What kind of car should a pastor drive?

October 13th, 2014

We were successful in being a one car family for eight years. But with a foster child added to the mix, it became more and more difficult to balance all of our schedules with only one car.

So after much research, we bought another car. I was pushing my wife to buy something "cheap" like a Kia Soul or a Honda Fit. Something small. Something "cute." Something inexpensive. But the real reason I was pushing cars like that was because they seemed more modest. Something church members would look at and say, "That's a car my pastor should be driving anyhow."

But that's not the kind of car we settled on.

My wife has been researching and dreaming about Mini Coopers for about a decade. We were finally in a financial place where we could make that happen. I was hesitant at first... that is, until I got to test drive one.

There was an uneasiness within me as I watched my wife and foster son zoom by me in the new volcanic orange Cooper as we were heading home.

Is anyone going to say anything?

I spent a majority of my life involved in the Korean immigrant United Methodist churches. And if I were still involved in a Korean church, I know someone would say something.

A friend of mine once commented that he did not appreciate his pastor purchasing an iPad because it's too much of a luxury for a pastor to afford on a pastor's salary. I nodded, subtly pushing my iPad and iPhone out of sight.

In one of the Korean churches I served, the car that the pastor bought almost turned into a scandal. This was a big church in an affluent part of town and the congregation (and their cars) reflected the affluence. There were Benzes, BMWs, Jaguars, Audis, and Range Rovers littered throughout the parking lot on Sunday mornings.

The car that started an uproar in this faith community? A Volvo. Many parishioners were upset that the pastor bought a Volvo.

"Are we paying the pastor too much if he can afford a Volvo?"
"Why didn't they just get a Hyundai — that's a modest car for a pastor?"
"A Volvo is too fancy for our pastor."

Look, I know nothing about cars but I didn't think a Volvo was a big deal. But in my Korean context, it seemed like pastors were not to be too invested in material possessions. Pastors were to live a humble life — just above the poverty line.

But in other contexts, the opposite might be true. I remember sharing this with a friend of mine and he was telling me that in his church (an African-American community of faith) the parishioners want their pastor to have the nicest of things possible. We were both in awe of each other's different experiences and contexts.

But all across the culture divide we often bristle when it seems like a Christian leader is building a mansion here on earth instead of storing treasures in heaven. There was an outcry on the blogosphere when it was discovered that a young megachurch pastor in North Carolina was building a 1.7 million dollar mansion with five bedrooms and seven and one-half baths in an exclusive neighborhood.

There seemingly exists a line, or sets of expectations about what kind of life a pastor should live and what a pastor should own.

So, what is too much? What kind of a car should a pastor drive?

When we got home, I got behind the wheel of the Cooper to drive along the coastline of Santa Barbara. I started wondering: Is this too much? Are people going to say anything? Are they going to be critical?

Then I remembered a conversation I'd had with a friend who is a pastor and also owns a Mini Cooper. It was part of my research. She urged me: "Get a Mini! It's like a vacation every time you drive it." I looked over and saw my wife beaming. I could hear my foster son in the back squealing, "Whoa! Whoa!" And I saw the sky being beautifully burned up by the sun setting over the ocean.

Those questions faded and were replaced by this overwhelming sense of just how much God has blessed me. If people are going to be critical over this decision, so be it. But behind that wheel, in that moment, it did feel like a vacation.

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