Pastor Jomo Johnson of the Church for Black Men & Families in Washington, D.C., has issued #TheJesusChallenge, calling Christians to embrace minimalism for a year. Johnson exhorted multiple Christians (including rapper Lecrae) to participate in the challenge, but the first person he specifically called on was John Gray, pastor of Relentless Church in South Carolina.
“I believe that Easter Sunday is the perfect time to challenge us as Christians,” said Johnson in a video he posted on social media. “Many of us are coming off of Lent, we’re coming off of sacrifice, and I believe now is really a time, especially for American Christians, to embrace this unique challenge.”
As a basis for the challenge, Johnson referenced Jesus’ teaching that those who lose their lives will find them. He also mentioned the account of the rich young ruler, whom Jesus told to sell all he had so that he would have treasure in heaven.
“We want to be able to follow Jesus in this lifestyle of minimalism that we might be able to give more to Him, more of our hearts, more of ourselves and also more to others,” said Johnson. The challenge starts on May 1 and consists of giving up one major possession per week, per month, per year or even per day.
Johnson says that he personally decided to embrace minimalism in 2017. He sold his car, got rid of a lot of his clothing, and attempted to do his best to follow Jesus wherever He led. The result was a “really extraordinary experience with Him and relationships with others.” After challenging Pastor Gray directly, Johnson said, “We want to detach from all the materialism that kind of takes our focus away from Jesus and begin to give more liberally.”
Who Is John Gray?
John Gray took over Relentless Church (formerly Redemption Church) in Greenville, South Carolina, in May 2018. Before that, he pastored at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Among other things, Gray has drawn controversy for living in a $1.8 million home, purchased for him by Relentless, and for buying his wife a Lamborghini as an eight-year anniversary present.
Gray defended the Lamborghini purchase, saying that it was not bought with church funds and that it was his way of “blessing his wife” because “that’s what a man should do within his means.” Gray and his wife, Aventer, noted they have other sources of income apart from what they receive from Relentless. These sources include books that Gray has written, as well as his show, The Book of John Gray, which is on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The Grays also say they would never have posted about the car on social media because they knew people would not understand. It was someone else who happened to be present who posted about the gift.
Johnson’s challenge comes in the wake of recent discussions about just how extravagant pastors’ lifestyles should be. Gray is one of the people featured on the Instagram account, PreachersNSneakers, which posts images of pastors wearing highly expensive brands of clothing and includes how much their attire costs.
While some believe that PreachersNSneakers is unnecessarily stirring up controversy, the account’s creator says that many in ministry have thanked him for sparking conversations about leadership and stewardship.
Some Uncomfortable Questions
The Bible does not demonize wealth, but it does contain quite a few warnings to the rich about the temptations that come with money. It’s uncomfortable to think about how many of us in the United States live in relative material ease while our brothers and sisters throughout the world are being persecuted and are suffering for their faith. Any of us wanting to point a finger at wealthy pastors surely need to look at our own spending.
So what do you think? Is Johnson’s challenge a wake-up call or, at the very least, a good opportunity for Christians to self-evaluate? Or is it unhelpful in that it encourages unnecessary guilt and speculation?