Should a pastor ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht?

Remember the controversy Tony Campolo caused back in the day when he announced that you can’t own a BMW and be a Christian? Well, the recent revelations about Bill Hybels’ treatment of female colleagues raise the question about whether a pastor should ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht.

 

Many years ago I recall a Baptist minister telling me how, after moving into the manse or parsonage of his new church, he noticed there were metallic handrails sticking up out of the middle of the back lawn. When he asked the church elders what the handrails were for, he was informed that the church had purchased the property years earlier at an extremely good price but it had a swimming pool in the backyard. The elders felt that it was too ostentatious for a pastor to have a swimming pool, but the house was so cheap they couldn’t pass it up.

Their solution: purchase the property, but fill in the pool and plant lawn.

Those handrails remained poking through the grass as a tangible reminder of two things – the church’s thriftiness and its modesty.

The story about the underground pool always got a laugh and a roll of the eyes every time he told it. Those were the days when pastors were expected to display unstinting prudence and discretion. Even though the Baptists demurred on the Catholic vow of celibacy they shared their belief in a vow of poverty (or at least the appearance of such).

Similarly, I know one minister who was astonished and delighted to discover he had won a luxury vacation after renewing his subscription to a news magazine. His elders debated long and hard whether he could even take the holiday (was it the rewards of gambling?) and finally agreed he could as long as he kept the destination secret from the congregation.

It’s not like that anymore, is it?

We’ve all seen that clip of Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis defending their need for a private jet in order to serve God. But even those of us forced to schlep it on commercial airlines still consider the days of austerity in the ministry behind us. Most ministers wouldn’t be hiding their holiday destinations from their congregation anymore. Most churches wouldn’t be insisting on sub-standard housing for their pastors. It is generally assumed that ministers of religion are entitled to a decent salary and nice things.

And yet, has something been lost in this move away from austerity and frugality in the ministry?

I’m not proposing that we start filling in our swimming pools (not that I have one), but I do think it’s worth asking whether there’s a happy medium between that pastor who had to hide his vacation destination and Creflo Dollar asking for a $65 million jet.

I raise this because of the recent revelations about Bill Hybels, the former pastor of the megachurch Willow Creek, by former Zondervan president, Moe Girkins.

While insisting that Hybels made no overt sexual advances towards her, Girkins revealed some interesting aspects of the pastor’s work life.

In 2008, Moe Girkins secured a book contract with Bill Hybels. He then insisted that he work personally with Ms Girkins on the project, which they did at various times in his church’s private jet, at his beach home, on his yacht, and at restaurants near Hybels’ summer home.

On one occasion, he docked his boat at a slip near her home and asked her to pick up a bottle of wine and some dinner while they worked on the book.

Girkins also reveals the sexually inappropriate ways he spoke with her during those meetings, but my point here is to raise questions about the ostentatious lifestyle of a megachurch pastor who owns his own jet and yacht.

Are some pastors just too wealthy?

With wealth comes a sense of privilege and autonomy not afforded to others. They have the power to insist on private meetings in private jets. Like all rich people, they can become beyond accountability, unquestioned by their elder boards or diaconates.

 

And when this happens the opportunity for greed or lust to take root is increased.

I understand that being wealthy doesn’t necessarily make you unsafe toward women.

Joel Osteen is worth an estimated $40 million and there has been no whiff of sexual impropriety coming from him.

Rick Warren’s net worth is around $25 million, thanks in no small measure to some phenomenally successful books. He has never been charged with sexual misconduct. In fact, he and his wife consider themselves reverse tithers – they live on 10 percent of their income and donate the rest to charity.

“I drive a 12-year-old Ford, have lived in the same house for the last 22 years, bought my watch at Wal-Mart, and I don’t own a boat or a jet,” Warren once said.

In this, Warren embodies the old advice of John Wesley who said that the duty of every Christian is to work as hard as they can, to make as much money as they can, to spend as little as they can, so as to give away all that they can.

That’s because wealth brings power and can foster the conditions where your worst impulses go unchecked.

Why did Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill O’Reilly and all the others caught up in the #MeToo movement get away with their serial offences for so many years? Because they were insulated from the repercussions of their actions by their wealth and power. They could act with impunity (I address this topic here)

How much more concerning is it when ministers of religion who already wield male power, ecclesial power, spiritual power, and organizational power, add financial power to that mix!

Moe Girkins admits that when Bill Hybels asked her to accompany him on his private jet to seal the book deal for Zondervan, she left her ill husband, recently hospitalized with heart problems, to take the flight. Such was the attraction of getting Hybels’ signature on the contract.

Back in the day, when Tony Campolo was grousing about Christians owning luxury cars, he justified it by saying,

“Money is more dangerous than most things because it molds consciousness more than anything else. Few things control our behavior more than our economic status.”

 

I’m not suggesting it was Bill Hybels’ wealth alone that allowed him to make the choices he made toward women. Neither am I advocating a return to grinding austerity and the mere appearance of poverty by ministers of religion. I own a nice home and take overseas trips to beautiful locations. I know people will ask me to identify exactly how much wealth a pastor can accrue, and I won’t be able to answer. It will be different for different people. Rick Warren can cope with great wealth without giving in to temptation, but Bill Hybels couldn’t.

Nonetheless, I do think we need to ask how much is too much for those whose primary task is to preach the gospel and shepherd God’s people.

 

Postscript: Since publishing this, I have been informed by a few sources (including one person commenting below) that Bill Hybels doesn’t own a private jet. There is some confusion as to whether Willow Creek owns it or a wealthy benefactor leases it to the church. Secondly, his boat is a sailboat, not a yacht. I’m not sure what the difference is, so I used the descriptor Moe Girkins used in her comments. And thirdly, the Hybels’ beach home is a small cottage on Lake Michigan. It wasn’t my intention to imply that Bill Hybels is as wealthy as some of the other preachers mentioned in this piece, but to point out that access to planes, boats and beach houses, no matter their provenance or size is dangerous for a person with poor boundaries. 

 

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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51 thoughts on “Should a pastor ever own a private jet or a luxury yacht?

  1. Why treat pastors/ministers differently? How much should any Christian own?

    1. I get that pastors should be held to the same standards of any other Christian, but priests and pastors take certain vows that do set them apart. Admittedly, Protestant ministers don’t take vows of poverty, but they do pledge to live to certain standards.

    2. Hybels is a phony. First time I saw him after Willow Creek was recommended to me, it must have been 2 months before he showed at the podium. He was all tanned, wearing obviously expensive clothing and talking about how he had just returned from a couple of months on his yacht. But…alas…it was ALL worthwhile because, as he explained, he was able to convert one of the yacht’s crewmembers to Christianity. Fantastic!!!

      The next time I saw him was on a Father’s Day extravaganza in the “church” parking lot on when the “church” sponsored a car show andalong with free hot dogs and refreshments. There was a helicopter parked 20 feet or so from the cars. After about a half hour of looking at the cars, here comes the man himself, through the crowd. I remember he and I made eye contact and he had this expression on his face the screamed, “I’m superior”…or “Just look at me!” Well, he walked straight to the helicopter along with the pilot and they took off for who knows where…probably a helicopter pad on Hybel’s property.

      I grew up in Charlotte, NC and remember ONCE visiting Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s “theme park”, Heritage USA where the PTL (“Pass the Loot”) Club was broadcast from. Inside one of the huge buildings resembling the Mall of America, the ceiling looked just like the sky…with real looking clouds that were moving. I remember telling my wife, “They should tear this down!” My wife responded, “God will tear it down”. And he did.

      Good riddance Hybels.

      1. When a person works hard, he needs to be paid: that’s what you call fairness, regardless of your status in life. Some pastors wrote books that sold millions of copies. Why blame them If they can afford buying a yacht. Just because, they own a yacht, they don’t help the poor? I disagree. Maybe, if others will work hard and earn enough money they will stop being jealous of others success!

        1. If a pastor pays for a yacht and/or jet with $ they earned from a regular job like the rest of us, fine. But not only do they purchase expensive vases, art pieces, autos, mansions, etc., from church member donations, but the lavish items become idols that they spend lots of time with as some of them require a whole lot of upkeep, attention, extra expenditures to maintain (airplane pilot salary, expensive diesel to run airplane and/or boat, etc. I don’t recall Jesus ever doing this!

          As i see it (from the hundreds of churches i’ve visited during my lifetime), 99.9% of pastors are blaspheming thieves who ADORE & IDOLIZE $! And they will end up on the down express elevator to meet their other idol after they drown in their wealth! May they all RIP in hell!

        2. Write books make money all good. That ability is a blessing. How you Steward that blessing is what makes the difference. Bill has brought a lot of people to the Lord. But the stench of his arrogance it’s been around that church for a long time. I am a Christian but frankly I don’t care for Christians. Frankly the basis of Christianity I thought was forgiveness. But other people play it differently. May God have mercy on all of us.

      2. Thank you for your judgmentalism. (SARCASM just in case you were not aware, Al).

      3. The Hybels own a rather modest home.

        1. And a very nice 50 plus foot Tiara yacht named Blessing which he kept in South Haven Michigan at the Municiplal Marina north side in slip 17. It has twin Caterpillar engines for propulsion.

      4. You are foolish for speaking out and not knowing what you are talking about. Perhaps you can be slow to talk until you Kno ALL of the facts.

    3. A loving kind heart cares for all. These big box churches marketing scams

  2. Things may have changed, but I was a member of Willow for years and there are a few misunderstandings here: 1. The jet is not Hybels’. It is Willow’s. Not sure if they own it these days or if it’s leased, a la NetJets, but because of all the conference and speaking work so many WCCC team members do around the world, it was decided in the ’90s or so that it was more cost and time effective to use their own jet that literally buy thousands of airline tickets every year. … Also, re: the yacht. I think that description is quite the stretch. He has a sailboat, and he wrote about it in “Contagious Christian.” He put together a team of motley guys and sailed with them, racing on Lake Michigan, and ultimately leading several to Christ. I was at the Sunday baptism when Hybels actually baptized one of the guys. … Hybels’ salary is capped at $95K/year, he gets a housing allowance, and the church pays for a car (yes, a Beemer). I think most of Hybels’ money, though, comes from book royalties. … I’m not justifying his behavior, either financially or sexually, I’m just clarifying the record, as I do think Hybels is unfairly being lumped in with some name-it claim-it prosperity types.

    1. Thanks for that clarification. Moe Girkins’ description of signing contracts alone with Hybels on his jet and meeting him on his ‘yacht’ (her word) and his beach house certainly paint a different picture. Whatever the quality of his boat or the ownership of the jet, he used those things to cross boundaries with her.

      1. When people are down people like to joine in and kick the guy even more.
        She does not complain about the money she made off of Bill.

        1. Peter, bringing up “the money she made off of Bill” is a cheap excuse for Bill’s inappropriate behavior. Perhaps you didn’t mean it like that, but it comes across as very male dominated and lacking empathy. Comments like that add to revictimization and are unChristian and arrogant.

          1. Really? Well She admits that she chose to leave her sick husband to get the book deal and now complains that Bill asked her aboard his jet. Maybe this shows her priorities more than Bills.

      2. The Hybels live a rather modest life and the sail boat in question was old one and a second hand purchase. Whatever you think of Bill’s behavior I feel it does not justify to jump into conclusions about his life style and financies. Better back ground work is needed.

      3. The quality of the yacht was excellent. Brand new and the nicest in the harbor. Beautiful!! It was a 50 plus foot Tiara named Blessing. He kept it in South Haven Michigan at the Muninipal Marina (north side) in slip 17. It had twin Caterpillar engines for propulsion.

    2. From a business perspective, it is never cheaper to fly on your own jet unless you’re taking twenty people with you each time… or have this need to fly first class just because you’ve ‘arrived.’ We shouldn’t need to remind ourselves that both of these push against humility and the ways of Jesus.

      1. I always find it a curious thing when high compensation among successful church leaders is defended by comparing their take to what they would make in private industry.

        When called to lead, it would seem right to leave worldly comparisons behind.

      2. Thank you, Randy, I was hoping someone would point that out.
        I have an example from about 10 years ago. A gentleman I knew hired private jets for his consulting business. He said that he flew 1 person from an airport in the Chicago suburbs to Arkansas, where they picked up 2 more people. From there they flew the 3 to the Seattle area. Total cost: $65,000.000. This did not include a return trip for the 3 original passengers (although the jet did have to ‘deadhead” back to the Chicago suburbs).
        Around this same time, I recall a comedian (Chris rock?) saying that it cost $100,000.00 to lease a private jet to fly from NY to LA.

  3. These are good questions to be asking and it has been a long ongoing journey in my own life in terms of how I perceive wealth and Christianity. In my teen years which coincided with the 2000s, I grew up in Sydney and people were always ready to make me aware that Hillsong for example preached a gospel of prosperity and should be avoided because of it (although it was all right to sing their songs). In 2008 I attended a ministry school at a large church in the States for a year. Although I loved it and it was a fantastic experience for me, I must admit that as an Australian Christian it was a massive hurdle to understand their approach to the money issue. By the end though I was able to understand it a little better and I was also able to distinguish between several important variations of what in Aussieland would be lumped together and demonised as a prosperity gospel or teaching. The essence of what I learned was that to make poverty the ideal for every Christian is essentially a selfish posture which ignores the practicalities of the way the world works and also the calling on certain people’s lives (obviously there is a dangerous counterpart to this which says every Christian should be rich). Some people in the kingdom whose call it has been to generate wealth have been restricted by immature or reactionary beliefs surrounding money by their churches. I personally feel there needs to be growth on both ends of the spectrum though; those who believe that the wise use of wealth is a means by which God can bring economic transformation in a broken world need to be aware of the image that they promote when they invest in personal luxury, despite the fact that they are probably giving more to charity than Joe down the road who criticises them.

  4. Not picking on him, but I thought Rick Warren had some problems – Ego or such, and probably slightly controversial in other areas. We all, particularly men I would imagine, are prone to human – old nature problems, greed, sex, self importance etc. (what happened to Promise Keepers?). Personally, I have certainly been more than a jerk – and thus required a divorce… I can’t help but wonder if I was younger now with the internet, drones etc. would I even be worse than I was when I was young, even when older, 60’s and older, we must still be on guard and be careful of temptations and actions – particularly on things we think we have conquered so we don’t guard against. Some of my favorite USA Pastors have admitted to speeding – a little thing, but embarrassing to explain to Police, and what if they speeding caused a death?. Yield not to temptation!

    1. Liked your nod to speeding, my dad met his Lord later in life. Jesus Love for my father and 12 step done as discipleship stopped his drinking and betting. He believed that without Gods strength he would return to his brokenness. So he had safety wires in his life. One of them was speeding, staying under the speed limit was the goal, Not to win favour with God, he believed he was blessed beyond words, but to remind himself that any beachhead he gave satan or his weakness was one too many.
      In terms of this topic I thought it might be useful. Do you know your own weaknesses and triggers and do you guard agains them, so as to not damage your walk with God!?

  5. Mike, thank you for these thoughts and comments. I do think it is important to note that this kind of wealth, consumerism, and spending represents probably less than 1% of pastors. I am a pastor of a small church in a small denomination. While there are a handful of mega-church pastors that make a significant income the majority are living on meager incomes doing their best to serve the church. Quite frankly there are probably more pastors who still live close to what you described from years back than there are pastors driving beemers.

    1. Be that as it may, Mr Hybels is currently in the news and I’m questioning whether pastors of his ilk should have jets and yachts.

    2. Yesyes

  6. I am wondering if Hyles has responded to those accusations or are you just taking the woman’s word for it? You mentioned OReilly which I know has denied the claims against him. This seemed like a irresponsible hit piece to me if you are only taking the accusations of women as absolute truth. I am of the belief that no married man should be spending time alone with another woman.

    1. You’re doubting the various women who have made allegations against Mr Hybels?

      1. I’m probably not doubting those women, but rightly or wrongly, I am not convinced of claims against O’Reilly, As a Male Nurse, as I would be as a Male TV commentator, or even as a Pastor or School teacher, the innocent until proven guilty does not apply now a days (especially when you can extract a lot of money) – at least to the media if not the courts. AS I have suggested, men are prone to bad decisions at times, but, on the other hand, false accusations can also be used as a tool to destroy someone you do not like. I am not a Hybel fan (though know little about him), but we should not leave ourselves in a position that can be questioned (even though the media questioned the fact that Mike Pence would not dine with another women without his wife present!)

      2. I have not heard various accusations only the one in the article. But no I do not believe an accusation just because the accuser is female.

        1. I think it’s easy enough for you to Google, Kendra. There are a number of women who’ve made multiple accusations.

  7. I’m questioning if a pastor should own a church. His riches are not the point. How he got them is.

  8. “And yet, has something been lost in this move away from austerity and frugality in the ministry?”

    Yes! Absolutely.

    Ministry is a privilege not a right or entitlement. It is a stewardship and no pastor should take advantage of his position to lord it over anyone with his power.

  9. Seems simple….humility, love& respect. First & Always.

    God’s Blessings of $ & authority can have the power to make one forget.

    WWJD IS THE TEST FOR EVERYONE FOR ALL OF OUR WALKS IN LIFE.

  10. I would be curious to know who pushed the issue for Moe Girkins to have her ill husband travel separate? It astonished me that to get a contract the woman would basically leave her ill husband to fend for himself. If Hybels pressured her to agree to this arrangement (perhaps I have missed something) while knowing the husband’s situation, it shows a lack of Christian kindness and charity to not insist that the man fly with them. This situation with Girkins places her in a bad light for sure and very probably Hybels.

  11. Good question, Inappropriate example. Yup from my birds eye view he needed to respond bettter to the women’s accusations. I agree they deserve a proper hearing no matter how big a personality is that’s being accused He’s admitted he was too defensive. Very much looks like there has been a journey of wrestling with ego and the blind spots and entitlement that he has gone on a journey on. But not knowing the man, and the fact that all accusations are in a certain realm where there is room for not-knowing how much of this was ego, naivety, struggles with temptation etc from the outside, you are quick to throw in ‘lust’ and ‘greed’ and tie him to ministers who have prosperity at the core of their message. In my opinion you’ve bought in, for a moment at least, into our culture which teaches that famous people are fair game we can condemn carelessly. But that’s just lil ol’ me. I’d be more careful.

    1. To be fair, some of the allegations are awful crossings of boundaries and it sounds like in recent days the church and hybels are committing to working through the allegations in a way where they are appropriately worked through. There is sin to be worked out and repented of.

  12. This is an article that could become a sermon series. It’s important to put everything into biblical perspective. How does God instruct us to be stewards of what HE has placed in our trust? We must always remember, The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1). As pastors or anyone who receives a salary from the generosity and sacrificial giving of others, we must live with that in mind. Followers of Christ should live as light and salt. A life of excess never draws people to Christ. Far too many believers have taken their eyes off who should be their first love, and that is Jesus. A great reminder can be infused into our hearts by reading Luke 12:33-48. Thanks brother for writing on a topic that is uncomfortable but necessary.

  13. I totally get how challenging this topic is. It is also very subjective. Any Christian living in America compared to the rest of the world is so well off. Here is a perspective. The parable of the wheat and the tares. Jesus was asked should we weed out the tares that are growing among the wheat? Jesus said no, leave them grow together. If you weed out the tares you may pull out some of the wheat. Allow them to grow together ” I will” separate them later. He said “I will”. The message is not for us to do the weeding. Jesus will do that. It is also good to remember that all of us were “tares” among the wheat and than something beautiful happened; we got grafted in. I am not sure why we feel so proud about pointing out all the faults of so many around us. I am not sure what the balance is but I think we should be a bit careful.

  14. Great thoughts to ponder. I attended WCCC for a long time before leaving the area, way back to the start in the movie theatre. This man has done great work for the Kingdom. He is a hard driving type A, “my way or the highway”, kind of guy. This is his wiring, part of what has made him so impactful.

    “Why worry about the speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” Yes, he is held to a higher standard due to his position, but this verse helps us keep things in perspective.

    Church governance has an equal share of responsibility for not providing the needed guide rails as this ministry took off. It’s easier to focus on the leader and throw him under the bus. WillowCreek will learn and be better from this.

  15. I don’t know about the allegations and am not commenting on those.
    However, Bill’s lifestyle is far from excessive. $95K a year for a family income is probably not even in the top 35% of his own church members. The boat is a sail boat…not a yacht. Sailing is a huge passion of his and I’m sure he has sacrificed a lot of other personal luxuries to be able to enjoy sailing. I don’t know about his book income, but he has written tons of books and is always working. I believe that income from his books, which he has labored greatly, is between him and God how he should handle his stewardardship of that income. I have always known Bill as extremely approachable, humble, loving, and very self aware. I have personally seen him acknowledge wrong and demonstrate real change and humility. In no way do I agree his wealth or success is the #1 factor contributing to any in appropriate behavior. If he has acted wrongly, it is simply because he is a fallen, sinful human being, as are we all.

    1. Nicely stated Stacy. You are spot on.

    2. Yep! I agree. This has nothing to do with money, It is purely power and sin.
      I implore Bill to step forward, practice what he preached (I attend Willow) and repent. Most of the allegations are pure flirting but some are way beyond that and if he is to reconcile with what he says he believes, he must step forward and ask forgiveness from the women, his wife and family, his church and God. Man up Bill, do what is right before Willow is destroyed by your actions.

    3. Thank you Stacy well said

  16. Mr. Frost, I suggest that you verify your facts before publishing articles. While I agree with the main point of your article, your errors are significant and misleading.

  17. Hi, Mike – In doing some research on this sordid topic, I came across this article of yours. I very much appreciate your heart and attitude which shines through in this short treatise. Thank you for some grace and love in this context! Blessings.

    (I am currently the editor-in-chief of the website http://www.conservativetruth.org)

    1. I went to Willow Creek for 22 years, I do remember him talking about his boat. I dont know if he called it a yacht. I didn’t know you could do dishes on a sailboat? Sarcasm.

  18. Scripture is clear. Satan is for real and does own the world.
    John 12:31
    Now is the Judgement of the world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out,”

    Now that man has figured out the formula of how to build a mega church and market it. Satan has hi-jacked the formula and is now slowly navigating his evil ways to deceive,trick and make believers fall to many temptatations.

    The modern day church is open season for Satan’s attacks. The Jonny Carson ministries of today usually do not end well. More will fall. Stay tuned.

  19. Private jets are a luxury at any size, but the best ones can be especially fabulous. Here’s a look at the most expensive private jet in the world.

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