I listen to Joel Osteen and I have discovered he has a system of preaching that I have never heard him fail to follow.
Before he gets into his message, he always tells a funny story, a joke if you will. I’ve never been one to tell jokes in the pulpit if I’m there to deliver a message from God to his people, but since this isn’t a pulpit, per se, I want to start this article with a “funny.”
This is a quote from author Annie Dillard taken from her book “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:” “I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, ‘if I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ ‘No’, the priest said, ‘not if you did not know.’ ‘Then why,’ asked the Eskimo earnestly, ‘did you tell me?’ ” (I’ll pause for you to stop laughing!)
When I first read this quote I thought it was very funny, and so did my wife when I shared it with her. But when I think about the implications it contains, which some might see as proper expectations and conduct by congregants and ministers, the humor disappears.
The Eskimo, a picture of the average church member, expects the preacher to tell him what he wants to hear, so he can be assured of a secure eternal destiny. The priest, the preacher of the hour, didn’t disappoint him. He gave him the assurance he was looking for, even though he was well aware that assurance was based on false information.
Thereafter the church member asked the preacher a legitimate question: if you knew ignorance of God and sin would keep me out of hell, then why did you tell me about them? That of course was the punch line. After all, this is a joke, and no answer to the question was necessary.
But if we evaluate the preacher in a real situation, he was lacking in two areas: first, he misinformed the member; and second, he didn’t tell him the entire truth. He neglected to share the gospel. Had he done so, the entire verbal exchange would have been unnecessary.
I wonder how often this scenario is played over and over in churches today. How many church-going folks expect sermons that reflect what they want to hear as opposed to what theyneed to hear? And how many preachers are consistently giving them what they want, rather than what they need? Far too many, I suspect. But who’s to blame for this trend?
I believe a search of the scriptures will uncover no role models of the “give ’em what they want” philosophy of preaching. Jesus and the apostles gave people what they needed, the gospel of Christ. So we can’t put the blame on the preachers of Bible times. I believe that today both preachers and the people must share the blame wherever this philosophy prevails.
I think it begins with the preacher. Once he sees that people are moved by his style, evidenced by verbal enthusiasm, responses and noise level he gets, his natural reaction is to give them more. The more they scream, the more of the same he gives; and the more he gives, the more they scream.
Is it edifying? Only the people and God know the answer. You be the judge for yourself.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church, Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in South Los Angeles.Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.