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When Pastors Go Bad

Some thoughts on the pastor who skipped a tip and started an Internet firestorm.

You've probably read or heard about the No-tipping Pastor story by now. If not, it's fairly simple: a pastor goes into a local Applebee's with a large party. Because they have over eight people, an automatic 18% gratuity is added to each patron's bill. The spendthrift pastor scratches out the automatic tip, adds "an emphatic zero" on the additional tip line, and scrawls the words, "I give God 10%; why do you get 18?" on the ticket before signing "Pastor" above her name.

The waitress borrowed the phone of co-worker Chelsea Welch, took a picture of the receipt, and posted it to Reddit. It went viral, ending up on Yahoo!'s news crawl.

I read that story yesterday, and was offended by the pastor's behavior. It's hard enough getting respect as a member of the clergy these days; having one of our own spit on the brand doesn't really help.

But the story gets even worse.

Chances are you've heard that the offending cheapskate, Pastor Alois Bell, from Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries, compounded her stingy error by calling the Applebee's and complaining about the receipt being posted. The manager of Applebee's apologized to Pastor Bell for violating her right to privacy and fired Chelsea Welch.

That's right: Chelsea, who did nothing other than loan a co-worker her phone, got sacked.

God bless America.

Today, this story is all over the internet. People are taking sides, and Bell now claims that she left a six dollar cash tip on the table. And in the link above, she says the automatic gratuity was charged to her card anyway. To add just a dash more bizarro to the story, when you Google her church, you get a link to this website, and all you see is a black background with Luke 6:38 quoted right next to the picture that got Ms. Welch fired.

The site might be a fake, something put together in this cynical and ironic internet age to jab at the faux paus of the religious. That wouldn't surprise me. Neither would it stun me for the site to be 100% authentic and utterly tone-deaf. Quite frankly, religious folks do stupid stuff like this all the time.

This story irked me, because after I read it on Yahoo! there were immediate links to it on my Facebook wall. Some were Christians lamenting the story; others were atheists asking if this was what Jesus would do. As a pastor, it just bothered me to no end that I felt on the defensive about my calling and vocation, even though no one suggested a correlation. In fact, most people just jumped on the "Christians are crappy tippers in general" bandwagon, and, after polling my Facebook friends, I had several who responded that during their time as servers, they hated Sunday shifts because the Christians who came in after church were routinely the worst tippers.

I know I have seen my fair share of the church crowd horribly mistreat servers by berating them, demanding excessive attention, and just in general being really, really hard to please. Seeing that kind of behavior often enough is what sparked my wife and I to make it a principle that, when dining out, the server gets 20% from us. Period.

And that's 20% in money, not in Gospel tracts or special "prayer of blessings". We actually give them money for their labor, even if it's not the great. Because you never know why a server is having an off-night; it could be that they're overworked, or stressed, or worried about things at home. My cousin worked as a waitress at a local Buffalo's that we visit from time to time, and I can tell you that when you see the waitstaff as people who have lives, the fact that they don't get the sweet tea to you within thirty-five seconds isn't that big a deal.

Sure, I have my moments where I feel entitled. I have rolled my eyes, or let out a huffy sigh of displeasure at the fact that my chicken sandwich, meticulously ordered with medium buffalo sauce, no lettuce, no tomato, no mayonaise, french fries that are hot and crispy, with the bleu-cheese dressing on the side and swiss cheese added to the sandwich for a tangy contrast, came with the buffalo sauce on the side and the bleu-cheese dressing on the bun. I have my moments when I'm in the mood to be pampered, and I unfairly expect a waiter or waitress to make me temporarily feel like the Earl of Fife. I think we all do.

And I've certainly had instances when the service was so horrific that I dropped the tip to 15%, but that's usually the nuclear option, reserved for instances such as when the waitperson looks at me after I ask for a refill and tells me to "quit drinking so much. I've got stuff to do."

But to shaft someone on the gratuity, and then not only leave a snarky, unkind note, but sign the note with a flourished "Pastor"?

Never crossed my mind, and here's why: I'm supposed to set an example in action and speech to the people around me (see  Timothy 4:12, 16). I don't have to be perfect, but when I do make a mistake I have to own up to it, confess it, and model repentance. That means that I have to walk in the Spirit of Christ, with humility and accountability.

It also means I don't call Applebee's and complain that my error in judgment turned into an international embarrassment that I want erased, and now. I don't get someone fired for my mistake. I take the heat, make it a point to adhere closer to the teachings of my Savior, and quietly spend the rest of my days being a blessing to those that serve me food.

Because if anyone on the planet should understand that the "worker is worth his wages" it's a pastor (Matthew 10:10).

Believe it or not, the title pastor doesn't automatically mean the person carrying the title is good. Bad pastors abound. And the cure for them is the same as it is for everyone else: conviction, confession, repentance.

Here's hoping Pastor Bell keeps that in mind the next time she decides to head out for a bite.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tammy Osier February 04, 2013 at 11:18 AM
10% was old testament. In the NT, it says to give what you have decided in you heart (hopefully your heart is wide open if you are walking the way you're supposed to be). My pastors have given well over 50% of their income some years. They qualified for a 150,000 home but bought one for 80,000 instead so that they could give more. I've seen them pay the rent of people until they got on their feet etc... Some do what they are supposed to do. It's unfortunate that some don't and they get all the press. It's not news when a pastor actually acts like one.
Mike_Midtown February 04, 2013 at 11:56 AM
When one's income is tax free, it is much easier to give, except when in a restaurant I suppose.
Brian Crawford February 04, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Well done Jason. And I agree wholeheartedly with your tipping philosophy. I was once a stingy tipper myself but over the years I've had a change of heart. Servers are notoriously underpaid and many have their tips routinely stolen by unscrupulous employers. I now routinely tip 20% and usually add a dollar or two to that for good measure. I do the same for delivery and buffet servers. I'll never miss the few dollars extra in the grand scheme of things if I can afford to eat out in the first place. I've never encountered a server who wasn't appreciative and I get a good deal of joy in knowing I've brightened someone's day. Not only that but if I'm a regular customer I've found that the front end staff know who the best tippers are and that usually guarantees a higher level of service. The bottom line is, if you can't afford to tip well then don't do table service. There are plenty of dining options out there for penny-pinchers.
Tammy Osier February 04, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Not to mention, Brian, that that server will remember you the next time and you will continue to receive good service. It's a win / win situation all the way around.
Sharon Swanepoel February 04, 2013 at 11:55 PM
My two youngest children worked in restaurants growing up so we're very sympathetic toward how much they depend on those tips for an income. I agree with you 100 percent on the service benefits too Tammy. I don't think we've ever tipped under 20 or 25 percent and the service when you go back makes it worthwhile too.

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