Sunday, 24 September 2017

Kong Hee's mansion - the wealth trap of megachurches.

The good news is that Kong Hee's penthouse is back in the market. The market price has increased to $11.5m, up 15% from $10m at the last listing. 

The luxurious suite of unimaginable comfort is huge. It's 5242 sq ft and co-owned by CHC's former senior pastor and his business partner, Wahju Hanafi. 

In other words, it's in their names, and not the church's. That means that they have the power and rights to deal with it as they please. 

Now, you have to wonder how did Kong Hee come up with the $17k every month to service the loan when he (and Hanafi) bought it in 2007 for $9.33m? 

I guess his pastor's monthly pay (and savings accumulated as a pastor) must have been way above that monthly figure? It's either that or he had big faith to believe in big things - and mind you, both of which are not contradictory. 

The prosperity gospel nevertheless teaches you that material success is God's endorsement of your faithfulness to the call of the ministry. It's therefore a blessing to be living it up.

But let's be clear, Kong Hee did preface it by saying that it was meant to be a "temporary home" for the family as they awaited the sale. 

And considering that his is a small nucleus family of only three, that is, himself, his wife and his son, (and maybe some overseas guests once in a while), you have to ask yourself this, what do you do with the extra space which works out to be $2,194 psf? 

If you take a look at the breath-taking view and the elegance of the exclusive suite, you would not be remiss to say that if this is not heaven on earth, then nothing is and will ever be. 

I guess this is the closest thing to heavenly living on a supposed pastor's pay.

Lesson? Three. 

I have three, and it's metaphorical. It has nothing (or little) to do with Kong Hee, but it has to do with the state of the megachurches today (and her leadership).

Nevertheless, I shall borrow from what the ex-senior pastor said above to form the spine of my three lessons here.

1) The penthouse was co-owner by the pastor and the businessman (that is, the church and the secular). The metaphorical juxtaposition is ironic to say the least. 

Jesus once said that you cannot serve two masters. We are called to choose this day for whom we serve - either our Savour or money, never both. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with being rich in the Lord - both materially and spiritually. For me, a Christian can be both bountiful in wealth and in spirit. 

For as long as his heart is right and remains that way, no amount of money can sway him or her. 

But the question is, should there be a different yardstick for a pastor? Should there be a limit to his accumulation of wealth? (Nobody is asking a full timer to eat sweet potatoes for the rest of his ministry's shell life).

Hypothetically, what if a pastor, who is called to serve in humility, crosses the billionaire dollar mark then? 

If a pastor is a billionaire, is he an example to be followed in the ways of bearing the cross and denying himself, or it is an oxymoronic image that is jarring to the faith and belief? You answer that.

If the road to full-time pastoral-ship is one paved with earthly gold and worldly fame, it wouldn't be a sacrifice anymore right? In fact, there would be a beeline for that coveted title where you can both build your treasure on earth as well as in heaven (with the people's money) right?

In that case, it's no longer a selfless sacrifice, but an earthly privilege leading to a parallel calvary-lite life of ever-increasing material endowment. 

Can the bloody Cross be made any more attractive, cost-less and glamorous?

2) Kong Hee assured the people that the penthouse is just a "temporary home". This is another irony of metaphorical proportions. 

Jesus reminded us that this world is not our home. Ours is a place eternal. It is not of this world for we may be in the world but definitely not of it. 

So, what do we make of megachurch pastors like Joel Osteen and his ilk living in exclusive, gated mansions, flying around in private jets or First Class on the tithes of the people's sweat and labour? 

Now, is there a risk that we may along the way of wealth accumulation reverse the order by living in such an extravagant manner, that is, making what is temporary permanent and making what is permanent temporary? Will our eternal hope then become a material one? 

Alas, has there been a reconstruction works done along "the narrow road" to broaden it so that we can accommodate our theology of prosperity, blessing and good health in lieu of carrying the cross, counting the costs and living for the lost? 


3) Kong Hee reminded us that the temporary home is for his family (as he awaits the sale). 

This last lesson reaches the zenith of the metaphorical irony with this remark "it is for my family." 

I wonder, in a megachurch context, who is really one's family? 

If the pastor is the lead shepherd and the members are his flock, and the money entrusted to him is the people's hard earned contribution to the expansion of God's kingdom on earth, does one's family means the expansion of the estate for one's own immediate family with the people's funds and then leaving the non-immediate family to rely on their own faith as preached over the pulpit for the same bountiful blessings enjoyed exclusively by the pastoral family? 

My point here is obvious, and it is encapsulated in this question: When is enough enough? 

Is it thus a case where because I have so much gathered under my outstanding church leadership ran in the same way as the world's efficient methods that I therefore deserve more and can spend more for my own family without guilt notwithstanding that a majority of my church family (existing in the thousands) are struggling to make ends meet in such uncertain times? 

Alas, how is this different from a pharaoh's mind-set as compared to my Saviour's mind-set, who considered all that He had as nothing, gave everything to all, held no possession to His name, possessed nothing at the Cross, died with love unconditional, and assured us He has overcome not by mistaking the world for the eternal hope, but by making the eternal hope the goal of Calvary?

So, however way you see it, the richest gain in Calvary is not a stacking up of material wealth on earth, but a quiet and determined sacrifice of one's life for another. 

That's the true Shepherd's heart, that is, a heart that owns nothing but in the end possesses everything. Cheerz.

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