Commercialization of Ministry

.jpg” alt=”” width=”250″ height=”250″ />This blog post is in response to a tweet comment based on Margot Starbuck’s recent post, “A Senior Devil’s Strategy Guide to Disabling Red Letter Christians.” The tweet went something like this:

“‘A Senior Devil’s Strategy’ could also be the commercialization of ministry. How do you see it? How does the Lord God see it?”

Undoubtedly the church, and the world, is consumed by commercialization. Even on my back roads drive to my office I pass at least four or five small street signs advertising the newest housing development, local event, and even the church. The church has joined forces with the powers of commercialization and while it may not be entirely a bad thing, I cannot help but notice some devastating consequences.

The late preacher and social activist Clarence Jordan used to tell the story of what happened during his tour of one of America’s most beautiful churches. As the tour guide brought him to the very front of the church where he could look up at the altar, he was told by the tour guide: “Do you see that cross? It’s a gold cross. It was donated by one of our wealthiest members in memory of his wife. That cross, Mr. Jordan, which is covered with gold leaf, cost over $750,000!”

Clarence responded in a simple yet profound manner: “Shucks!” he said, “Time was you could get one for free!”

The even more astounding part of this story is that it took place in the 1960s! Long before televangelists sitting on gold trimmed couches and churches so full of expensive artifacts they could double for a museum, churches were already buying $750,000 crosses!

In my lifetime I have dealt with the commercialization of ministry on both sides. The ministry I founded, EAPE, seeks to live out God’s love for the poor and oppressed. We have far too many people in the world that suffer from the effects of poverty on a daily basis to justify spending $750,000 on a cross. However, some of my best friends through the years have had commercialized ministries and have been able to give great financial support to help those who are poor and oppressed around the world because commercialization has added great wealth to their ministry.

As I said, I am conflicted.

Ultimately, I reflect on the story of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple while driving out the money changers through the use of his own home made whip. These folks, even though they were Jews, were utilizing the Temple for purposes that did not glorify God. The cause of Jesus’ anger was not on the amount of money they may have made on the goods they sold but instead on the exploitation of the Temple for personal financial gains.

I cannot walk away from this story without thinking, “Wow, that really pissed Jesus off!” And if that really pissed Jesus off then maybe it is a clear sign that I should not do or endorse similar actions.

The famous sex icon Mae West had one of her striptease shows in New York City closed down because of the intervention of some of the leading clergy in that city. When they confronted her, scolding her for “obscene behavior,” she responded, “I’ll tell you what’s obscene. It’s you preachers who are supposed to be men of God but live like rich men instead of calling your people and yourselves to give what you have to meet the needs of the poor. I’ll tell you what’s obscene. It’s churches that spend thousands of dollars for stained glass windows and claim that’s what Jesus would do with the money.”

You have to wonder why a sex icon should have to speak like a prophet sent from God to challenge us to address obscenities that, in our pieties, we often ignore.

You have to wonder why folks have continued for over two thousand years to commercialize and market Christianity in ways that mimic those folks who were driven out of the Temple by Jesus and his home-made whip.


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Tony Campolo

Tony CampoloTony Campolo is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University. Look for Tony in your area and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.View all posts by Tony Campolo →

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