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4 Ways Evangelicals Overcorrect for Prosperity Theology in Unhealthy Ways

God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). But that’s no excuse for us to only make small asks or have undeveloped imaginations.

2. We See Suffering as Inherently Virtuous.

Jesus was clear that a life of following him would be marked by hardship and suffering. After all, one of his final messages to his 12 apostles prior to his crucifixion was, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33a). 

But when Jesus told his followers that they would experience trouble, that they would endure persecution, that they would be hated on his account, he was realigning their expectations about what being agents of his kingdom would be like. He wasn’t setting a goal for us to shoot for. 

In the same way that health and wealth is not a de facto marker of our faithfulness, neither is suffering. God is not the author of evil, and he has promised to work through all things for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28). 

While God will never let your suffering go to waste, he does not delight in your pain. In the midst of the trouble we experience in this world, we must also remember that Jesus told his disciples, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).

3. We Believe Pastors Should Take a Vow of Poverty.

When I was a young youth pastor, I didn’t have very much money. My needs were certainly provided for, but I wasn’t exactly living the high life. Be that as it may have been, there was a pretty girl whom I wanted to marry, and I didn’t want to give her a bargain bin engagement ring. So, over the course of a number of months, I scrimped and saved, living on instant ramen noodles and church potluck leftovers, until I had enough funds to purchase a ring I could be proud of.

As we received many hugs, cheers, and congratulations at church the Sunday following my successful proposal, I was riding high. That is, until one of the elders took one look at the ring on my now wife’s finger and grunted, “So, that’s where my tithe is going.”

Not only did the comment disregard my months-long diligence and frugality, it also betrayed a commonly held belief among evangelicals that pastors (and their wives and families) aren’t allowed to have nice things. In other words, the only good pastor is a poor pastor. 

The prominence of overindulgent prosperity preachers who flaunt the wealth they acquired on the backs of faithful givers has certainly made us sensitive to the excesses of pastors who gain wealth through their ministry—as well we should be. But that doesn’t mean that our pastors should be impoverished.

As anyone in ministry knows, being a pastor isn’t easy. You are constantly wrestling with how to cast vision, interpret and communicate biblical truths, lead teams, manage administrative details, all while providing godly counsel and care to people whom you love during some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. Adding the additional burden of unnecessary financial stress does pastors no favor. 

Granted, pastors may experience financial stress during certain seasons of life, the same way we all do—for example, during a recession featuring record high inflation. It just shouldn’t be a prerequisite for being considered a faithful person of the cloth.  

4. We Fail To Recognize and Affirm That God Attaches Blessing to Generosity.

A prominent feature of prosperity theology is the idea that generosity, especially financial generosity toward the church, is something that will be rewarded by God. Often taught in transactional terms, this doctrine paints God as the Big Investment Broker in the Sky, not only distorting a believer’s understanding of him as their good Father but also setting them up for crushing disappointment when they don’t see the financial return they were believing for.