“Rich or poor, there is no difference in ministry here. I don’t even know who is wealthy or not.” – PastorA
“Of course, we engage the wealthy differently. We provide specific ministries for a lot of different groups.” – PastorB
Engaging the wealthy in a church is a divided topic. Many pastors would rather not single out the wealthy for discipleship purposes due to either the perception or reality of violating James 2:1—“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism”. Other pastors have no problem whatsoever singling out the wealthy for discipleship purposes, as long as it doesn’t provide preferential treatment to those members.
Without question, both sides decide their discipleship strategy with heartfelt conviction.
What I want to do in this brief article is simply look at what Scripture says on the topic. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, we find Paul writing to Timothy about the wealthy who are under his watch. Here is what Paul says:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
This passage will serve as a guide for the first five points on what the Bible says about discipling the wealthy:
1. They are a unique group.
This isn’t to say that they are the only unique group within a church—there are usually several. But Paul clearly identifies a group of people who are considered wealthy. Globally, most American Christians would be classified as rich, and the proceeding verses could certainly pertain to most American Christians. However, Paul does single out a group of people who have greater means than others in Timothy’s church.
2. They commonly wrestle with certain struggles.
There is an assumption that can be drawn from Paul’s words in verse 19. At the time of his writing, the rich were not taking hold of the life that is truly Life. Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s Kingdom (Matthew 19:16-30). There is something about wealth that brings about its own spiritual temptations and struggles. This is why Timothy is encouraged to redirect this group’s hope.
From my experience, those who are rich often battle against a desire to find their hope and security in wealth. They regularly struggle to spend time with family because of a busy work schedule. And, they find it difficult to meaningfully connect with others in the church.
Just as a mom of young children has struggles that are specific to her life situation, so do the wealthy. Yet, most who have means find it difficult to express such struggles in front of those with lesser means. This is not due to pride but guilt. So, they struggle in silence.
3. They are to be pointed to a life characterized by generosity.
God has given this particular group significant resources. And while they will be tempted to hold tightly to their wealth, they are to be taught how to live a generous life. The wealthy are to be discipled in the area of generosity, using their God-given resources to advance His Kingdom and not build their own. And here is why— “so that they may take hold of a life that is truly Life.”
4. They are not to be engaged for organizational gain but discipleship.
When Jesus spoke about money, it was clear that his concern was not for a budget but for a heart. Paul demonstrates this as well in verse 19. The goal is not to increase a church budget, but to have these individuals take hold of that which is truly Life. It is an effort to go after their heart. Singling out the wealthy in the church is not a fund-raising strategy, but an effort to produce disciples that look like Jesus.
5. They are not to be valued as greater than those with lesser means.
The words from James 2 are to be heeded. While discipling the wealthy, they are not to be treated as better than anyone else in the church. They are a group within the church that needs to be discipled. While their wealth and experiences may differ from others, God’s desire for them is no different than anyone else. God doesn’t want their money, He wants their heart.
To be sure, there are complexities associated with singling out the wealthy for discipleship. Identification and methodology are just a few challenges pastors face. And for some churches, such a grouping is simply not feasible.
But 1 Timothy 6 certainly provides us with guidance on the issue. The wealthy are not better or more important than anyone else in the church. A church is a place after hearts, not wallets. But the hearts of the wealthy commonly wrestle with specific struggles and need to be pointed toward a life characterized by generosity and a hope in Christ. May our discipleship of this group do just that.