Thursday, 17 December 2015

Should pastors be exceedingly wealthy?

Kong Hee is selling his Sentosa Cove home for $10 million. That's the Straits Times report this morning (July 2015). He bought it with Indonesia tycoon Hanafi in 2007 for $9.33 million. One viewing by an investor commented, "The home is decorated with quality furniture and top of the range equipment. It gives me the impression that the owner sure knows how to enjoy the high life." He described the home as "lavish and opulent."

It is reported that Hanafi and Kong "each paid monthly installments of $17,000 for the Sentosa property. Kong lives in the penthouse in Ocean Drive with his wife, 45, and 10-year-old son Dayan."

Regarding the Sentosa Cove home, it has a spectacular view, a private lift, four rooms on the first floor, a massive master bedroom, a dining room with giant crystal lights and works of art, a walk-in wardrobe which connects to a huge bathroom with a Jacuzzi and many other exquisite features.

The investor who saw Kong's property said, "The agent tried to persuade me to make an offer and sweetened the deal by saying that if I buy the penthouse, the owner would take me out to sea on his yacht." (The agent later told the press that he did not say this).

Lesson? Well, I guess if the money used to pay for the Sentosa home (including the $17k installment) came from Kong's own pocket (from his savings), then it is really none of my business (or anyone's). My point here has nothing to do with what Kong Hee does with his money – putting aside its source.

My point is this: Why can't a pastor - a servant of God - live in luxury on earth since his heavenly abode would be far richer (both materially and metaphorically) than his "doghouse" on earth? Shouldn't he be accustomed to opulence as a "King's kid" as a prelude to the glory that awaits in the afterlife? Isn't this a case similar to the tweaked saying: "Out of the earthly pan into one's heavenly desire?

Mm...I guess there are three reservations to that reasoning here:-

1) The humility of a shepherd's heart. The pastor ought to identify with his congregant's life and their struggles. Of course, he is not asked to abandon everything and live on the streets. He still have family obligations. It's not a contest to see who's the most humble by being the most poor. It’s not a vow of poverty mind you. But nevertheless, it is a question of the heart when a pastor asks himself, "When is enough enough in the context of eternity and against the following backgrounds of my sheep's life that I care about“:-

i) A divorced mother trying to make ends meet with three young children and debts to pay;

ii) An aged husband caring for his cancer-stricken wife and using up all his savings for her medical treatment; and

iii) A young teenager who has to leave school to support her three siblings and a sickly parent.

These are not sob-stories for one to reach out for the Kleenex, but they are raw realities of life. And to live in the lap of luxury as their pastor while they languish in the underbelly of society somehow shows a disconnect between a shepherd's heart and his sheep's life.

So should a pastor forget about living large and in opulence? Well, it all boils down to asking oneself, "When is enough enough?" - because we do not live under the floodlights of prosperity, but in the shadow of His eternity.

2) Serving two masters. The risk is always there. Manna or God is the great conflict in mega-churches today. The easy solution seems to be to encourage one's congregation - each and everyone - to aspire for prosperity and claim that it is what God wants exclusively for them - each and everyone of them that is. But isn't this the prosperity bait that hides the religious hook to advance one's personal agenda of accumulation and possession? How realistic is that? Jesus did not call his disciples to seek riches but righteousness and to give to the least of them. He warned about serving two masters that are irreconcilable (mutually exclusive) and the operative word is "serving". I know it is the love of money that corrupts but sometimes the love of money sneaks in - quite unknowingly - after one's mindless accumulation of wealth. And the risk is more real than one's oral profession that God is still number one in his heart. Never underestimate the seduction of prosperity and overestimate one’s resolve to resist it.


3) This world is not our home. As believers, we live in the shadow of His eternity. Soon, the full glow of His Light will come and we will be ushered back home. This is where we truly belong. CS Lewis said that we are passing through and the world is like our little inns for a night's rest and we should never mistake it for anything permanent. We should therefore not make the earthly inns our home and invest heavily (or excessively) in it knowing well that we are pilgrims on a sojourn heading home. For this reason, the true joy of our heart is to serve and not to be served, to give and not keep taking (and accumulating), to be humble and not piously showy, and to sacrifice self and not edify (or materialize) it. While poverty is not the calling of a pastor, caring and sacrificing always are. Cheerz.

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