Pastoring the Wealthy

This piece has been written by a teaching elder in the PCA who pastors a congregation with a significant number of financially wealthy congregants. His name is being withheld in order to give him a platform to edify others while not drawing unnecessary attention to himself or the people under his care.

Writing an article about pastoring the wealthy worries me. I am worried because I enjoy satisfying friendships with affluent folks in my congregation and community. I am perpetually apprehensive about creating false guilt in them about things that need not apply.

I should clarify: I don’t really know many rich people who think they are rich. However, most of the people I am around if pressed would admit to being entrusted with a larger share of the pie than others. They lead companies whose brands you’d recognize. They are also lawyers, bankers, and doctors. I am not wealthy as the world considers it. However, by God’s providence, I pastor not far from one of the wealthiest zip codes in America.

Most of the financially affluent folks I serve struggle to steward what’s been given to them and want their lives to be spent by Christ in beautifying ways. They also endure insecurities, are sometimes confused by their economic status, and worry about their kids. They wonder if God is listening when the travails money can’t repair crash uninvited into their lives.

I am privileged to serve a congregation where we speak about generosity and stewardship extraordinarily often. It’s part of our ethos. That being said, I fear my affection and camaraderie for these folks makes me shy at times in pointing out opportunities for development as Christ’s disciples.

In my bolder moments, here are four concerns I have shared and would encourage others to share with materially rich Christians:

1. Don’t let your wealth throw off your perceptions.

We all tend to live in echo chambers. We are frequently enclaved together with those who have similar lifestyles, sensibilities, aspirations, and tastes. We become homogeneous and homogeneity blinds us. We fail to recognize how our affluence distorts our perceptions of our own situations and the situations of others. Like after sitting in a room full of smokers for several hours, we never realize we smell of smoke until someone tells us later.

I am afraid that wealth occasionally filters out a sense of generosity because of the socio-economic air we are so accustomed to breathing. I am afraid that wealth makes us blind to our own privilege, and it makes us deaf to the voices of those less well-off.

Self-awareness is important for the wealthy. It is important to know so we can be aware of the obstacles and opportunities it presents. Our wealth impacts the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

2. Don’t let your wealth eat up all your time.

The Dutch artist Willem de Kooning famously noticed, “the problem with being poor is that it takes up all your time.” Could it also be true that being rich takes up all our time as well?

Kids have incessant opportunities for skill-bolstering engagements. There are both long hours of work, and opportunities for splendid travel and leisure. Multiple houses beckon us to visit and numerous vehicles in the household demand more concern. Portfolio management, estate and tax planning, properties demanding care and a wide array of hobbies all demand devotion, time, and attention. Rounding out a privileged life is an ever-widening web of relational requirements and social obligations.

Our money is not our own and neither is our time. We need to enjoy the gifts of rest and worship. Even more, we need Christian fellowship. We can’t let our wealth rob us of time and holy margins that nurture meaningful connections with our neighbors and the body of Christ.

3. Don’t let your wealth insulate you from compassion.

We who live among the well-off are frequently isolated from those whose lives are always tottering in financial frailty and relational insecurity.

We are not frequently friends with people for whom a busted transmission is a life-altering catastrophe that potentially endangers their job status, housing, and ability to pay bills. Our isolation yields an obstructed line of sight that smothers would-be compassion.

Identifying with the distress of others drives compassion—and compassion drives generosity. Without compassion, generosity has the long athletic legs of its love amputated and is crippled. Let our prayerful aspirations of more cross-pollinating friendships bring us closer to folks in different tax brackets, situations, and communities than our own.

There is nothing like proximity for breeding empathetic understanding and heart-moving acts of tender regard. I pastor many affluent people but also minister to people whose life is a continuous financial emergency with no net to keep them from disastrously plummeting further.

If God has entrusted you with an abundance of financial resources, don’t forget you are the exception and not the norm. Rub shoulders with people who depend on their hourly wage to put shelter over their head and food in their kid’s stomach. It will inform and inspire our generosity.

4. Don’t forget your means are a calling, too.

I do of course know many folks who make it their business to share their resources. I’ve witnessed it often. I know many high net worth individuals who give well beyond 10% of their income without parading it down the street for all to see. They are humble in their generosity. They are as intentional in their stewardship as many are in their diet and exercise.

Like a woman with uncommon financial means who comes to understand her wealth as a trust and calling, and not merely as a self-enhancing line of heavenly credit. Like a physician who regularly invites interruption, even at his home, for the sake of helping his injured or sick neighbors… and always with the cheerful reassurance, “This is what I am here for, why God has given me the abilities to help people in distress.” I see such extravagant sharing often and am always moved and enlivened by it.

I profit from watching folks with robust abilities and resources come to see the connections, privileges, and even the abilities to generate and hang on to large amounts of financial resources as a privileged trust from Christ. Few things are more stirring than watching a dear friend—who has been blessed with much—start galloping at full speed in a joyful vocational race of refreshing others (Prov. 11:25).

If you are a pastor who finds themselves pastoring the wealthy, here’s my advice: pray fervently and preach faithfully. Pray for these folks in very specific ways before God’s throne as you would for someone who is sick or experiencing other particular difficulties. Likewise, they need us to expose them to the light and heat of God’s Word. They need to hear the warnings of Scripture regarding wealth but they also need the comforting promise of how God saves and uses people like Joseph of Arimathea.

Financial resources are temporal. I have sat at the bedside of individuals as they entered death’s dark valley where their portfolio was the farthest thing from their mind. Before and during those moments, they need our prayers and preaching. With our prayers, we bring them near to Jesus. With our preaching, we bring Jesus near to them. By God’s grace, they will look away from their wealth in order to fix their eyes on the greater prize (Heb 11:26).