Recently a Greenville, South Carolina pastor gave his wife a gift that caused quite a stir on the internet. Admittedly, it was a VERY nice gift – a new Lamborghini Urus (similar to the picture above). The car company describes it as a “Super Sport Utility Vehicle” a “super sports car soul and the functionality typical for an SUV.” The price tag is over $200,000 depending on how the car is equipped.
Now, I don’t have time to do in-depth research on John Gray, but here is some information I discovered to provide some context. Gray is pastor of Relentless Church, a megachurch in Greenville. According to reports, 8,000 to 10,000 people attend Relentless each week. The church is multi-cultural in both its membership and its staff.
Before starting Relentless, Gray served in various church roles to youth and young adults. He also served as an associate pastor to Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church in Houston. He and his wife have a TV show on Oprah Winfrey’s network that will be going into its fourth season. In addition, Gray has written two books and is working on a third. He has appeared on the Fox News segment called “The Preachers.” Pastor Gray met with President Donald Trump earlier this year to discuss prison reform, a decision for which he received harsh criticism from some.
John Gray is not an obscure small town preacher. He is winsome, humorous, charismatic, intelligent, hard-working, and undoubtedly an effective communicator. He is not perfect. He’s made his share of mistakes, and readily admits it. Gray gives every indication of being a devoted husband and father. He also appears to genuinely care about people. I provide this background (brief as it is) to provide context and to show you that John Gray is an influential preacher and pastor who has drawn national attention for his work.
My intent with this post is not to exonerate or condemn Pastor John Gray for giving his wife a car that costs four times the median American household income. Instead, I would like to provide some thoughts on this action from three perspectives – as a husband, as a Christian, and as a pastor.
As a husband…
I watched Pastor Gray’s video explanation of his purchase. He made it clear (and there’s no reason to assume otherwise) that he did not spend any of the church’s funds to purchase the car. He also clarified that he did not buy the car outright but made a downpayment. His stated motivation was his love and devotion to his wife and his appreciation for her support and encouragement. He stated that he wanted to give her the very best he was able to give because she had given her best to him.
So, as a husband, I do understand him wanting to bless his wife. I think most husbands look for ways they can express their love and appreciation to the woman they married. Okay, not everyone can afford to give so lavishly, but not every husband has extra income from a TV show or book sales to bolster his bottom line.
Certainly, I cannot express my gratitude for my wife in the same way that John Gray did for his, but I do try to treat her as well as I can. Other Christian men are able to do more and better. Believe it or not, there’s not rulebook for this. So how much should I spend to show my devotion to my wife?
If I took my wife out to a nice steak dinner, most people would understand. If I took her on a vacation to the beach, the mountains, the Caribbean, or even to Italy, again, most people would be okay with that. If I presented her with a new Kia, Toyota, or Buick, there may be some who judged me silently, but most would appreciate the gesture. Where is the line between an acceptable gift for one’s spouse and one that is over-the-top extravagant?
Gray’s argument is that he gave the gift as a husband and not as a pastor. I have some empathy for that viewpoint, but the reality is more complex. I’ll address the pastor issue a bit more later in this post, but, for now, let me just say that in a perfect world spouses should be able to express their love for one another in tangible ways without criticism or condemnation. In the real world, however, giving expensive gifts to a wife or husband will inevitably generate envy in some, anger in others, and outrage in still others. In other words, giving expensive gifts to your spouse may come at a higher price that the one printed on the receipt.
As a Christian…
I asked previously where the line is between what is extravagant and what is acceptable when it comes to gifts from pastor to spouse. The truth is, the line is relative. Each Christian would likely draw it in a different place depending on their circumstances, their level of spiritual maturity, their personal experiences, and how they choose to live our their own lives as followers of Jesus.
Here’s an experiment. As a Christian, if your pastor were to give his wife (or her husband, as the case may be) one of the following as a gift for their anniversary or as a birthday or Christmas present, where would you draw the line between acceptable and extravagant?
Oven mitt – gold cross necklace – Apple iPad – oven – diamond earrings – Caribbean cruise – ski trip to Aspen – two-week trip to Europe – Honda Accord – remodeled kitchen or bathroom – both a remodeled kitchen and bathroom – Cadillac Escalade with all the bells and whistles – vacation home in the North Carolina mountains – Lamborghini Urus – waterfront vacation home at Panama City Beach.* Depending on who you are and what your circumstances and experiences are, you might draw the line after oven mitt, or you might argue that there should be no line at all.
Let’s face it, we can be pretty good at making judgment calls in the lives of other believers. The fact that my wife and I just returned from attending a wedding in Puerto Rico having stayed in a nice hotel and eaten at pretty good restaurants may have caused some people to declare (at least inwardly) that we were extravagant, wasteful, and perhaps even insensitive toward those who could not afford such a trip.
There are a lot of blessings in being a pastor, but sometimes it is a fishbowl existence. People may judge me as harshly for my decisions on spending as some judge John Gray or Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer (fill in the blank with your favorite target). We will also have to give an answer before the Lord as to how we used the resources that He entrusted to us.
From my perspective as a Christian, just one of the greater flock, Gray’s gift of a Lamborghini to his wife is a bit tough to swallow. Just because he can afford to give such a gift doesn’t mean it’s the wisest or best thing to do. As a Christian, I understand that pastors are viewed differently and, therefore, may face ridicule for the decisions they make about money and lots of other things. He cannot allow his life to be dictated by the critics, but he cannot brush aside all criticisms as if they have no merit.
I haven’t read any of John Grays books, watched any of his TV shows, or listened to him preach, so I only have a small grasp of his view of prosperity and spending, but church members should expect their leaders to model good stewardship. Christians should also be careful not to become resentful or envious of others or that they do not become harshly judgmental toward another. Let’s not allow another’s visible extravagance to lead us into invisible (yet not less real) sin.
As a pastor…
As a pastor, would I make the same decision that Pastor Gray made? My initial answer is “no,” and here’s why –
Number 1 – I understand that I live in a fishbowl. My decisions and actions do have an impact on believers and non-believers. Although I cannot let my life be dictated by the opinions of others, I cannot be deaf toward those opinions or the potential fall out from my choices.
Number 2 – As a pastor, the church does (and in many ways should) look to me to set the pace. If I am asking them to tithe, then I should be a tither. If I am asking them to witness, then I should be witnessing. If I am asking them to serve in the community, they should see me serving the community. I won’t always be the perfect example, but I should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Follow me as I follow Jesus.”
Number 3 – As part of modeling the Christian life, people should be able to see that I love and appreciate my wife in my words and actions. The resources which God provides me are not only to be used to expand the Kingdom and help those in need; I am also expected to care for my family. I want to do the best for my children and my wife. What that best looks like will be different for each person.
Number 4 – I have learned that not everything I do for my family is for public consumption. I do need to praise my wife and children publicly, but I may not want to post every gift I give them on Facebook or Instagram. A little wisdom in this area goes a long way.
Number 5 – I will have to give an account to God. I am an owner of nothing but a steward of everything in my life. People have opinions, but ultimately the opinion that matters is God’s. That is true for me. It’s true for John Gray. It’s true for you.
I’m not sure if this lengthy post helps anyone process the story of John Gray’s gift to his wife, but I somehow felt compelled to write it. Maybe it is just my own way of processing this unusual gift. I don’t want to sit in judgment on anyone, but I realize that his actions (and mine) will most certainly invite judgment. It’s inevitable in this world.
So… let us be wise with our money.
Let us be generous in our giving (money, gifts, and otherwise).
Let us be faithful in our stewardship.
Let us be grateful for and good to our families
Let us be gracious toward others, even if we do not agree with their decisions.
And let us live in such a way that delights the heart of God and grows His Kingdom.
Here is a link to the video of John Gray’s response to the criticism over his gift to his wife – https://youtu.be/sodyRRM4s3g
* Please note that I did not price out all these options, so if something is out of order, I trust you’ll rearrange it to your liking. 🙂