The Gospel for Sale
I crunched the numbers again, hoping they would change a bit, but we still owe more each month than I take in on my salary alone. By about $300. The stress is on. I have anxiety about bills and debts. I think about how I'm treading water, looking to come out with some cushion, but that just ain't happening. Hence this website. Hence the whole LayEvangelist.com thing that I am trying to do.
I have great supporters of the site and the presentations that I give are the way that my wife and I keep it all going. Two gigs a month, some writing and reviewing here and there, and I'm able to cover all of the bills, when combined with my full time parish job. As the anxiety of not having enough money for this or that month ebbs and flows over me, my prayer is to constantly remember that God, not me, is in control. I'm dependent on Him. These reminders are for me to realize that my dependence on Him is not merely financial, but existential. He is life. He is my life.
But something has been troubling me lately. I cannot shake it. It is this whole idea of being a Professional Church Guy. The part that has me really afraid is not "Can I pay the bills this month" but rather, "I'm paying the bills by peddling the Gospel." I'm scared of that. Socrates thought the sophists were little more than prostitutes because they offered wisdom for money. Jesus told the Apostles in Matthew 10:8, "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give."
This is my examination of conscience now:
- When I charge for a talk, am I charging for the Gospel?
- Am I prostituting the Word of God, offering revelation in exchange for compensation?
- Did Christ do this, or the Apostles?
- What if my ministry is an affront to God all the while I'm thinking it is offering Him glory?
- What if I shape my lay apostolate so that it supports my lifestyle and not vice versa?
- What if, through a presentation, I didn't say certain things because I was afraid of how people would receive it, and no longer donate to me?
- Am I burdened by the responsibility to teach the full rigor and vigor of Gospel living?
- Or is the Gospel another revenue stream by which I live my life?
I met a person who told me that he no longer talked about specific topics because a wealthy donor said that they would pull their funds. "My kids have to eat; so I stopped talking about it."
First, I cringed. Then, I lost all respect for his ministry, and for him. He compromised the Word.
I get that we all walk a tightrope when we are working for the Church and trying to raise a family at the same time. But the moment we stop preaching the words given to us by Christ and start modifying the message to make our lives more comfortable, more stable, or more acceptable by others, that is precisely the moment when the mission has been monetized and falsified.
You've been seduced by a false gospel and are now seducing others with an amended version of what you should have said.
Imagine Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount with that attitude! The Romans give big dollars, so I will tone down the parts about being a peacemaker. The Pharisees give annually, so I'll change the way I criticize their prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and turn those into suggestions or mildly worded guidelines.
This is the danger of having our revenue streams tied directly to our Gospel preaching. If you live by donations, your zeal can die by them, too. St. Paul was a maker of tents and sold them in the same marketplaces where he would preach to the Gentiles. He went to great pains to make sure that the people he preached to were separate from the people that supported his ministry when the tent selling was not enough to fund church planting.
This way he could echo our Savior: “My teaching is not mine, but His Who sent me.” It's also not my donors', my friends', or those people's I'm always trying to impress.