. Basically there are three distinctions , Catholic churches, Protestant reformed churches and Penticostal charismatic churches. In your article and examples you refer to the latter. Your assumptions is not true for all that is called “church”

    • Heinrich

      Well said, tUMI.

      I always gave to the church because of the good work they do. Some still do. I also see the person in need, as part of “the church” – more so than many “churches”.

      Many churches of today, though, are nothing more than businesses, where the office bearers line their own pockets – never suspecting that this will eventually weigh them down.

    • Robert

      Once again a generalization when the word “Church” is used.
      Society is filled with charlatans in various guises but to use the “Church” label as the writer has is disingenuous and inappropriate.
      She should be name specific and voice her concerns about the particular congregation or congregations.
      This shows a lack of real knowledge of the facts to put it bluntly.

    • Mzwandile

      It baffled me that you seems to legitimize and criticism the foundation that GOD had lay before mankind without having an intimate relationship with GOD GOD is spirit and those who want to worship/know his ways had to do so by being spirit filled and have knowledge that he alone created heaven and earth and no one had help him. those of you who believe to be professionals and above GOD you should know that GOD is not K\known but he reveals himself to men.
      what i can advice you my sister and of your family inclusive with your mother never try to manipulate GOD if you are some how doing that to your friends or associate GOD spoke when he create heaven and earth and he did the same still today.every scripture are good for corrections building and developing all humanity what you and others who share the same sentiment should do is to repent and accept the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ then you will know the different in relations to offering and tithes.

    • Stuart

      un/fortunately, very sobering thoughts for Christians a verse and a quote come to mind

      Matthew 7:23
      Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

      I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
      Mahatma Gandhi

    • Fred

      John 8:32 says that “truth shall set us free”. Problem with church-goers is that they put their faith in the pastor rather than in God, Jesus and the Bible. What can we expect when a human being is leading another human being? Please read Jeremiah 10:23 and then John 17:3

      Cheers

    • http://www.light4tchildren.webs.com Henk Olwage

      I would have named the article “When the church has more money than God”.

      Come to think of it, the sentence has a deep meaning, for me as Christian: Though all things belong to God, as the Psalm sings “the silver and the gold, the cattle upon a thousand hills”, God expects justice among people. In that sense, God doesn’t mete out, but wants us as reasonable beings to “earn what we can, save what we can, give what we can”, as certain Reformers put it, in other words to create “an economy of care”, a sustainable human ecology.

      Without such a human ecology, the role of many pastors and “daddies” is that of predators or parasites in an unbalanced ecology.

      The Biblical prophets, like Isaiah and Amos, for example, didn’t mince their words when it came to these kind of unbalances. I wish more people would read them, in context, and apply their principles.

      As far as the so-called “prosperity gospel” is concerned, it amounts to little more than a showcase for misplaced boosting of artificial antidotes to feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.

      But then, let the prophets, in Biblical sense, and not those who promise success to the gullible and healing to those who can fall well, tear into these practices. And more Christians will experience Hebrews 11, where faith isn’t a mere way to make money, but more often a way to suffer, as Christ suffered with those who suffer.

    • Phil

      Another article with church bashing as its subject…yawn…

      This article attacks ‘the church’ – an extremely vague term. Why not be a bit more specific – name and shame – instead of stirring up anti-church sentiment?

      ‘The church’ has a very broad definition, and is made up of many disparate elements each with its own idenitity dependant on factors such as locality, denomination, liturgical practices, and spiritualities.

      It’s worth pointing out that the good outdone by organisations within the Christian church far outweighs the bad, yet opportunistic authors with an axe to grind like to point out the bad in order to allow the anti-church brigade to attack faith-based institutions.

      One of your respondents mentioned the missionaries and how evil they were. They might very well have been agents of imperial expansion, but I can tell you that an awful lot of them did a lot of good and are responsible for the founding of moral integrity in many, many communities, which saw the spread of goodwill throughout South Africa and much of the African continent.

      Dont’ forget that our country’s greatest example of good – Nelson Mandela – had his character formed at a school run by ‘the church’.I happen to know many clergy – past and present – who forsook the trappings of money and possesions to lead a simple life in service of others. They do (and did) a lot of good, and we can all – whether part of ‘the church’ or not – learn from them.

    • Aida

      Funny how Africa’s singled out in Forbes. You get your fare share of these opportunists all over the globe, and it’s disgusting. Thanks for the good article…

    • Mark

      As a pastor I receive no salary or any allowances !!! Your generalization stinks !!! I drive an old car which often breaks down!!! I agree their may be pastors who milk their congregations but I think those are by far in the minority. Any money we have over goes to feeding the poor and unemployed.

    • Rick Baker

      Aha…What a truthful article: from the comments, note how its always the other church…my god is better than yours and my priests/pastors/ministers would never rip off or abuse their congregations! (catholic pedophiles etc?)
      The followers are conned into false hope as money is ruthlessly extracted. A cynical view is that the socalled ‘charity’ done by many of the churches is a smokescreen to disguise the huge tax free amounts that are being siphoned off by the leaders!
      If people would take responsibilty for their own lives and not rely on some imaginary dictator in the sky to look after them, I think they would be a lot better off. The politicians love it when congregations are told that it is gods will that they should suffer and that patience is a virtue etc … It is a common refrain in Zimbabwe ‘that we must just wait for god to take Mugabe and then things will get better’. If only they realised that they only have one life and they should not waste it by believing the imaginary and hopeful promises of another chance in the afterlife.

    • http://www.dna-kn.co.za Keith Brown

      Thank you Kagure for this insightful article. The “prosperity gospel” is an unbiblical aberration and described as “a parallel post biblical Christianity” by Umhlanga Rocks Pastor Grant Retief in an article on the “9 Marks” blog recently. (http://www.9marks.org/blog/rise-parallel-post-biblical-christianity) The more this movement is exposed for what it is the better for orthodox, biblical Christianity. It’s great to note that the New York Times on 3 Jan 2014 featured an article by Mark Oppenheimer on how the church in the USA is finding itself in a revival of solid, biblical evangelicalism. A welcome contrast to the flimsy, candy floss found in organisations espousing “prosperity doctrine”.

    • The Praetor

      It so happens that there is the church, and then there are charlatans who uses The Word to create for themselves financial cash cows.

      Woe unto them!

      The Praetor

      .

    • Klipspaaider

      Well said Kagure! It’s no generalization that churches do not pay tax and sell their “divine truth” on the premise that they’ve got a special relationship with god. Let’s not forget that each religion, or even domination within a religion, claim their god is the only legitimate god. All their remarkable claims require remarkable proof – of which none has been forthcoming. So let them at least pay tax for selling false promises to desperate people. It’s a bit like a Ponzi scheme, only difference is that return on investment is given when your dead – only no one has returned from the dead to legitimize the promise.

    • Cliff Smith

      Very glad to see you have “seen the light” Kagure. Please get on YouTube and search for “George Carlin religion” it’s a 10 minute clip that completely blows the lid open on what you have so insightfully described in your article.

    • jj

      The generalization is aimed at generating traffic to the piece. That’s the manner of the hustle. Still, to generalize is lazy.

    • ChristopherBlackwel

      When I was a Buddhist there was a saying hat stuck with me, “The lamp of Buddhist austerity is easily blown out by the winds of fortune and fame.”

      I think that applies to all religions once they get money and political power, then maintaining the wealth and power soon overshadows whatever the message might have once been. Note that Jesus did not hang around with the leaders, movers and shakers of his society. Notice that he built no church buildings, and did no fund raising. If people acted on his teachings there would be no need of charity, for people would automatically help each other as needed. Somehow I suspect modern day Christianity has lost its way and that churches are reduced to just being another business and with business morals as well.

      Not against a minister earning a decent living, especially if he does it full time, works forty or more hours a week doing his job. But no luxury can not be justified.

    • Craig Jacobsohn

      I agree Robert. Please be more specific when using the word “church”. Churches are as varied as the people who attend them and while there are some bad churches there are plenty of good ones for the same reason that there are bad schools and good schools.

      To the M&G it seems lately that almost every piece about Christians have been decidedly slanted toward the negative. This is not the reality. Why not do a piece on the good work that various churches do all over South Africa and all over the world. How about a little balance?

    • John

      What a generalisation. The promise of Jesus remains “on this Rock I will build my church”. I have bad news for the writer and whoever think that the church is about to go out of “business” (God’s business of = Let Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven). Ps 36 says “they shall be abundantly satisfy with the fullness of Thy house”. We believing, hoping and declaring that the church will never need to go a size smaller and…….

      Whoever abuses the church will be accountable to Almighty God, cause its HIS CHURCH.

    • MLH

      Richard Holloway and Robert are right. What the writer considers ‘the church’ is not considered so by many other people. Take care not to slander those not involved.

    • Coltrane

      Well, the bible is quite clear about what the church is and the mandate in which it was commissioned for on earth. My point being, not everything done in the name of the church qualifies to be identified with kingdom church. Such behavior as described above discredit such an organisation to call itself the church of the living God. Just like any other organisation, the church is vulnerable to unscrupulous, dodgy people who’s intention is to exploit people than advancing the kingdom of God. Sadly, this people get more publicity than the true representatives of the kingdom. The reason why the bible is available to every single person it’s because members are responsible for holding the so called man of God accountable in cases when he is being heretic and extreme.

    • GP

      Ja nê? From Jimmy Swaggart to Ray McCauley, and everyone in-between, god is damned good business – pun intended.

      This was one of the many reasons I left the Christian faith, and evolved into full-blown atheism. Religion is madness, and the flock who are fleeced, gets no sympathy from me.

    • Antman

      Definately there is exploitation by many Pastors of the members and they will use Scripture selectively to drive home `Giving`. However true belief in a loving God will compell you to follow the Biblical instruction on giving so as not te be deceived. As the Word says `…many will be deceived and led astray..` It is so sad when Pastors accumalate wealth in the name of the Church, but they like we, will have to give account!

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za Clinton

      You leave out the most important fact. They (churches) don’t pay tax! Section 21 companies and milking the congregation as well as the tax payers who want nothing to do with the global charlatan system! Ray McCauley doesn’t own the Harley Davidson or the mansion in Umhlanga…the “church” does. Tax free godly perks it seems. Very irritating! Great article!

    • Rejoice Ngwenya

      @Robert#, once someone runs an organisation, invites people for sermons etc, it becomes a ‘church’. Of course Kagure will not be able to name names and differentiate like Richard Holloway, but her point is about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – NOT churches – people who run or ‘own’ such institutions. Most ‘churches’- as institutions – are extremely rich. Pastor E A Adeboye is nowhere near being influential than ‘pastor’ Pope Francis. For Pete’s sake, the Pope ‘owns’ a country! The difference being ‘pastor’ Francis does not demand as much money from ‘his’ worshipers as TB Joshua et al, but I think their level of luxury is the same. In my country Zim, there’s currently massive debate about the ‘miraculous’ wealth of church ‘pastors’ like Emanuel Makandiwa and Hubert ‘Angel’ Mudzamiri. I mean these two boys are full of swagger. There’s also a bloke charged with multiple rape – Martin Gumbura – of the End Time Messages Church. Extremely wealthy and calls every woman in his church ‘his’. I mean, these are the sort of guys Kagure says have poisoned matters of faith. It’s not for the government to ‘regulate’ them, but for the congregants to seek salvation elsewhere.

    • GVN

      To contribute to a church is voluntary and collections should be done with discretion.

    • Hugh Knight

      1. In SA, there are no red tape impediments to starting your own church.
      2. There is a move afoot in the U.S. to tax churches.

    • Zeph

      The Church does do a lot of good; this cannot be denied.
      But redemption does have a cost so if you buy into the redemption story you have to pay for its upkeep.
      My problem with religion, specifically monotheism, is that our all knowing god seems to be very narrow minded.

    • http://avowofconversation.wordpress.com Macrina Walker

      Given the way this sort of religiosity gets identified with Christianity, perhaps it’s about time that those churches that view this as a fundamental aberration of Christian faith need to become more vocal about distancing themselves from it and naming it for the heresy that it is. Such perspectives are totally alien to the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and many of the more historic Protestant churches. That this religion, that originated in the USA, is becoming so dominant in Africa is a cause for great concern. But it needs to be very clearly stated that it is absolutely antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the witness of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church Fathers. Read St Basil the Great or St John Chrysostom on wealth and poverty, or even listen to some of the recent utterances of the present pope of Rome…

    • Mighty

      Is the righter suggesting that the church also suffer recession?

      Gosh! Some view are better not publicly expressed

      They bring disgrace

      I suggest the writer go STUDY the Word of God and understand His principles…… The key word there being…..STUDY…..not “read”

      I also follow my Pastor and read my bible from my iPad

      I bless The Lord I’ve seen a huge difference in my life as a result of these activities #giving and all

      Church is not a magic institution

      Live it’s principles whilst giving & tithing as well

    • http://www.holaafrica.org Kagure Mugo

      Tumi, to say that we were giving because we had people watching is a presumption that is unfounded. I do believe, like Tim, that there is good work that some churches do. I also do believe that God does not need my money but clearly some pastors do. There are many who do good work but as the article sites there are many who literally just keep asking from offering, from congregants who do not have but believe that because they pastor asks and offers blessings then they must give. And they give cheerfully, what little they have to a pastor who is far wealthier than they and uses the money to expand rather than empower.

      Robert and Richard: naming and shaming churches will not aid in this end. These churches are not the exception. From Congo to Cape Town they exist in droves. What the article conveys is a continent wide phenomenon (and beyond). Yes there are various denominations and schools of thought however the ‘prosperity doctrine’ is far more wide spread than ANY other within the realm of christianity especially in Africa. That is a cold hard fact. And this doctrine spans the various denominations in various shapes and forms. To try and argue denominations and the multi-faceted nature of the church is to ignore that and thus ignore the problem, that there are churches that are taking from those who do not have the ability to give but try because they have been told that its what must happen. The money is then not put back into the community but to make the church…

    • Ngodoi

      The “grass eating” incident did not take place in a Christian church…..It is an indictment on the intellect of anybody who is not a true Christian to ascribe clearly non-Christian activities like this to Christianity – this is not Christianity by any stretch of the definition and to declare that it is, is to expose a measure of ignorance akin to someone who has failed woodwork at Matric, declaring themselves an expert on Einstein’s theory of relativity….

    • Jeffrey Jones

      There are people who still believe in “God”?

    • http://YahooI Foster Low

      Here are some facts about Christian churches.
      Go and check the finances of all the “Mainline” chuches, and you will find they are all battling financially, BUT the missionary work is done, even though the church itself is struggling to make ends meet.
      They all pay rates now, which puts more pressue on their finances.

      Look at the Clap-handy churches, and you will find “Born Again” congregations, supporting their “church” and the pastors are rolling in money. I’ve yet to hear that they do any missionary work in the outside world.

      Here is the difference in attitude between the mainline churches, and the the break-away groups.
      The mainline churches make the wealthy people feel guilty, because of their wealth.
      The breakaway group tell the wealthy that they are “blessed” and to share their wealth, which they do, as the “guilt” factor is suppressed, and the Pastors thrive.

      I won’t even go into the misinterpretation of the scriptues made by the Roman church.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Reading these comments was highly amusing. Thank you. The ability, of some, to twist the rational into a Gordian knot is astounding. Christianity has a lousy reputation for the exact same reason that the Islamic religion does – the religious sheep allow it to happen.

      The modern ‘church’ is (by and large) a money making racket. It is the same as those NGOs who show starving children to get donations and then you find out that around 2c out of every dollar actually gets anywhere near to helping those children. Just like those NGOs, some religious leaders do good and some do very little at all. Seldom, these days, do you get the local vicar cycling around to a sick congregants house to take them food or mow their lawn.

    • http://none Eduardo

      I agree completely with the author from a sad experience with the Roman Catholic Church in my country, Ecuador, in the mostly catholic South America. I worked part time in my parish for about five years, earning a tiny wage without social security (even though another job as a teacher provided it). As my responsibilities increased (handling money, different paperwork outside office, going to the bank, etc.) I asked for an increase in my salary to the priest who had assumed the parish in the last two years. I did this because I realized there was money in the parish, the invoices had items as wines, beer, good imported coffee, chocolates and other delicacies. The priest even went to Europe on holidays the last year, etc. I never received from this priest not even a candy for Christmas. But the amount I requested was denied and when I asked for an explanation the priest told me harshly to quit if I didn’t like it and that another person would do my work. I did that the last day I have attended a mass. This priest had started a request to Adveniat, Germany, to have a new car even though he had a good one, and so money from catholics in Europe and catholics in my parish was given to pay for the new Nissan truck this priest is now driving, even though most people, like me, don’t own a car in my parish. I not only quit my job I quit the church. I realized that most priests act this way and most churches or religious institutions benefit from humble and poor people. I was so…

    • Joseph Coates

      Don’t generalize, if you study the “christian Bible or old testament: It’s a voluntary action on the member to give to God. It’s the principle of sowing & reaping.
      @ Foster low comment he has point about the mainline churches.
      Don’t want to get into a discussion of money matters. The so called chrasmatic churches are coming around and give courses on Divorce Recovery, Drug adiction,
      marriage enrichment etc as they realize , people have problems that they can’t shake off & need some guidance to move on and restore their lives and bea better prerson.
      Enuigh said.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Joseph Coates

      Since when did the church have anything to do with the bible?

    • Matt

      As an atheist this is almost amusing but for the fact that it strikes me as exploitative and even fraudulent.

    • http://Disqus Anna

      I drove past a church in Hillcrest KZN on Sunday as the seemingly hundreds or worshippers were leaving, the building is absolutely massive, what it cost I can’t even imagine, how much food for the poor, housing, schools that money could have provided goodness knows. All I could think was “what would Jesus say?”