Dirty Money

For most of us, as ministry leaders, the lottery is taboo. That is, until someone wins it for you.

For most of us, as ministry leaders, the lottery is taboo. That is, until someone wins it for you. Then things get a little more complicated.

Recently, Pastor Bert Crabbe of the True North Community Church in Port Jefferson Station, New York, had a church member win $3 million in the lottery and he decided to give it all to the church. The man wished to remain anonymous, but he won his big prize by scratching off the “Ba Da Bling” lottery ticket.

Was it a gift from God? Weeks before Pastor Crabbe told the church that they were growing and they wouldn’t fit in their building anymore and that they were going to have to rent a facility unless “God dropped a few million” on them. (Insert Ba-Da Bling here.) Crabbe says he was joking about it and that it wasn’t anything serious he was praying about.

The church will receive a large sum every year for years to come. Before you get too judgmental, or jealous, here’s what Crabbe says they plan on doing with the money. “In Year One, we’re gonna give all of it away. Our favorite charity is an organization called Love 146. They work toward the abolition of human trafficking, particularly among children in Southeast Asia, they’re our favorite charity. So, they’re gonna get a huge check. We’re going to commit to continue with them for the length of the award. And the rest of it we’ll give to various charities and nonprofits in our community and around the country and throughout the world, actually.”

OK, that sounds like an incredible plan to use the funds. One can only think about all the good that money will accomplish for the Kingdom of God–rescuing children from brothels, putting a dent in the trafficking ring (by the way, you should check out the Neue Watch video Call and Response) and helping out local charities. It’s much better than seeing the money go towards the lottery cliche of an overly expensive house with marble floors, gaudy furniture and a lot full of tricked out cars. (Can $3 million even get you that today?)

For Crabbe’s church the lottery was the jackpot. It was an opportunity to give back and give big. I’ve wondered what I would do in that situation. I’ve even spoken to other pastors about this hypothetical circumstance and when it comes down to it, I would feel comfortable taking the money and using it for the kingdom, even though it came from a source that I’m not willing to endorse. (OK, I did win $20 in a scratch-off in college and, no, I didn’t feel guilty spending it at Applebees with my roommates.) I also know that God doesn’t need our money and that God can do what he wants with or without finances but, to me, leveraging the lottery money for the cause of Christ is acceptable. Personally, I could do that. I could use dirty money to fight injustice, to spread the gospel and to help those in need. Money, of course, is amoral, but I think it loses it’s “dirty” stigma when it’s put to use like this.

There’s only one problem. Not every pastor sees it the same way. When Crabbe’s church tried to give $100,000 to a local mission that feeds the hungry, the mission’s pastor, James Ryan, turned the money down. He said, “It’s difficult for us to say that one day ‘the lottery is going to destroy your life, it’s going to destroy your family, look what it’s already done,’ and then the next day tell them that we received winnings from a New York State Lottery and accepted it.”

For James Ryan, where the money came from mattered–enough for him to turn away from some substantial funds that would have benefited those in the community.

There are other cases too. Earlier in August, a Florida jackpot winner of $6 million tried to tithe $600,000 of his winnings to his church but they also refused to accept it.

Pastor James Ryan’s mission also lost some financial supporters in the ordeal because they believed he should have taken the money. The mission is low on funds and might even go under but he says, “We will always do what God wants us to do, despite what the world might think.”

It’s a hard line to take.

As followers of Christ I believe we are called to be resourceful, shrewd even. I think about that parable that Jesus gave in Luke 16 about the dishonest manager that, when told he was losing his job, began writing off his master’s debts to make friends for himself when he lost his job. Surprisingly, Jesus says that the man was commended by his master for acting shrewdly. The principle Jesus gives about the parable, “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

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I love the fact that Jesus used sometimes negative, surprising and unexpected examples to get his point across. To me, the church that’s using the lottery money is like the manager, making the most of an opportunity.

Now, I understand that the odds of a church actually having to decide whether to accept lottery money are, well, like winning the lottery, but the argument goes beyond that. It has to do with what we’re willing to leverage and redeem for the kingdom of God.

So, what about you, does it matter where the money comes from?

What do you think about a church taking in the “Ba Da Bling” and using it to help stop human trafficking?

Would your church accept the money, and, if so, what would you do with it?

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