Attracting A Crowd

A couple of writings have caught my attention recently. Both concerned preachers and gathering a crowd. The Bible says, “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). These words well describe what I read in these two writings.

Wow and Entertain Us

In the religion section of the Marshall News Messenger, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2005 – there appeared a story entitled, “Falling by the Wayside?” It was written by AP religion writer Rachel Zoll. This story was about how increasingly difficult it has become to draw a crowd to a religious event in this day and age. Traditional approaches do no longer seem to be working.

However, the story went on to spotlight some things which appeared to be working. It mentioned a Luis Palau of Portland, Oregon. He has seen an increase in attendance at his festivals.  What has he done? He’s “brought in Christian rock bands and extreme sports like skateboarding and BMX riding, and put up a food court in the middle of all the activity.”   T.D. Jakes, the head of the Potter’s House, a 30,000 member church in Dallas, Texas was also spotlighted. The story said, “Each year, Jakes holds Megafest, a four-day gathering that regularly draws more than 100,000 people, that has included a comedy jam, a fashion show, exercise and sports programs and other family entertainment.”

What these men are wittingly or unwittingly saying is that the Gospel is not enough. We should lure people to us with a carnival, X-games, or State Fair-type atmosphere and then preach to them a little.

Question: When did Jesus or the Apostles ever use such bait and switch tactics? Did Jesus ever draw the people by holding a boat-rowing contest on Galilee, or a fishing seminar by Peter, James, John and Andrew?

There is no authority for such tactics. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).   Paul himself said, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We are to sow the seed. When the pure seed falls on a good and honest heart, it will produce a Christian. This is where the power is and there is no authority to attract anyone by any other means.

Make Us Feel Good

In the August, 2005 issue of Texas Monthly, William Martin had a feature on Joel Osteen, in fact it was the cover story. The story was entitled “And on the Eighth Day God Created Joel Osteen” or “Prime Minister.” Osteen preaches in Houston at the Lakewood Church, a church of 30,000 members and a 60 million dollar contribution per year.

What is his appeal? Why can he attract so many to church services? He makes people feel good about themselves.

(1) They tell folks that God wants to enrich them. Joel’s wife, Victoria, said in the interview, “If you look through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, every person who served Him faithfully, God blessed financially.” The writer goes on to say, “When I asked her about… Jeremiah who spent his time at the bottom of a well and died in captivity and Stephen who was martyred and Paul who made tents to support his missionary activities, she backed up a bit, noting that she had been thinking mainly about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Folks, if the Gospel of health and wealth is true – then, why does one read of the poor widow casting in all the had? – And, shouldn’t Jesus and the Apostles have been extremely wealthy men, the wealthiest the world has ever known?

(2) He preaches a message which does not produce guilty feelings. Joel says, “When I talk about sin, I may call it ‘making bad choices.’ People get so used to being beat over the head. I don’t come from that side. I come from the encouraging side.”

Consider how Peter preached: “God hath made this same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). It is at this point they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). In his next recorded sermon he told the audience, “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of Life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).

Jesus and John preached the same: John said, “the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). He told them, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Jesus said, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” (Matthew 23).

We are to proclaim both the goodness and severity of God (Romans 11:22). One wonders how many people attend church services but, never realize that they are in a lost condition or, what to do about this fact – due to preachers who don’t want to offend. They are sending them to hell blissfully ignorant of their true state before God!

(3) He is extremely non-judgmental. When he appeared on Larry King Live in late June, King asked him about the fate of Jews and Muslims, who “don’t accept Christ at all.” Joel replied, “I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know… I just think only God will judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all their religion. But I know they love God… I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know.” (Note: He’s since back-tracked to say, “Jesus is the only way to Heaven.” They posted this on their website after numerous complaints came into their office. Okay Joel, but does this mean that those who do not accept Jesus to be the Christ, confessing this fact and obeying Him, are lost?)

(4) He takes no position on controversial ethical subjects (such as abortion and homosexuality). He says, “I don’t know the answers, even on abortion. Somebody asked me what I think of stem-cell research. I had to say, “I don’t know.” I’ve heard people talk about it both ways. I don’t think a homosexual lifestyle is God’s best way, but I’m not going to tell [homosexuals] they can’t come to our church. I’m going to be wide open for them.”

Joel, I too welcome the homosexual to attend with us, but, I will teach him the truth about his lifestyle, will you? I’ll do it in love, but I’ll do it. I will not play the role of a politician avoiding taking a controversial position, I’ll keep back nothing profitable (Acts 20:20, 27). By the way, homosexuality isn’t God’s way at all.

Easy on the Scriptures please, Something New

The same writer, William Martin, had much to say about the content of Osteen’s sermons.

(1) His sermons are more positive thinking than an actual study of a Bible text or a Bible look at a given subject. Several times the writer pointed out how little scripture was used. For instance, “Joel readily acknowledges that he is not an exegetical preacher who begins with a passage of Scripture and expounds upon its meaning for his congregation.”  He mentions a 1999 Easter sermon where Joel “told a series of amusing stories about his family, even admitting that they had little to do with the drama of resurrection.” The writer says Joel’s sermon titles are, “Tony Robbins-style titles such as ‘Developing Your Potential,’ ‘Persistence and Determination,’ ‘Your Life Follows Your Thoughts,’ and ‘Enlarge Your Vision.” Then consider these words, “When Joel occasionally quotes a Bible verse during a sermon, a banner at the bottom of the television screen identifies it and displays the critical part of the text. Much more frequently, that space advertises future tour stops or reminds people that Your Best Life Now and its companion text, Your Best Life Now Journal, are now on sale.” Moreover, the writer seemed to see the context being abused when he wrote, “Joel illustrated his points with simple stories of people he had known or read about, and occasionally he cited a scripture whose words seem to fit whether or not the author had that application in mind.”

Folks, why is it that so many are bored with the plain message of the Gospel? They want to hear interesting stories. I had one man tell me my sermons were too filled with Bible, and not enough me! I heard a story of a man who watched folks nearly go to sleep as he preached from the scriptures. But, when he told a story about his dog – everyone took interest.

A Gospel preacher’s responsibility is not to be an entertainer, but to preach the Word.   His duty is to explain what the original intent of the passage meant for those to whom it was written, and then to show how to apply the teaching to our lives today. His job is to tell man what they need to hear to be saved and grow in the Christian walk.

(2) Joel de-emphasizes doctrine. He said, “I know doctrine is good. We need doctrine, but I think the average person is not looking for doctrine.”

Good people, to preach doctrine is the same as preaching the word (2 Timothy 4:2-3). Jesus taught doctrine (Matthew 7:28; Matthew 22:33). Jesus warned about false doctrine (Matt. 15:9; Matt. 16:12). Paul told Titus, “Speak thou the things which becometh sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).

(3) Joel justifies his scant use of scripture by appealing to how Jesus taught in parables. Jesus, in the parables, made moral points without referring to scripture thus, he can do the same.

We should understand, first, that the typical New Testament sermon was saturated with references to scripture. Read Acts 2, 7 or 13 and take note how many Old Testament quotations and references there are. Read the books of Romans, Hebrews, or Revelation and notice how filled full they are with Old Testament references and quotations.

But, what about Jesus? Jesus continually made reference to scripture saying “it is written” (Matthew 4:4,7,10; 11:10; 21:13; 26:24,31), “have ye not read” (Matthew 13:3,5; 19:4; 22:31), “ye do err not knowing the scriptures” (Matthew 22:29). It has been calculated that nearly 10% of His words recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are references or quotations of scripture. What about the parables? It should be understood that Jesus was speaking scripture. He was inspired (the same would hold true of Paul on Mars Hill, etc). All that He said in His teachings was from God (John 7:16; 14:10,24. Such is not the case with preachers today. So, while we may expound and illustrate to clarify, our teachings must come from the written word. It is to be grounded there. Paul said, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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