Three Ways that Theology affects Economic Transformation

Three Ways that Theology affects Economic Transformation

Listen to an audio version of this article read by Eleanor Kwizera from Uganda

On the poverty-riddled African continent, we see many wealthy church pastors and prophets who preach the gospel of material prosperity while 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.

Cynical observers have coined the phrase ‘gospelprenuers’ to describe church ministers who treat the Christian gospel as a commodity. Instead of seeing themselves as stewards of the flock God has entrusted them to serve and disciple, they manipulate God’s people for selfish ends. They regard them as clients to bolster their prosperity.

One of the greatest challenges facing African churches is building a sound bedrock of Biblical teaching to respond to issues of intergenerational poverty.

This is a far cry from the traditional heavenly-minded missionary clergymen, who lived frugally and viewed their ministry as a sacrificial act of service and a spiritual vocation. One of the greatest challenges facing African churches is building a sound bedrock of Biblical teaching to respond to issues of intergenerational poverty. Africa needs sound Biblical theology which shapes:

  • The purpose and goal of Christian ministry;
  • Ministry as stewardship, and
  • God’s design for work.

1. The purpose and goal of Christian ministry.

The Bible clearly condemns the use of ministry as an instrument for personal enrichment. 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.

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. This thread is set out in the Torah: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (Deut 25:4), and confirmed by Jesus, who said 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 Cor 9:9-12; 1 Tim 5:18).  

Accordingly, it is unscriptural to treat a minister who expects a regular income as if he is lazy, unwilling to serve sacrificially, or lacking faith in God’s provision.

Yet, according to Paul’s own testimony, the material welfare of ministers never eclipsed the gospel as the reason for his ministry. For example, when unable to receive material support from the congregation, Paul did not resign himself to poverty but 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 provides a clear example of the purpose and goal of Christian ministry from his own life. He did not personally profit from ministry and warns us against false teachers who peddle a fake gospel for the sake of dishonest gain (Titus 1:11). He insisted that an elder must be a diligent shepherd, “not a lover of money” or “greedy for money” (1 Peter 5:3; 1 Tim 3:3). Jesus also solemnly warned his disciples that no one can serve God and money (Matt 6:24). Communicating the gospel remains the main purpose and goal of Christian ministry in 21st century Africa.

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, which will be fully consummated when Christ returns, but is already present and growing in this world. Gospel-shaped ministry should be prompted by a desire to see hearts and lives transformed by God and darkness pushed back in whole communities.

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. Gospel rewards are largely delayed until the final return of Christ.

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.

2. Ministry as stewardship.

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, but ministers are accountable to Christ as the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22 and 5:23).

A significant problem in the Zimbabwean churches is ‘Mugabean’ tendencies in ministers, who cling onto churches as their personal property and refuse to vacate when no longer wanted by congregations.

Instead of giving to the poor, encouraging industriousness and tithing, false teachers convince their congregations that the key to unlocking financial blessing is giving generously to pastors and prophets supposedly ‘anointed’ by God. Through a twisted theology, the poorest of the poor are encouraged to part with all they possess in expectation of God’s favour. Greed and covetousness are dressed up as virtue. Ministers appoint themselves as conduits of God’s blessing to God’s people.

Solid theology counters this dangerous tendency to use ministry as a means of wealth accumulation and fosters accountability of pastors to serve their flock.

3. God’s design for work.

A major challenge in Zimbabwe is a poor theology of work that contributes to poor initiative, workmanship, use of resources and a lack of industriousness. Work is often viewed narrowly as a means of survival, instead of an expression of God-given creative potential. The foundational teaching of Genesis 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. Whatever our hand finds to do, we should work at it wholeheartedly and for the eye of the Lord (Col 3:23-24).

A failure to apply Biblical theology to the area of work and money has led to gross ministry abuses in Africa and has hindered economic transformation. Central to the gospel is Jesus as Lord of all spheres of life, including work and vocation. Faith is not a spiritual matter detached from material needs and the marketplace.

Solid theology fosters accountable church leaders who disciple others to participate honestly in the economy and challenge poverty in their communities. Theological education must be grounded in real contextual issues and 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 to be productive economic participants, not just economic survivors.

True theology, rooted in the Bible, fosters God-honouring ministry that stewards and empowers God’s people to be productive economic participants, not just economic survivors.

 

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