Preachers, Pay Your Debts

Connie W. Adams
Louisville, Kentucky

Not long ago, a brother who runs a book and supply business asked me to help him draw up a letter appropriate to send to preachers and others who have bought books and other items which they do not pay for. This was not the first time I had heard complaints from brethren who run publishing businesses. Some preachers will buy books on credit, run up a big bill, and then suddenly begin to avoid the very business which extended to them such courtesy. They ignore statements, and sometimes will move leaving no forwarding address.

It has been a joke in the general world of business for a long time that preachers are poor credit risks. In fact, it is not just a joke. In nationwide surveys furnished to business establishments, their credit rating is near the bottom of the totem pole. A business man told me several years ago that when he first went into the furniture business, other business men warned him about extending credit to the three P's - plumbers, painters and preachers.

This is a sad state of affairs and causes religion in general to be regarded as a mask for hypocrisy. There are many cynics in modern society, and such conduct on the part of those who are supposed to be upright and to be teachers of good things, only serves to confirm their misgivings.

What saith the scriptures? Thieves will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9-11). "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth" (Eph. 4:28). "Lie not one to another" (Col. 3:9). When a man buys something, promises to pay for it, and then never does, he is a thief and a liar and shall receive the eternal reward of such. I don't care if he preaches every Sunday! "Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (2 Cor. 8:21).

For a number of years I have been associated with various papers and publishing businesses run by some of the brethren. No major paper can survive without selling services and supplies unless it is published by the very wealthy. That would let most all of my brethren out. Those in the publishing and book and supply business know well of what I write. Several years ago I had an agency with the Gospel Guardian Co. to sell books for them. They gave me a discount and I sold at retail price so that both of us made a profit-theoretically, that is. At one point in this arrangement, my bill got pretty high with the company due to the large number of books I had sold on the promise of different brethren that they would pay me as soon as they could. I trusted them for I thought they were honest and would keep their word. But when I did not get paid, the company did not either and they had bills to pay. It became necessary for me to pay up the bill out of my pocket, which I did because in reality I had created the debt, in good faith, you understand, but it was my responsibility nonetheless.

There are some reasons why preachers have trouble along this line.

(1) Many are inadequately, supported. Their income does not begin to meet the cost of living. Yet, they feel a need for books in their library. It is hard for a preacher to go into a book store and not buy two or three books, when he realizes how much he needs them in his work. I suppose you could call some of it "impulse buying." Regardless of how well or how poorly one is supported, it is dishonest to create a debt which one knows he cannot pay. Some brethren have been dishonest with themselves and the brethren where they work by agreeing to work for what they know in the beginning is inadequate support.

(2) Some are just poor managers. Regardless of how much some make, they are always in debt and close to disaster. They do not know how to save, or to be sparing. Whatever their eye beholds, they must have. Don't worry about the bill, yet! I believe there is as little business judgment manifested among preachers as in any segment of society.

(3) Some have high-minded families. There are some evidences of just plain envy on the part of some preachers' wives because the wives of some of the other brethren have more of this world's goods than they do. Some men are keenly sensitive to this reaction in their wives and in a rash moment, desiring to compensate, for this apparent inequity, go on a spending spree without regard for the family budget. Preachers need to know how to teach their children to sacrifice and that they cannot have everything their heart desires.

(4) Unexpected emergencies can ruin anyone. Sickness or accident can strike in any family. A man without "fringe benefits" may be ill prepared for such eventuality. Brethren ought to stand behind preachers in such times of crisis.

(5) Some just do not practice what they preach. Paul told Timothy to take "heed to thyself and to the doctrine" (I Tim., 4:16). "Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?" (Rom. 2:21). Have you ever preached a sermon on honesty? Does it apply to you, or are you exempt? There have been preachers who created debts all over town which they knew were beyond their ability when they created them. Then they decide to move, and the brethren for the first time come to realize they had been supporting a dishonest man. Some men dare not come back to the town from whence they have moved, in the daylight - they just might meet a creditor!

All of us have had to buy things on credit. We have all had times when our pay did not go as far as we hoped it would. Emergencies arise among the most upright of heart. An honest man can go to his creditor when such a situation arises, face him man to man and explain the circumstances and ask for time and promise to make payment as Soon as possible, and then keep his promise when that time comes. I was born and reared through childhood in the depression years of our country. Money was scarce and times were hard. I have gone with my father to face business men, perhaps to pay a dollar on a debt when the man needed $10 on account. But I never saw one who was not willing to be patient with an honest man who was doing the beat he could and who was willing to face his creditor and discuss the matter openly. They knew they would be paid and they were.

Preachers are always being asked by brethren in different places if they know of a man who can come and work with them. Others can do as they please, but I do not intend to recommend to brethren anywhere any preacher who is known to beat his debts, even with brethren who sell books. I have heard brethren in such businesses say the same thing. There are some brethren who are well known and exceedingly capable who are guilty of this dishonest behavior. If any of these should read these lines, don't get mad at me. Just pay your debts!

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 4, pp. 8-9
November 26, 1970