“Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good.”
I have found myself, once again, attempting to speak reason in defense of Joel Osteen, everybody’s favorite object of derision. Before I expound upon that theme here, let me say unequivocally that I am not a fan of Mr. Osteen or his message.
I have listened to him a few times and have not heard him say a word contrary to the scriptures. This is not to say I agree with what he had to say, only that I find the very limited perspective of his preaching tedious and skewed. So, this is not a defense of the man per se nor his lifestyle. It is a defense of freedom.
It seems that in the world within and without the church, Joel Osteen wears a huge target on his back because of the wealth his preaching and writing have brought him. It’s not my place to justify or condemn him. I seek only to defend his right to be paid and do with his earnings as he wills. You know, much like you and I wish to do.
I readily admit that I don’t know how his church (whatever the name of it is) is designed to operate. I am speaking from generalities and pastoral experience with several denominations.
I have read several critics say, “he pays himself”. If this happens it is the exception, not the rule. Churches, for the most part, are governed by a council of some sort. The people who make up these councils tend to keep a very tight rein on finances. The council or the denomination also set salaries for ministers that are usually based on the size of the congregation. So success in growing the number of members has its rewards—as well it should. We all like getting a raise for doing our job.
The assumption of many is that personal wealth is contrary to a godly life. Wealth, like poverty, has unique obstacles. The patriarchs were all very wealthy men. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both followers of Jesus, were no slouches.
Money in the ministry becomes a problem only when people judge that a preacher has too much. If the preacher and his family are living hand to mouth or he has to work a second job to make ends meet—no one is the least bit concerned about his pay.
It’s a matter of humility some say. The assumption is that if you’re poor, you must be humble. However, humility is not a function of wealth or poverty. I’ve met many a poor man who has an inflated ego. An overblown sense of entitlement is rampant in our society among all socio-economic groups.
Another misconception is that wealthy ministers must be either thieves or deceivers. They “trick” people out of their money with false promises. People say that as if preachers are the only ones capable of the feat. I have found most television preachers are pretty straightforward about what they offer. I must admit they do remind me of those who market diet medicines.
“Our pill combined with a sensible diet and exercise will take the weight off and keep it off.”
This is probably true. But then, diet and exercise will do the job without the pill. The TV evangelist will pray for you and God will bless you. Probably true, but you can pray for yourself, and God will bless you.
Many also object to how Joel Osteen spends his money. This is the most outrageous judgment the “Don’t Judge me, Bro” generation has ever uttered. Think, for a moment, about what this means and could be applied to you.
You and your employer agree on a salary that pays you X number of dollars a week. However, your neighbor who makes only B number of dollars thinks you make too much and spend it too freely. So, your neighbor insists you give “your excess wages” to the poor. Excess wages are the difference between what you make and what he makes. Furthermore, to reduce your frivolous spending, your neighbor is appointed to decide how you spend the money you earn.
Furthermore, how good a person you are is indexed to your compliance with the neighbor’s plan. How does that sound to you?
This is exactly what people advocate for Joel Osteen. I can say, been there, done that. Perhaps it is an experience everyone should undergo for a season.
St. Paul, a minister with detractors of his own, wrote:
“Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink the milk of the flock? Do I speak as a mere man?...For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while it treads the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about?”