Volume 16 Issue 3
We are drawn toward things we admire. Consciously and unconsciously, we often emulate people and things that have captured our admiration. Sadly, we don’t always admire the best things or emulate the most righteous people. Consequently, the management of our affections and the control of our ambition is one of life’s major conflicts.
It is vital that we think about this human tendency in today’s postmodern neo-Pentecostal driven Christianity. We must be careful to monitor what we admire because we are likely drifting in that direction. For example, churches and ministers may be tempted to admire market-driven, prosperity, word of faith ministries without giving thought to what is lost or compromised in attempting to duplicate the popularity of these ministries. Allow me to explore one high-profile media ministry for the purpose of reflection.
Arguably, the most prominent religious leader of our time is T.D. Jakes, whose rise from obscurity to worldwide fame and personal fortune (reported to be more than $100 million) is nothing short of phenomenal. In 1992, he was a relatively unknown pastor in West Virginia. His success is not founded merely on his uncontested oratorical skill, but also on his entrepreneurial business acumen. His ministry is described by Shayne Lee in the new book, T.D. Jakes: Americas New Preacher.
Jakes quickly learned how to exploit commercial networks and inundate Christians with spiritual images on television, radio broadcast, the Internet, and Christian magazines to generate his buzz. Like movie stars and athletes, Jakes is the product of a technological age of mass communication that turns celebrities into valuable commodities Jakes is the prototype of the new multidimensional pastors who generate millions each year through the mass marketing of their spiritual gifts. A proud proponent of capitalism, he believes that all his talents and spiritual gifts are fair game for commercialization (pp. 186-187).
The point here is not to be critical of T.D. Jakes, but to make a broader point that churches and especially ministers should look before they leap into the swirling waters of modern media ministry, which often adopt commercialization as a paradigm of success. Perhaps we should ask, What exactly do these huge media ministries entail? For an example, Lee further notes that Jakes is, no longer classified as just a preacher (but) a motivational speaker (pg. 77).
It is also interesting to note the increasing secularization of Jakes ministry that has occurred concurrently with his success. Lee states: With this secular video series, Maximize the Moment Jakes was joining the ranks of internationally renowned motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins selling product through infomercials The year (2001) continued to be profitable as he released his third musical project The Storm is Over through his company Dexterity Sounds. Jakes continued to expand his entrepreneurial empire with laser-point precision by generating his own line of cards called Loose Your Spirit Messages of Faith and Inspiration with Mahogany Cards, a division of Hallmark (pg. 77).
Allow me to pose some questions that every minister and church should ask themselves. Are these market-driven ministries the will of God? Are they pleasing to the Holy Ghost? Should we emulate this form of ministry? It is obvious that some are interested in the success of such powerful preachers, and it is hard not to have at least some righteous envy of the large crowds and the huge revenue they generate. The danger I feel is that some accept these media ministers as mentors or examples. Others believe that Apostolics would be well served to have a media star-type preacher who could achieve this prominence. (John 12:43) This leads one to ask whether it would even be possible to have a successful ministry in this genre while remaining truly identified as Oneness. Given the present Trinitarian domination of the media atmosphere, I suspect that a red-hot One-God preachers program would suffer from severe camera failure.
Many new emerging forms of Christianity and attitudes are not being crossed-referenced with the Bibles doctrine or the Gospels central message of salvation. Worship is being modeled in Broadway and Hollywood style. Therapeutic preaching has replaced the proclaiming of the Gospel. If these trends continue, we risk admiring forms of evangelization and methods that are not from God at all. One might be tempted to say admiringly, Look what they are doing. Look at the crowds. It is so cool. However, Jesus might ask, What are they doing, indeed?
Old school would point out that the Apostles preached without fear or favor. They proclaimed Jesus as the only hope and called men to repentance commanding that they be baptized in Jesus Name. Never did they let their converts walk away without admonishing them in the Holy Ghost. Further, they did not mix their message with pop-culture and pop-psychology. (Remember, it did exist in their day: Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates all predated Jesus.)
I am not suggesting we never change our ministry or methods. In fact, wisdom may demand that we learn from the boldness of many modern-day ministries such as Jakes, even if we rightly reject them as a pattern. Certainly, they are not afraid to think big, and to act boldly. Such was the manner of the Apostles. We, too, must be bold and we must be fearless. However, we must remember the Apostles example of no compromise of the truth, even in the face of death.