The Tale of the Broke Pastor with the 2000 Member Congregation

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THE SCENARIO

This is the story about Pastor Clifford Q. Juniper III. Pastor Cliff was a popular pastor of a vibrant, socially conscious, contemporary church in suburban San Fransisco. He was an accomplished author, national speaker on the preachers circuit, had a successful blog and served more than 2000 congregants weekly at his church. Cliff was happily married and a father of three girls.

Pastor Juniper had one problem. He was broke. His annual income with all of the extras was $325,000. How could he still be broke? After all, he had a “thriving” church with all of the trimmings. Cliff and his wife Savannah drove the latest model, six figure luxury cars. Their clothes were, “100 percent Italian silk with imported Egyptian lace”(LOL! Sorry, I had to go there). They had just purchased a 1.2 million dollar home in Bragger’s Estates. Their kids attended an exclusive private school. Not to mention, the church just finalized the loan on a 12 million dollar building which would serve as their new sanctuary. However, Cliff had a problem that many people have—he was over extended and didn’t see the danger in his financial position. In his mind, and the minds of those who followed him, he was favored by God and prosperous. The truth was that he was broke and a financial slave. He was living the illusion of wealth and reality was going to quickly set in.

THE REALITY 

One day when Cliff was driving to his office, he noticed that his voice became strained. By the time he arrived at his office, all he could do was whisper. Cliff brushed it off as a case of laryngitis and scheduled an appointment with his doctor. He emailed one of his assistants to preach the upcoming weekend services while he recovered.

When Cliff was examined by his doctor, everyone was shocked to discover that Cliff had several dark colored growths on his vocal cords and would require a biopsy to determine if they were cancerous. If they were, his vocal cords would probably have to be removed. This potential reality was devastating.

After the appointment, Cliff summoned the prayer warriors. Emails went out to the church soliciting prayers too. He refused to “claim” cancer or any illness. Hands were laid on his throat. He was still unable to speak but was very optimistic.

One week later, Pastor Cliff and Savannah met with his doctor for the results. To their surprise, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. In disbelief, they protested vehemently. After all, they did not “claim” cancer but apparently cancer claimed him. Because of the aggressive type of cancer, the doctor recommended removing Pastor Cliff’s vocal cords. This was beyond devastating because if he could not speak, how could he preach? What would happen to the church? What would happen to his speaking engagements?

In denial, Cliff and Savannah wisely sought a second and third opinion. All results came to the same conclusion of removing the vocal cords. They needed to move quickly because this was an aggressive cancer and they did not want it to spread. Cliff was a charismatic personality and his church was centered around that personality. How the church (and his lavish lifestyle) would survive was the biggest question.

Unable to speak and with a grim vocal prognosis, Cliff sent a heartfelt plea for prayers to the church. He wrote of healing and believing he would speak again. Many people believed that he would somehow speak without vocal cords. A major church morale campaign was launched before his surgery and the church seemed strong.

On a chilly Monday in early December, Pastor Cliff Juniper entered Memorial Hospital to have his vocal cords removed. It was a somber moment when he whispered, ” I love you” to his wife and daughters. As tears streamed down all of their faces, they knew their lives were about to change forever.

Immediately after the surgery, the church rallied around the family and held out hope that their beloved pastor would speak again (with no vocal cords). Attendance was at an all-time high. The music was “crankin’.” The singers sang and the praise dancers danced. They started bringing in popular guest speakers who would encourage the people to “not claim” that their pastor would no longer speak. Keep in mind, he did not have vocal cords. Of course God could perform a miracle and that’s what each speaker would emphasize. The miracle would have to be in God’s will however. That’s what many people, including Cliff missed.

After several months, reality began to set in. It was not in God’s will for Pastor Cliff to speak and the church that he built with his charisma and personality was growing restless. Attendance began to drop as well as the money. The reality of his true financial condition became painfully apparent now that his primary source of income was dwindling.

What Cliff didn’t understand was the fact that he was actually broke at the height of his “success.” His expenses far outweighed his income but because the money kept flowing and the monthly bills were paid, he lost sight of the total balance due on his debts. As the interest debt accrued, the hole got deeper. His warped, distorted, and unbiblical view of faith and finances contributed to his inability to see his true condition. He was in massive debt and had become a slave to the very thing he created. Although Cliff earned $325,000 annually, he owed millions. He spent all of his monthly income maintaining the payments on his debts. His net worth was in the negative, but he looked prosperous and successful. He was blinded by this debt and didn’t realize he was one situation from a financial disaster.

As the church dwindled from more than 2000 people down to 200 people, Cliff became depressed because he had come face-to-face with his poor financial management. He, Savannah, and the girls had to move from their home in Bragger’s Estates to a modest apartment. The bank withdrew the loan offer and stopped the new building project. Their cars were repossessed and the girls had to start attending public school. Cliff’s meager book royalties were the only thing keeping them afloat. Eventually the church closed, and the people followed the assistant who was preaching for Pastor Cliff when the money ran out to pay the guest speakers. The stress on the family was intense. This was a total financial collapse that could have been avoided if Cliff had only followed the principles outlined in the Bible he preached from each week.

THE BREAKDOWN

I know many pastors who are one situation away from financial ruin. Many of the people they lead are in the same position. I’ve been there myself. I woke up when I realized how vulnerable I was to scenarios that God did not want me to be vulnerable to. As I searched the scriptures, I could not find any instance where he encouraged irresponsible, high-debt living. The wisdom I found was a true reality check on how far I had gotten caught up in the secular church culture. This began my journey towards debt freedom personally and for my church. In an upcoming CommonCent$ post, I will chronicle that journey as my church is quickly approaching the 100% debt free mark.*

The primary lesson of this story is for us to understand that financial freedom can be attained if we follow simple steps of discipline, patience, and contentment. But the illusion of prosperity is a trap straight from the pride of life, the lust of the eyes, and the lust of the flesh. Many pastors encourage their congregations to walk right into the various financial traps as long as they don’t miss a tithe payment. People scurry like ants to hear these “dumbed down” messages that are designed to keep them broke with the illusion of prosperity. It’s a sad reality. But if we would take the time to study the financial wisdom of scripture, we would not be duped into this ideology.

We cannot violate common sense financial principles and expect a blessing on the other side. That is naive and immature thinking. Financial freedom is something that’s VERY attainable even on a small income. We are responsible for the management of our resources and we cannot blame anyone for the mismanagement except ourselves. That is the beginning of making positive changes.

My hope is that someone reading this will examine the truth of their finances, even if they are making six or seven figures. One situation can change the game, whether you claim it or not.

Proverbs 23:5 (NLT) – In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle.

*As of April 2017, The Life Center achieved it’s goal of being debt free.