We know that much of the African continent is in the harsh grip of poverty. And yet we often see church pastors and prophets who preach the gospel of material prosperity while conspicuously gaining great personal wealth. Many teach their congregants to step out of poverty by ‘seeding’ – giving pastors huge amounts of money and gifts to reap God’s favour and monetary rewards. They are promised economic transformation through giving away their hard earned money to these so-called spiritual people.
The Scourge of ‘Gospelpreneurs’
Gospelprenuers manipulate God’s people for selfish ends; they regard them as clients to bolster their own prosperity.
Cynical observers have coined the phrase ‘gospelprenuers’ to describe church ministers who treat the Christian gospel as a commodity. Sadly, these people don’t see themselves as stewards of the flock God has entrusted them to serve and disciple. Instead they manipulate God’s people for selfish ends; they regard them as clients to bolster their own prosperity.
This is a far cry from the traditional heavenly-minded clergymen who live frugally and view their ministry as a sacrificial act of service and a spiritual vocation.
We Need A Biblical Perspective on Economic Transformation
One of the greatest challenges facing African churches is building a sound bedrock of Biblical teaching to respond to issues of intergenerational poverty. For we cannot just ignore this issue – we cannot pretend that economic transformation is not desirable. Rather, Africa needs sound biblical theology to shape our thought and daily activities in this area. We need to understand from scripture the goal and purpose of ministry, the importance of stewardship and God’s design for work.
Answering three key questions helps us get to this point: 1) Is church just a money-making scheme? 2) Whose church is it anyway? And 3) who are we working for?
1. Is Church Just a Money-Making Scheme?
Let’s turn to the first question. Is church just a money-making scheme?
The Bible clearly condemns the use of ministry as an instrument for personal enrichment.
The Bible clearly condemns the use of ministry as an instrument for personal enrichment (1 Timothy 6:3-10). However, scripture also endorses an expectation for ministers to derive a reasonable income from their work. In a country like Zimbabwe, which is reeling from deep systemic and generational poverty, theological education must prepare ministers not just to evangelise, but also to apply the gospel to the lived struggles of Africans.
Woven throughout the Bible is a basic principle that people have a right to draw an income from their work, including those in spiritual ministry. The Torah sets out this thread: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (Deuteronomy 25:4). Later, Jesus confirms this, saying that the worker deserves his wages (Luke 10:7). The Apostle Paul appeals to this same principle to affirm the right of gospel ministers to receive economic support for their work in the local church (1 Corinthians 9:9-12; 1 Timothy 5:18).
Scripture also endorses an expectation for ministers to derive a reasonable income from their work.
Accordingly, it is unscriptural to accuse a minister who expects a regular income of being lazy, unwilling to serve sacrificially, or lacking faith in God’s provision.
Material Gain Is Not The Aim
Yet, according to Paul’s own testimony, personal material welfare never eclipsed the gospel as the reason for his ministry. Here is one example. When unable to receive material support from the congregation, Paul did not resign himself to poverty. No! He used his economic skills as a tentmaker to earn his own income. Gospel ministry was his supreme priority as a servant of the gospel: “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions” (Acts 20:34).
Paul warns us against false teachers who peddle a fake gospel for the sake of dishonest gain.
Paul provides a clear example of the purpose and goal of Christian ministry from his own life. For we know he did not personally profit from ministry. Paul also warns us against false teachers who peddle a fake gospel for the sake of dishonest gain (Titus 1:11). He insists that an elder must be a diligent shepherd, “not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:3). Jesus also solemnly warned his disciples that no one can serve God and money (Matthew 6:24).
Communicating the gospel remains the main purpose and goal of Christian ministry in 21st century Africa.
Eternal Economic Transformation
Moreover, Biblically-based teaching on the end times exposes ‘gospelpreneurs’ as self-serving peddlers of the gospel who foolishly live only for present rewards. They are blind to the eternal realities of God’s Kingdom. These will be fully consummated when Christ returns, but are already present and growing in this world today. Gospel-shaped ministry should be prompted by our desire to see God transforming hearts and lives – pushing back the darkness in entire communities.
There is a better reward waiting in the new heavens and new earth.
The Christian minister is called to work in this world— sacrificially and diligently—with the assurance that there is a better reward waiting in the new heavens and new earth. Our yields cannot be harvested immediately in this life. We know that Gospel rewards are largely delayed until the final return of Christ.
2. Whose Church Is It Anyway?
Deriving an income from the church does not imply that the church is the pastor’s commodity or personal piggy bank. Instead, the Church belongs to Christ. Paul teaches that no human being is the head of the Church. Rather, ministers are accountable to Christ as the head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23).
A significant problem in the Zimbabwean churches is the ‘Mugabe-an’ tendencies of ministers. In the manner of the previous president, they cling onto churches as their personal property; they refuse to vacate when no longer wanted by their congregations.
Beware! This is Bad Theology
In the face of poverty, we should be giving to the poor, encouraging industriousness and tithing. But instead, false teachers convince their congregations that the key to unlocking financial blessing is to give generously to the ‘man of God’ – those pastors and prophets who are supposedly ‘anointed’ by God.
Ministers appoint themselves as conduits of God’s blessing to God’s people.
Christians must beware! Through this twisted theology, the poorest of the poor are encouraged to part with all they possess in expectation of God’s favour and economic transformation. Greed and covetousness are dressed up as virtue as ministers falsely appoint themselves conduits of God’s blessing to God’s people.
3. Who Am I Working For?
A major challenge in Zimbabwe is a poor theology of work. This contributes to a lack of initiative, quality workmanship, use of resources and industriousness. How is this so? It’s because work is often viewed narrowly as a means of survival, instead of an expression of God-given creative potential.
The foundational teaching of Genesis 1-2 is that men and women, made in God’s image, are called to create order out of chaos, to exercise responsible dominion over the world and to be fruitful in work. Therefore, whatever our hand finds to do, we should work at it wholeheartedly and for the eye of the Lord. (See Colossians 3:23-24).
Central to the gospel is Jesus as Lord of all spheres of life, including work and vocation.
A failure to apply Biblical theology to the area of work and money has led to gross ministry abuses in Africa. Truly, it has hindered economic transformation. Central to the gospel is Jesus as Lord of all spheres of life, including work and vocation. Because faith is not just a spiritual matter – it’s not detached from material needs and the marketplace.
Good Theology Empowers God’s People
Solid theology fosters accountable church leaders who disciple others to participate honestly in the economy and challenge poverty in their communities. This is important, because theological education must be grounded in real contextual issues. It should spotlight the socio-political dynamics which cause African’s endemic intergenerational poverty.
True theology, rooted in the Bible, fosters God-honouring ministry that stewards and empowers God’s people. Starting from this foundation, God willing, we can all become productive economic participants, not just economic survivors.