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John Stackhouse: The Seven Deadly Signs


John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “The Seven Deadly Signs” Christianity Today (June 12, 2000), Pages 54-57.

What is the mark of success? What is the sign of failure? In this article by John Stackhouse, we are given seven specific statements to measure if our business, ministry, or family is in danger of financial indiscretion.

Stackhouse challenges us to take sin seriously when it comes to financial matters. “None of us plans to deceive and cheat and steal. We intend to do the right thing all the time. It’s only when the truth becomes uncomfortable, inconvenient, or even dangerous that we are tempted to lie, and manipulate, and cover up” (p. 55). Life has a way of messing with our theology and principles, though. Temptations are little things that are before us everyday. If we think we are immune, we deceive ourselves.

The seven warning signs that Stackhouse gives us are: 1) You’d rather not have to talk about a financial matter. Disclosure and openness with supporters is the only path of truth for an organization. At home, financial privacy can lead to secrecy, and “secrecy shuts our the light of another’s loving counsel” (p. 56). 2) It’s been a while since someone has said no to you or told you that your idea is bad. Stackhouse says that unless you are surrounded by yes-men or are always right, this is a sign that you have enclosed yourself in darkness such that even those closest to you cannot breach it with light. Unquestioned authority without checks and balances is a setup for abuse. If dissent cannot be heard without reprisal, whether at home or in a corporation, the organization is sick and needs graceful intervention. 3) You find yourself paying unhealthy attention to “competition.” Envy is a serious thing. Stackhouse says, “We all have needy egos, and we are prone to sin in order to satisfy the demands of those egos. We each need someone in our lives who will help us admit to the evil strategies we follow in order to advance our own interests at the expense of others” (p. 56). Certainly in our day and age there is a need for mentors and accountability. 4) There’s no one on your leadership team who can provide expert advice on thorny issues. Street savvy entrepreneurs and financiers may make great board members, but only if balanced out with the resident theologian or ethicist. If there is no one to point you back to Jesus and his call on your organization, you may be tempted to make decisions for the wrong reasons. Doing things right costs something. 5) You have an uneasy feeling about a recent financial matter or decision. Perhaps our bodies are signaling us that there is something wrong spiritually. 6) Your organization is under financial stress and you are finding it hard to pay your bills. One thing institutions tend to never consider is that their usefulness to the body of Christ may be over and that need to disband. “Financial struggles are often tests of faith and shapers of character. … But unless we believe our organizations should go on forever, there must come a terminus sooner or later. The decline of financial support may be one way in which the body of Christ is communicating God’s will for our ministry: scale down, or even stop work. Are you transparent to this possibility and seeking more light on the matter?” (p. 57). 7) You have apprehensions about someone else’s financial decision, but you cannot obtain reliable information to evaluate this decision. Stackhouse says that the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals has recently completed a major investigation of American evangelical use and abuse of money. One of the findings of this study is that many institutions have been governed by people (elders, trustees, presidents, etc.) who were kept in the dark by defensive or even deliberately deceptive executives or pastors. There may also be a misleading of contributors. “In short, some evangelical homes are run as if Mom and Dad are never wrong and can never properly be challenged by the children. Even worse, some are run as if only one parent is infallible and cannot be corrected even by the spouse. Some churches are run as if the senior pastor or board chair alone should have all the facts and therefore make all the final decisions. Some Christian businesses and nonprofit ministries are run as if the leaders are omnicompetent and could never make a mistake—innocent or otherwise—and they are entirely sanctified and thus would never sin against anyone. So structurally there is little accountability for those leaders, even less protection of employees, and no real openness to dissent” (p. 57).

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Category: Living the Faith, Winter 2001

About the Author: Raul L. Mock is one of the founders and directors of the Pneuma Foundation and editor of The Pneuma Review. Raul has been part of an Evangelical publishing ministry since 1996, working with Information Services and Supply Chain Management for more than two decades. He and his wife, Erin, have a daughter and twin boys and live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. LinkedIn

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