How Does the Church Minister to the Wealthy?

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All Christians are not created equal. At least, that seems to be the case within the Church. That inequality isn’t confined to any particular denomination. It’s systemic.

The church does well at embracing the various multicultural communities. We tend to bend over backwards when it comes to sponsoring refugees. We open our doors to various ethnic groups; create special programs for them and find ways to integrate them into our congregations.

We also do well when it comes to ministering to the poor…though the church is essentially a middle class institution. We embrace those who are down and out. We easily attract volunteers to serve in various soup kitchens or used clothing stores. Some churches even adopt entire city blocks of poor people and then create programs and ministries to meet their needs so that they can become better integrated into society.

So where is this so-called inequality? Which class of people is being treated wrongly?

The church is doing a poor job of meeting the needs of the wealthy. Let me explain.

I had an opportunity to meet with a group of Christian multimillionaires and billionaires. It was a much-anticipated meeting, bathed in apprehension.

I walked into this mahogany-lined boardroom to face a group of very ordinary-looking men and women. I didn’t detect any silver spoons protruding from their mouths. They weren’t wearing tuxedos or elegant business suits. They could be sitting in the same pew in church and no one would notice.

I asked them one question: “What do you need?”

Their responses were variations on two themes. Firstly, they confided that they would love to have a really good friend because most of their friends wanted their money.  These are lonely folk. The adage that “it’s lonely at the top” seemed to be confirmed. That response was also, frankly, to be expected. But being wealthy and being lonely didn’t seem like such a big deal.

But it was their second response that caught me off guard. They said that the church had failed them; that the church saw them simply as "Walking ATMs." Whenever there was a capital campaign or a new ministry initiative or whatever the cause, the local church knew that they could call on dear Harry or Sally (no one specifically in mind here) who would write them a check. Each of them gladly gives to all kinds of worthwhile kingdom causes, and collectively they probably donated millions every year.

They said that the church doesn’t see them as spiritual human beings; as men and women who need spiritual care and who want to be valued beyond their wallets or purses. And in their loneliness, they simply want to belong.

We tend to treat the well-to-do poorly. Perhaps its jealousy. We only view them through gold-plated glasses.

The Christian business community understands that all that we have belongs to God and that we are stewards of what we have … whether it’s a modest house or a mansion.

The Church—and I generalize here—seems to be of the notion that those who are well off have just one role to play within the church: fund the Church’s programs and capital needs.

One wonders what would happen if pastors and church councils viewed their wealthy members as, firstly, spiritual beings who need pastoral care and who long to become involved in the life of the church. In other words, treat them as you would a man or woman off the street: provide for their needs. Befriend them for who they are, not for what they have.

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Good article, Keith!

We need to include everyone with our love and inclusion. I doing see this particular issue happening in my church in fact the opposite is more prevalent when it comes to church offices! The successful people get nominated before the poor, disabled and women. The attitude toward everyone should be equal. I have a lot of wealthy friends and family and never heard any complaints. But I believe you that this could be a issue to some wealthy people and we should address that. Thx for your post!

Guide

It may be different in Canada, but I'm not so sure that our churches are all that great at embracing people of different ethnic groups or ministering to the poor. Sure, they are seen as recipients of our charity but to effectively combat poverty is a different story. That's why I really love the model found in Walking with the Poor and When Helping Hurts. If we recognize that poverty is the result of broken relationships with with God, with self, with others and with creation, and that all of us are poor in some way, then helping people with those relationships will allow us to minister to both the materially poor and rich alike. 

Community Builder

Thanks for this reminder Keith! While James tells us not to give the wealthy the nice seat, and tell the poor to sit on the floor; we certainly are not to reverse things, and give the poor the nice seat, and tell the rich to sit on the floor (until we need them to fund something). The world makes such distinctions, but families should not.

Good words, Keith. Thank you.

There is no inherent virtue in poverty; and there is no inherent vice in wealth. Too often the official stance of the institutional church implies that there is.

I agree with your statement about either having special vitures. But Dan I don’t think our churches do either. They are following what is written in the Bible. It easier to rely on the Lord when your under duress from poverty, sickness and hardship! It is our call to help both but the poor are more obvious candidates because it is visible like sickness, disability, etc! Thx