You’ve seen them, haven’t you? Early in the morning, late at night, or when there is just nothing else worth watching on TV, they are there. I’m talking about TV preachers. These men and women with perfect hair, perfect teeth, and perfect clothes, spend their thirty minutes asking you to help them stay on the air. They do this by offering you some book, message series, or ridiculous item like Jim Bakker’s, “Rapture Survival Kit.” Benny Hinn might have offered you a $300 fountain pen that “He himself had touched,” so that when you write checks with this pen, financial blessings will come your way, and he has made a quick $300.
Perhaps the most brilliant strategy for raising ministry support came from the TV preacher with the most perfect hair of all, Robert Tilton. This genius came up with the idea of having his TV audiences call his program and “Make a vow” of $10,000.00 and then make “payments” on your vow. The promise was that the vow-makers would live “debt free” and enjoy “financial freedom and wealth.” Brother Tilton got himself in a bit of trouble with the law over this, and the plug was pulled on his program, and many people were more broke than they were before his show. Years later, I was flipping channels and guess who was back on the air? Brother Tilton himself. I wonder how he came up with the money to get back on TV. Maybe he hit up his cell mates, promising them freedom from debt if and when they get out of the clink.
I know, dear reader, that by now you have tapped in to my sarcasm and cynicism. Allow me a moment to share my cynical “raison d’être” by way of a personal reflection from my years in the pastorate.
I was a TV preacher. I wasn’t actually on television, my initials just happen to be TV. I wore the same two suits every other week, and they were bargain brand. I wouldn’t have called my hair “perfect,” but it was adequate. For about a year into my first pastorate, I did everything “by the book.” In other words, fresh out of Bible College, I did things the way they taught me. “They” being the shapers of young minds like mine (at the time). After about a year, it looked like I had made very little impact in my small church. Nobody behaved any differently, and people came to visit, but seldom came back. I began to think it was because of me. Maybe I am just no good. Maybe something is missing. Other churches are doing well, and mine is stagnant and slumbering.
One night, I was watching Rod Parsley’s program on TBN or one of those religious networks. He was going on about something, and the crowd was going wild. I had never seen such congregational response. The more I listened to him, the more I began to realize that he was not really saying anything, just yelling the same stuff over and over. Forty-five minutes went by, and I still had no idea what the sermon was about, only that he had a rockin’ church. Suddenly, he was on my screen. He said something to the effect of, “I know there are preachers out there who feel like they are missing something.” My eyes opened wide. Pastor Parsley then invited me to touch the TV screen and I would be filled with a great anointing from on high. I did it, and nothing happened. Next, he told me that he wanted to send me two gifts, an anointed prayer cloth and a medallion. He said if I kept the prayer cloth in my pocket and the medallion around my neck, God would begin to really move in my church.
For a modest gift of $250, these two items could be mine.
I was desperate. Furthermore, how did Rod Parsley know I was struggling in my ministry? This must be from God, I thought. I used my credit card and while I was on the phone, the nice person sold me a couple of pastor Parsley’s books and a tape series. I was now out $400, but my church was about to take off!
After about a month, my items arrived. I put the prayer cloth in my pocket, and the medallion around my neck. I read the books, and listened to the tape series. I went on and on for about a year waiting for my church to take off. All the while, membership dwindled, and eventually I resigned. I ended up going back an apologizing to many of my former members there for trying to be somebody that I was not.
The moral of this story is that TV preachers may mean well, but I believe they are doing more harm than good by preying upon people’s deep needs and offering them ministry help at bargain prices. Especially knuckleheads like Pat Robertson who credit God’s wrath against the LGBTQ population. Such rubbish doesn’t help anyone, nor does it promote the love Jesus taught.
Is it any wonder that statistically, fewer people attend church than ever before? Over the last 15 years, over 500,000 Southern Baptists have left the convention, most recently Beth Moore. Is it any wonder that on average, one preacher per week leaves the ministry? When is Churchianity going to wake up and realize that creating more TV programs, building more churches, and designing more strategies isn’t going to change the world? Jesus Himself said the caring for widows and children is real ministry. Love God, love others. And he didn’t have a TV camera, $2,500 suit, a prayer cloth, or a medallion on when He said it.