Got Jesus™?

bobblehead_jesus.jpgSharon Tubbs does a great job in today’s St. Petersburg Times of relating the play God’s Man in Texas to church-growth pressures faced by clergy across the nation.

The play is by David Rambo, a writer for CBS-TV’s CSI, and is inspired by Too Great a Temptation, a book by Joel Gregory that’s critical of the legendary pastor W.A. Criswell of First Baptist, Dallas.

Tubbs’ best detail is in describing Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church in Tampa:

At Without Walls, children worship in their own sanctuary, called the “Faith Fortress.” Ministers dress in costume as members of the “Bible Squad” to deliver the messages.

In the adult sanctuary, prerecorded announcements are broadcast on big screens like the evening news. Charisse Strawberry (wife of former baseball star Darryl) acts as the anchorwoman, articulating the week’s upcoming events. An outline of White’s sermon appears on a PowerPoint display as he speaks. Studies show that people typically have a four-minute attention span before they need a “commercial” or a new idea, so he tailors his messages to hit points quickly and move on.

He suggests that every pastor go to a secular concert to get tips on lighting and format.

“I don’t think the church competes with what the world is doing. I just think (some ministers) say, “It’s ministry, so if they come, they come.’ And that’s why a lot of churches are empty.”

The goal is to grow, to have an impact on the Tampa Bay area, he said. “The city is our church.”

So is this ministry or marketing?

“I believe everyone needs to believe in their product,” White said. “Well, what is my product? My product is Jesus.”

Some pastors — at least those who’ve never heard of No More Plastic Jesus — could be accused of treating Jesus as a “product.” But it’s a rare cleric who puts the words product and Jesus in the same sentence without a hint of embarrassment.

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  • Joseph

    “Is this ministry or marketing?”

    Actually, at one of the three biggest mega-churches here in Tulsa, they do have a “Director of Marketing”.

    Lord have mercy!

  • Eric Enlow

    Next thing you know some inauthentic con man will liken the Kingdom of God to a merchant seeking goodly pearls who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

    Thanks for exposing such rare and unorthodox misuse of a commericial metaphor to express a spiritual understanding!

    As to embarassment, I would certainly be embarassed to take something that someone else clearly intended as an analogy and to suggest that it was intended literally.

  • Cindy

    A bit off-topic, but the “Plastic Jesus” book title reminded me of

    Lord have mercy, indeed!

  • Michael D. Harmon

    I think you folks are all missing a huge opportunity. After all, the Jesus brand is recognized all around the world, and while some areas may not reach for their wallets, moneybags or purses automatically when branded merchandise is presented, there have to be ways to multiculti the merch for such regions. What is the diff between evangelization and marketing, anyway, except the product. You guys are so preindustrial about this. You’d think Mad Ave had never existed, or that New Coke wasn’t a success… oh, well, anyway, the church that doesn’t make itself sucker-friendly isn’t going anywhere. Er, sorry, SEEKER…..

  • Joseph

    So, did anybody give a donation to Church Without Walls International? ;) You can do so straight from the main web page. What an opportunity to “sow a seed”! — and you can help support Pastor White’s fancy coiffure.

  • Ken

    As a bit of background, prior to pastoring First Baptist, Dallas, Joel Gregory was pastor of Travis Baptist Avenue Church, itself a mega-church back in the 30s and 40s. Travis attained a membership of 6000 souls by 1950, at which time the charismatic pastor was gone, and the church stabilized. Gregory followed a long period of care-taker pastors and, as I understand it, rather revitalized the congregation, although I don’t think they grew numerically.

    After being called to First Baptist, Dallas, Gregory functioned as something of a co-adjutor to Criswell while the latter hung on to celebrate 50 years as pastor. Somewhere in there, Dr. Gregory was found to be having an affair, I believe with the church secretary. He subsequently divorced and left the ministry.

    There is much, no doubt, to criticize about W.A. Criswell. I have no interest in any criticisms Joel Gregory might levy, however. He should stay in the hole he dug for himself, perhaps in company with Cardinal Law.

  • Wooderson

    The first “Area of Interest” on the Church Without Walls website is (surprise!) Pastor Randy’s biography. Click on this and you’ll be treated to a 6 inch image of a smirking Pastor Randy holding the requisite opened bible (the busy pastor is preparing for next week’s 11 minute audio-visual presentation on Proverbs 16:18). If you can get past the strangely fascinating haircut you discover that Pastor Randy – er, that would be Dr. Randy A. White, thanks to an honorary doctorate in “Humane Letters” from an unnamed institution – has always had the “strong call of God on his life.” The call of God got so loud that Pastor Randy “rid himself of denominational restraints” to start his South Tampa Christian Centre with lovely wife Paula. Doubters are assured that Pastor Randy comes “armed with enthusiasm and determination” (and mousse) and that “this tenacious warrior set out to fulfill his God ordained destiny” (he’s now a Jedi Knight). We are given a charming litany of Pastor Randy’s life experience, including “rebellion, despair, divorce, and depression”, and are told that he “saw and experienced poverty”. The humble Dr. Randy has “mesmerized” Diane Sawyer with his “his boldness and perseverance.” Because “accolades from the secular world have not escaped this man of God,” we are given a list of people who have come into Randy’s throbbing sphere of influence, including the powerful (the President), the wealthy (King Abdullah of Jordan) and the child molesting (Michael Jackson).

    Dr. Randy is a “modern day John the Baptist” who daily renews a vow of “give me Tampa or let me die” (apparently there’s a choice). His sermons are humorous, vibrant, intense, always relevant, and multi-lingual (“they watched and listened as he prayed in unknown tongues”). Pastor Randy took “…dominion over the strip clubs and other establishments associated with the “adult entertainment” and pornography strongholds in the city.” An unorthodox church growth plan, yes, but no doubt very effective with certain demographics. In an unrelated development, page 3 of his biography tells us that he is known by Tampa’s Inner City kids as “Big Daddy”.

    Lest we think that the only person in the White family who’s really lived is the good Doctor, we are told that Paula, too, has “been a victim of unfortunate circumstances” (about which the website is tantatlizingly coy). Not to be outdone by her husband in both the use of haircare products or God’s call, we learn that Paula “has a heart for hurting people and a passion for souls”, that, she is an “internationally known speaker”, and that she has participated in TD Jakes “God’s Leading Ladies” Tour (she won the swimsuit competition).

    The pictures of Dr. Randy and the uncredentialed Paula sprinkled liberally throughout the site are alone worth the price of admission (made convenient by the presence of both an “Online Tithing” page and a “Love Gift” page). The Prayer Request page features an image of either a person getting mugged or the strangest siamese twins I’ve ever seen, and approximately every second page features, in the masthead area, an image of the criminally under-exposed Randy and Paula (they really should raise their profile).

    Perpexlingly, the most important detail on the whole site is buried on the last page of Dr. Randy’s 4+ plus page biography: “A highly anticipated reality television show called “RAW” is also on the horizon for Randy White.”

    Dr. Randy is selling something, but I don’t think it’s Jesus.

  • Tom Sheets

    I think Randy gets it,
    I have been in advertising marketing and production for the past 18+ years and I think he has hit the nail on the head, numbers don’t lie. Look at the size of his congregation.
    Look at Budweiser, Coke, Chevy they understand that branding and marketing is what moves their product while churches sit back and scratch there heads wondering why they are left behind.
    Randy, in my opinion, is a pioneer in bringing today’s church to the forefront.
    Whatever his alterative motive, if there even is one, is between him and God and he is the one that will answer in the long run but for now I salute a man that has the drive to grow utilizing today’s technology.
    So while you are sitting back analyzing him He is simply moving forward

  • Austin Gross

    I am cousins to Randy and Paula White and I know it all…Where they came from and how they are ministering to people the church normally turns away…