I had my time periods of being extremely anti-name-&-claim and anti-word of faith movement.
What good is seminary?
As a devout Christian, after graduating with my Master’s Degree in Christian Studies from a theological seminary (and by the grace of God with a 4.0 GPA), I feel I am adequately equipped to answer this question.
Some believe that seminary is where to go if one wants to become a “professional Christian”. They believe that to go to the next level of belief and faith in God, that one should go to theological seminary or to bible college. They believe that one cannot know all there is to know about God, the church, and the Holy Bible without going to seminary.
The university from which I matriculated had four levels of seminary. There was an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate program. Some might feel that until one attains the highest level of seminary that one is not a good enough, or well-equipped for ministry Christian. I will tell my opinion about that towards the end of this blog post after I tell a few benefits that come from attending seminary.
For starters, if you hope to be a bible teacher one day, it helps to be taught by others who have spent a lifetime of studying the Bible. Some people spend their entire adult life studying the Old Testament or the New Testament or even just one book of the Bible. Therefore, if you want to teach others about the Bible at your church, it would prove beneficial to be taught by this particular person.
Some people feel as if Bible study is unnecessary. They feel that the Holy Spirit Himself can teach them all they need to know about the Bible. That is true. The Holy Spirit can teach you whatever God wants you to know. But the reality is that because of our strong traditions that come from our church or denomination or family, we will always FILTER God’s truth through mankind’s teaching. And much of that teaching might be faulty. It is hard to drink purified water through a dirty glass. Sometimes, seminary can clean the glass so that you can rightfully receive what God is telling you about the Bible.
For example, many Christian partake of the Daniel Diet. This is the diet that we read about in the book of Daniel wherein Daniel only ate particular foods and did not eat the Babylonian food that was offered to him. Today, for ten days many Christians will refrain from eating meat and sweets as a way to get closer to God. BUT seminary can teach you that many of the foods we eat in America were not even around in Babylon, so if we were hoping to eat just like Daniel, then would not be doing exactly as he did. Also, Daniel’s purpose for eating those particular foods was not to get closer to God, but rather it was to avoid eating the unclean food being offered to him by the Babylonians. The Israelites only ate Kosher clean food, and because Daniel was a Hebrew, he could not in good conscience eat their food. And Daniel did not only eat the right food for 10 days as we do, but he ate that way his entire life. But because we are not Hebrews in Babylonian exile, we should not feel bad that we cannot do the Daniel Diet as Daniel did because we should only be trying to grasp the principle of the matter which is to hold fast to one’s convictions even under dire circumstances. These are things one might only learn in seminary. Do you see how your information determines your actions?
Another important function of seminary is when one is confronted with false doctrine. My seminary professor of Church History 1 taught us many of the false doctrines/heresies that were condemned in Councils by the Orthodox church in the first few centuries of church history. So when a friend invites me to their church or tries to convince me to believe in some false doctrine, I can automatically dismiss it because I know it as being closely related to a condemned teaching that has returned in the last one hundred years or so to deceive others. Theological seminary can be helpful in recognizing and rejecting false teaching.
I have also found theological seminary to be very helpful in me worshipping God in TRUTH. Believe it or not, but your theology will affect your praise and worship. For example, if you think of God as some cosmic Joe Jackson who is scrutinizing your performance waiting with a celestial whip with which to cast you into hell at the slightest mistake you make, it will greatly impact your relationship with Him. If you think of God as the deists who believe that God simply created all humanity and then left it alone to its own devices without any interference, then it will greatly impact your prayer life. But if you know God’s true character which is a Heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally and who chastises those whom He loves as sons, then you will have a better relationship with Him and therefore worship Him in truth. Seminary has theology classes that teach you accurately about God and His nature.
One last thing I’ll mention about the importance of seminary is that it tells you not simply WHAT the Bible says but HOW to read the Bible. We know that many a cult is begun by one charismatic leader telling an ignorant congregation EXACTLY what to think and believe. But this is uncommon in seminary. I attended a seminary that had students and teachers of different denominational backgrounds, and we were not always told WHAT to believe, but we were told HOW to read the Bible. The problem with the 33,000 – 38,000 Christian denominations is that most of them attempt to tell their members WHAT to believe. And doubtless they are being told what to believe by one imperfect human being. So whatever that one imperfect person teaches them is now believed by them and taught to their children. If the originator of the teaching was wrong, then everyone who believes everything he says is wrong too. And that is how cults get started. For example, one might teach their congregation that women must wear stockings and closed-toe shoes. Even though this is not in the Bible, it will be passed down to all generations as the truth. However, it is not true, but merely tradition and preference. Seminary will help one to see whether or not a tradition is actually and accurately based on a Bible verse or principle.
The Bible tells us to RIGHTLY divide the word of truth. It does not tell us to blindly swallow whatever we are told. And seminary has taught me that. I have learned to prayerfully read the Scriptures with illumination from the Holy Spirit; I have long ago ceased to accept everything I am told even though I know the Bible says the opposite or otherwise. Seminary has not made me a better Christian or a more godly person, but it has cleared my mind of the traditions of men that are not rooted in the Bible so that I might be more clearly influenced by the truth of God. If nothing else, seminary can serve as type of detox for tradition clutter.
1 Corinthians 11:17 – But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not….27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself….33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Ever been to a church service where communion was being observed? And before they administer it, they ask for a moment of silence for everyone to do some serious self-reflection to check whether or not they are worthy of taking communion. By communion they mean drinking a tiny cup of grape juice and eating a small, square wafer. If you don’t feel particularly saved that day, you pass on taking communion. For example, if you were drunk and turned all the way up at a party just the night before, you would not take communion. If you had premarital sex within the last week, you would likely not take communion. You decided that because you did a visible, more intense sin, then you are unworthy to take communion.
Is that what we read in the above verses of 1 Corinthians 11? In the verses I selected, we see that Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Corinth about a problem that he has heard about and/or observed during their communion times. But let’s get the facts. These people were not being chastised by Apostle Paul because they were arranged in lines taking turns drinking grape juice and eating small crackers. They did not have preset amounts of juice and precut unleavened bread. What we now observe as communion was at that time more known as a “love feast” which we hear briefly mentioned in Jude 1:12 – “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves…”
How they did communion at that time is that it was more like a potluck. The believers who could would bring a dish or meal to the designated location. And they would fellowship and eat. As Jude says, it was a feast. And we know that a small vial of juice and a small wafer is far from feasting. Paul says that when they meet for communion, it’s not for better but for worse because for one, there are divisions among them which actually can be helpful in that it distinguishes the trifling people from the genuine people. Paul then goes into detail about why he is scolding them; he is scolding them in this letter because they are not eating to the glory of God in love for their fellow saints. Paul says that 1. There are divisions/factions within this church. 2. Some people begin eating before everyone arrives at the feast to eat which leaves the latecomers hungry. 4. The early eaters (and drinkers) are drunk! 5. The early comers humiliate those who are late (which might have been because they lived further away from the meeting place); and because Paul said the humiliated people are also the people who have nothing, it implies that the late comers are hungry also because they could not afford to bring food to the potluck (or else they would not have been hungry no matter how late they came).
In other words, they are not discerning the body. Body could simply mean the symbol of Jesus’ body – wine to symbolize His blood and unleavened bread to symbolize Jesus’ “leaven-less” (sinless) flesh.
1 Corinthians 10:16 – The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Or it could mean the body of Christ which is the church as we read that Paul wrote in these three verses.
1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Ephesians 5:23– For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Colossians 1:24 – Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ‘s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
Or it could mean both.
But clearly, if we read this passage, we see that Paul is disappointed in how the early comers and those who could afford to bring food would eat without regard for whether or not the late comers or poor people would have something to eat. He says that they are not coming together for the Lord’s supper because everyone in the body isn’t even there to eat! They did not discern the body of Christ in that they showed no concern or respect for Christ body of believers. And I would add that it was disrespectful to act gluttonous and to be a drunkard with something that symbolized such a precious person as Jesus Christ. (Apparently, there was wine at these feasts.) But how dare you drink up all the wine and eat up all the food. Paul asks a rhetorical question about whether or not they had houses to eat and drink in. It wasn’t that they couldn’t fill up, it’s just that they filled up at the expense of the other Christians who were en route to the supper. If you were so hungry, you should have gotten a snack at the house! Again, we do not have these problems at most of our churches because we have a prepackaged amount that is the same for everyone whether or not you are the first or the last person to participate in communion. So we don’t have to worry about gobbling up all the crackers and guzzling down all the juice. So since these conditions aren’t possible in our church settings of today, how can we make the principles apply in our context?
I would say that we should beware of how we treat our fellow brothers and sisters before we take communion. Sure, you might not have eaten their share of the communion, but in what other ways have you not been discerning of the Lord’s body. How have you treated your brothers and sisters at your church? We tend to think of those “more intense” and visible sins such as partying and sleeping around when we “examine” ourselves. But Paul here is talking about examining ourselves in how we treat our brothers and sisters. Maybe you weren’t at a party the night before. And maybe you didn’t lie on a test. And maybe you didn’t fornicate earlier that weekend. But did you put division between you and another church member? Did you humiliate them because they came to church late? Did you make them feel ashamed because they had less to give than you? Did you see yourself as better than them because you are richer? I believe that in this passage, THOSE are the things Paul wants us to examine ourselves concerning. Of course, if you are backslidden or reprobate for whatever reason, perhaps you should make matters right before you partake of Christ’s body symbols (whether or not your sin had something to do with mistreating a brother or sister in Christ), but just make sure you read what PAUL is saying in this passage and not missing the main point.
(By the way, I asked a couple of my seminary professors about this topic, and they said that they do not see that this passage is saying that a person who sinned that week(end) couldn’t participate in the feast.) 🙂
James 1:26-27 – “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
What kind of religion should any and every Christian want? More than likely it should be a religion that God the Father in heaven sees as pure and undefiled. These two adjectives seem imply that there can in fact be impure and defiled religion in God’s eyes. Thank God that James informs us what the pure and undefiled religion is. For one, he simply says that is a religion that shows itself through visibly love and concern for orphans and widows when they are afflicted. We have to imagine the plight of young children in the Bible days. They had no orphanage or foster care. They were left to fend for themselves until or unless a person with a pure and undefiled religion came to see about them and their needs. Imagine also the plight of widows. These were women who were unlikely to remarry due to the fact that they were not virgins. Some of them were probably older women who could not rely on looks and charms to get another suitor and husband. These women and children, without men to help them as fathers and husbands, were unlikely to know for sure where their next meal was coming from. Their parents or husbands might have left them debts that would have left them in slavery. So how pleasant it was for this new sect of believers in Jesus Christ to visit them in their hunger, homelessness, grief, and loneliness to make sure they felt God’s love or to make sure they had someone to talk to or to make sure they knew someone had them on their mind. How pleasant to know that someone was always praying for them or had their wives to bring them something to eat! THAT is pure religion to God.
But James goes further.
Pure and undefiled religion also involves keeping oneself unstained from the world. Remember how Jesus said elsewhere in the New Testament that He did not pray that God would take us out of the world, but rather that He would keep us in His care IN the world. Well, while we are in the world, God wants us not to be stained by the world. The world is teeming with sin(s). Jesus expects to keep ourselves unstained from the world. Of course, the Holy Spirit will help us, but we have to be willing to keep ourselves from things that would taint us. Those “things” would involve keeping our thoughts, intentions, motives, feelings, choices, words, and of course our actions and responses. Oftentimes, our thoughts evolve into actions. That is why it important to guard our thoughts and to keep them unstained from worldly influences.
We don’t see much pure and unstained religion in the world today. It is not uncommon to hear of a pastor “fleecing” the sheep of his congregation including the “widows” (who I would also include as being single mothers) and “orphans” who might just be being taken advantage of sexually by the pastor. This in fact would be considered impure and defiled religion before God. The very two groups of people the church is meant to protect is often the two groups of people who are most taken advantage of by leaders in the church. I have often seen churches filled with single women who are being nothing short of harassed by preachers to give their last. These women do not have a husband who can provide for and protect them. So they rely on their pastors to do so as shepherds are to do for their sheep. Yet, these pastors see these sheep as weaklings who are just ripe for the picking. A sexually perverted pastor might be married, but his eyes might be set on the poor, fatherless young boys at his church that so desperately want a father figure. These pastors will pretend that will offer this to them, only they are actually grooming the young men for sexually perverted relationships. And their single mothers don’t expect a thing because they are so desperate for a “Christian” father figure in their sons lives. Yet, these pastors leave the widows and orphans in much worse shape than they came in. This doubtless happens more to unmarried women who have no husband as their head to catch on to the sneaky behavior of a pastor. This doubtless happens to young men with uninvolved or overworked mothers who are too busy working two jobs to be totally aware of what the pastor intends to do with her son. Just like any other predator, they seek the weaker vessel (the female) and the young. They seldom attempt to take advantage of men or married women or children from solid home structures.
Nonetheless, it also not unheard of to hear of pastor after pastor and youth pastor after youth pastor and bishop after bishop being caught in unspeakable scandals. Extramarital affairs, homosexual relationships, drug dealing from the church, stealing and embezzling, insurance fraud, pedophilia, and every other ungodly acts are not uncommon among many pastors. There is actually a website dedicated to exposing these acts committed by church leaders in just one denomination – cogicabusewatch.org. And what’s sadder is that many of these ungodly acts one confronted by the victims are swept under the rug for one reason or the other. And the victims are made to feel ashamed due to the misused and misquoted bible verse, “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophet no harm.” The misuse of this scripture only sickens the church and strengthens the wicked resolve of those who would hurt widows and orphans. This is impure and defiled religion before God the Father.
Pastors, ministers, bishops, youth leaders and those who are in spiritual leadership positions at your church, please review this bible verse and stop misusing the “touch not mine anointed” verse. Most certainly, the same God who inspired James 1:26-27 did not intend for you to discard it in order to misuse “touch not mine anointed” in order to justify doing the opposite of James 1:26-27. Most certainly, God intends for you to love and take care of widows and orphans. Do not touch them sexually. Do not take all of the little money they do have. If you have enough in your checking account to eat prime rib steaks and they barely have enough to put gas in their car and to feed their family before their next paycheck, stop begging them for their last and give them some of your plenty. Do not take advantage of the needy. God is not pleased.
As a child, I remember watching” Alive” with my family. This movie is based on a 70’s plane crash survivor story known as “Miracle in the Andes”. Being so young, the only things that stuck out to me were the mountains, the cold temperatures, the plane crash, and the cannibalism the survivors had to do to survive for weeks without food. But there was so much more to the story.
I just finished watching the movie some days ago as a 27 year old, spirit-filled adult. And the movie was so much richer than I’m sure even the director intended. God blessed me to open my eyes to the wonderful insights and rich revelations one could glean from that movie.
The movie starts out with a man sucking on a cigarette saying that he was given a glimpse to another aspect of God. For the longest, he was introduced to the God that lets wonderful things happen to us and our loved ones. The God who protects us from harm and danger. The God who shields us from frightening experiences and events. But he said that for those 71 days they were stranded on that glacier in the Andes, he saw God in a new way. He saw the God that we must all become acquainted with in one way or the other. The God who is more concerned with our character than our comfort.
Let me give you the backdrop. This plane was coming from South Africa headed to a game in Chile with a rugby team and some other passengers. There were forty-three persons on board. The co-pilot warned the chief pilot not to fly in the storm. They were above the storm clouds at first and were just 20 minutes from landing, but the pilot did not listen. Warning comes before destruction. He went below the clouds, and the rest is history.
This rugby team was portrayed as fun-loving, playful young men who were naïve and girl-hungry like most young men today. They were running around tossing things to each other while smiling. They were totally unsuspecting of the horrors they would face in just minutes and for days. Next thing they knew, the right wing of the plane ran into a mountain and was broken off. This resulted also in the tail of the plan coming off taking passengers along with it. A few other passengers on the first half of the plane were sucked off and plunged to their death while seat-belted to their seats by the force and gravity as they were thousands of feet above ground. The passengers who were still on board just waited for the inevitable crash. Fortunately, the first half of the plane did not nose-dive, but rather it slid down a snowy slope that eventually landed on a sturdy glacier. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of their horrors.
The injuries sustained from the crash killed some people immediately and left others in agony longing for death to alleviate their pains. Others died from hypothermia, frost-bite, gangrene, starvation, and despair. And just when they thought it could get no worse, they had to unwillingly resolve to eating the frozen flesh of their friends’ carcasses to survive. But when it rains it pours. An avalanche was unleashed and headed their way. And because the opening of their plane was facing the avalanches direction, they lost more people who suffocated in the snow. One man lost his mind and a few came close to it because of the utter despair of the situation. To make matters worse, they saw two planes fly overhead without seeing them. To make matters worse, they had to cope with the news that the search parties had been called off. Everyone had given up hope for them. All hope seemed to be lost.
Remember the God the man in the beginning of the movie said he met in the Andes? That’s the same God you and I will be forced to meet some day if we haven’t already. This God will be the God who seems to let negative circumstances snowball on you when you LEAST need it. First, the snowstorm. Then the plane crash. Then the loss of friends and family. Then the freezing temperatures. Then the first plane misses you. Then more loss of friends. Then the starvation. Then the more loss of friends. Then the second plane misses you. Then the hopelessness and despair. Then you hear the search party is called off. Then you have to eat the friends you just lost. Then the avalanche hits. Can it get any worse? Why God?
But just know that God is sovereign. You don’t think God knew they were 20 minutes from landing? You don’t think God didn’t know they didn’t have enough food on the plane? You don’t think God didn’t know they were not adequately clothed to endure the freezing temperatures? You don’t think God didn’t know that the avalanche was coming? God was sovereign over every event. He could have prevented any one of the factors of the Andes plane crash had He seen fit. But He allowed it. He allowed 29 people to do horrible deaths. And He allowed 16 people to live. Why just those 16?
Sounds like survival of the fittest to me.
Those 16 people lived to tell the story. They lived to tell people about the God they met in the Andes. They lived to tell people that it was possible to live 71 torturous days in freezing temperatures without food or hope. And who knows how much longer they could have lived out there.
I believe that the God of the Andes lets us endure similar situations for the same reasons. He puts us through difficult circumstances because we are proof of survival of the fittest. We prove to others that it is possible to go through a sucky ordeal for a long time and yet still be a survivor. You might not have had been through something as traumatic, but you’ve been through your own private hell. You’ve gone to hell and back. Why didn’t God just leave you there? Because He needed your testimony. Rather, He knew of some people who needed it.
But He also wanted you to learn something about yourself. Doubtless, NONE of these 16 men thought they could survive a plane crash, let alone freezing, let alone starving, let alone an avalanche, let alone for 71 days! God knows what you can bear. He knows just how much you can bear. Who knows? These men might could have survived for 100 days in the plane wreckage. But 71 days sufficed. As for these 16 men, I bet there is NOTHING these men think they can’t do, endure, survive, or handle. They must feel invincible with God! I’m sure they are fearless men who have gone on to accomplish much. God will let you go through hell and back just to prove to you against your own doubts that you are stronger in God than you ever gave yourself credit for.
God knows you can handle more than you think you can’t handle. So just when you think God ought to stop with the trials, God knows how much further He can go. You wanted to stop at first grade, but God knows that what He put in you can take you all the way to a doctoral degree. He’s more concerned with your character than your comfort. He’s more concerned with you knowing that other side of God than you being content with knowing the Santa Claus version of God who fits into your cookie-cutter mold. You either have gone through, are currently going through, or will go through. But you are strong. You will survive. You can endure more than you think can for LONGER than you think you can. If God puts you to it, He must have known you could do it.
After suffering for about 20 years with a “crippling” anxiety disorder, I can finally see the breaking of day. And I thank God not because I had to go through it, but because it’s over. You see, some people get mad at God for allowing bad things to happen in their lives. They get bitter, resentful, negative, pessimistic, and other related things because their life did not go as they would have planned. But God’s spirit of wisdom has allowed me to understand that some of those most unpleasant, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and embarrassing situations are the ones that process us into who God not only WANTS, but NEEDS us to be in order to do mighty exploits.
If you’re like me, you’ve wondered why some of our favorite bible persons had to go through such inconveniences and struggles. We wonder why Noah had to be embarrassed and ridiculed all those years while he preached while building the ark when God knew the people would never believe him until it was too late. We wonder why Moses had to be stuck with those hardhearted and hardheaded millions of Israelites in the wilderness. We wonder why Joseph had to be born into a family of hating brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, lied on, and imprisoned. We wonder why Abraham and Sarah had to wait for decades to have a child together only for God to ask Abraham to sacrifice the boy’s life. We wonder why David had to go through years of being hated and hunted by the king he loved and respected. We wonder why so many people had to go through to get to where they were going. We wonder why the space between A and B contained so many struggles and trials. We thought that if you were serving God and bringing about His will and purposes that everything just ought to flow right from A to Z. After all, it doesn’t make sense that someone who has given their life to Christ has to endure weeks of chemotherapy while preaching the gospel. It doesn’t add up that a missionary has a child addicted to crack cocaine. It just doesn’t seem fair that the first lady can’t have children. It doesn’t seem reasonable that while a man is burdened with trying to supply food for a soup kitchen that he struggles with moderate depression and severe anxiety. It just seems that God ought to make life easy for those He “employs” into the ministry.
But for some reason, life just doesn’t work out that way, does it? It seems to me that God doesn’t use a man unless He proves the man. It kind of reminds me of the emotionally disturbed children I used to work with. Some of them had issues with attaching to others because they had been hurt so many times by people in the past. So when you try to love them, they put you through many tests to see if you are worth them opening up to. If you give up too soon (or give up at all for that matter), that serves to them as proof that you weren’t trustworthy in the first place. So they remain shut off to you and see who else will try to get close to them. And they test EVERYONE. They feel as if they can’t afford to be hurt anymore. They feel that they cannot afford to put trust into another untrustworthy person.
And these emotionally disturbed children are somewhat right about something. If you can’t love them through their tests, you likely don’t have what it takes to be trustworthy for the duration of the relationship. Some of the kids I worked with would curse me out, fight me, bite me, stab me, etc., but I would still pray with them, take care of them, and love on them. I realize that trust is a thing that must be earned – especially from persons who have been let down so many times past.
And who has been let down more times than God? Who has given the world a chance only to see most of the world reject His love? While we all know that God is whole and not emotionally disturbed, we know that He has been betrayed and let down by so many people since the very beginning of time. He was let down by Adam, Eve, Cain, David, Samson, Saul, Peter, Judas Iscariot – the list goes on and on. So many Israelites, priests, and kings of Judah and Israel have let God down. So it makes sense that He puts people through hard tests just to see who will persevere in order to show that they really love Him. It’s fairly easy to praise and worship God when all is well. But what about when you’ve just lost a loved one, lost your job/car/home/marriage, have your body racked with pain, experience mental instability, etc.? God does not test our love, reliability, trustworthiness, etc. based on how we feel about Him when life is peachy. But rather, He feels and KNOWS He can trust us when we come into church after finding out our husband is leaving and yet we praise Him. He knows He can trust us when all our money is gone a week before payday and yet we worship Him. The way God sees it is, “Man! If this man is praising me at His lowest point in life, I know He’ll still see fit to praise me when I bless and elevate him!”
So how do you treat God when you’re “going through”? Do you complain like the Israelites in the wilderness? Or do you praise God like Job when he lost everything? God can’t use you until He proves you. God’s time is very limited. He really can’t afford to waste any more time on lost cause Christians. In other words, God can’t waste another dime on a man or woman who marry Him for the “money” and then leave as soon as times get hard. God will only know if you truly love Him when you express your love when combated with test after test after test. The same person who is willing to go through all those tests just to get to God, is the same person who deserves to experience all of the blessings of God!
I’ll be honest, if I had life to do over, I probably would have opted out of the anxiety disorder. But I realize that God used it to prove me so now I’m just waiting on Him to use me.
It was T.D. Jakes who said the controversial statement, “I think that Jesus is the product.” When I first heard this, I was horribly offended. I said, “How DARE he reduce the Savior of the World to a mere marketable product?” But after receiving insight from God about “soul winning” the other day, I can now see that at least in SOME sense, Jakes made some sense.
I learned in middle school that in opening and operating a business, people are either offering a product or a service. College, for example, offers a service of educating people for the price of tuition. Starbucks, for example, sells a product – coffee – for cash. So if Jakes is right about his statement, then Christianity/ministry would be the service provided; and Jesus would be the “product” (for lack of a better term).
In marketing classes, I learned and remembered a thing or two. One thing I learned is about target audiences and advertisements. I learned that your ads and commercials must be tailor-made to appeal to your target audience. For example, if you are selling Gerber baby food, you are likely and mostly targeting caring mothers who have infants. And your commercials will be specifically made to appeal to these mothers. And you will have a marketing team that will spend much time and money making commercials that will grab the attention of and secure the business of these parents by strongly persuading them to buy Gerber food for their baby for as long as the baby will need it. And if you advertise just right, the mother will only buy Gerber food, and she will buy it not just for the baby she has now but for all babies she births in the future. Now that’s what you call “sealing the deal”.
So how can we relate that to Christianity? Well, just think of the churches you see that are publicized on radio and television. They are usually one of many church programs you see on the channel or station. And the pastor or one of his or her spokespersons will say and do specific things to appeal to you. They may say something to the effect of:
- “Not too many churches preach and teach the unadulterated word of God anymore. They compromise to fit in with the rest of the world. Give me that old time religion; it’s good enough for me….”
- “Too many churches are legalistic and judgmental. They give you a list of Do’s and Don’ts to put you in right standing with God. But here, we love and accept everybody – just like Jesus does. Everyone is welcome….”
- “Are you tired of church as usual? Well, this isn’t your grandma’s church! This is the church home of many of this city’s youth who are looking for a fresh perspective and relationship with Jesus. It’s time out for dry, dead services. There are no little u’s (you’s) and Big I’s here….”
And before and after they air their services, they will usually petition you to visit or join their church and/or to send financial donations.
Does that not sound JUST like marketing? You can tell that they each have a target audience in mind that they are petitioning. They are trying to appeal to a specific type of Christian or unbeliever by telling them what they want to hear so that they will come visit, join, and or financially support that church. You can probably guess from my abovementioned examples the type of people the three churches are appealing to. The first church is appealing to a stricter, older crowd. The second church MAY be appealing to backsliders or “lukewarm Saints”. The third church is likely appealing to a young, hip generation. Every church appeals to a target audience.
But when it comes to Christianity on a larger scale – and more specifically – soul winning, what are the best marketing strategies? Here is what I’ve learned about drawing in unbelievers to lead them to salvation. Here’s what I learned of what does and does not work in “Evangelism Marketing”.
1. You can’t present a product or service in only ONE package and then expect it to appeal to everyone or expect for everyone to respond favorably to it.
Jude 1:22-23 – And have mercy on (1) those who doubt; save (2) others by snatching them out of the fire; to (3) others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
From the looks of Jude 1:22-23, there appears to be different types of unbelievers or backsliders. One type are doubters. They just need assurance of the gospel’s validity, security of what Christians are saying, and strengthening of their faith. With these types, we shouldn’t bash them over their head with a bible. We shouldn’t utilize scare tactics to get them to get saved. We shouldn’t scream at them and call them damned heathens. They simply need a lot of questions answered. They have some questions that they need answered and settled. They might have just left another religion or a cult. They may really want to know why they should become Christians as opposed to Hindus, Buddhists, or Muslims. So if you apply the wrong “treatment” to their condition, you can have lost them forever.
The second type needs to be snatched quickly off of the wrong path because they are on their way to eternal fire either certainly or soon. The third possible type needs to be showered with mercy, but fearful mercy. And with this type we shouldn’t be lackadaisical about their lost condition, but we are to ABHOR, HATE, DETEST that they have been contaminated by lustful, sinful flesh.
While the gospel should not be altered to cater to everyone’s fancy, wisdom knows that everybody doesn’t like – and therefore won’t always respond to – every presentation. Not everyone responds to hellfire and brimstone messages. Does that mean that preachers should never tell the truth about the harsh and horrorshow realities of hell? Absolutely not. But I do believe that brimstone sermons – at least when overdone – will cause churches and preachers to lose (sometimes permanently) the attention of SOME people.
Some people don’t respond to scare tactics. You have to KNOW your “consumers”. Study them. See what pushes their buttons so to speak. If you come at them in a way that they will respond to, then obviously they will respond. Don’t think for a minute that every unbeliever is an unbeliever because they have not encountered one of your particularly fiery and scary hellfire sermons. Many people who WILL be saved have heard plenty of those types of sermons week after week, year in and year out, and yet they have never responded because that ad did not appeal to them.
Some people are intellectuals. Appeal to their intellect. Explain to them how Jesus is obviously the only way to go. Some people are fearful. Appeal to their fear of death and their anxiety about being uncertain of where they will reside of eternity. Some people have been poor for a long time. Appeal to them by saying that God will provide for all of their needs in one way or another. Some people are lonely, let them know that Jesus will never leave nor forsake them. Some people like to be radical, appeal to their interest in being a “Jesus Freak”. Some people feel they have no purpose in life; appeal to their desire to have a God who gives them a purposeful future. It’s all the GOSPEL – which is another word for “the good news”. It’s all true. But use one aspect over another if that’s what it takes to draw them in.
2. At the risk of sounding facetious, you may have to leave some things in the fine print until later.
Matthew 4:19 – And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
Let’s be real talk. Becoming a Christian has its costs. And many converts are just not willing to pay it all up front. For example, if you tell someone that before they get saved they must cut out every sin – even their favorites, they may not come any time soon, if at all. But if you tell them to come as they are, they will come as they are. And after they make the commitment, maybe then would be a better time to tell them that God doesn’t love the fact that they listen to violent rap music or the fact that the women dress with her cleavage overly on display. The bible does say to count the cost before you become a disciple of Christ, so they do need to know that it will be “expensive”. But you don’t have to give them a break down list of everything they must cut out within the next week in order to secure their salvation!
For some people, if you can get them to come down the altar as a public act of their surrender to God and their belief in Jesus as their Savior, that is the most important step. It’ll be easier to convince a Christian to surrender gambling to Christ than it would be to ask an unbeliever to quit gambling. As I was told, you have to CATCH the fish before you can skin it. If they can see the hook, line, and sinker all up front, they may never bite the bait! Jesus told the disciples that He would make them fisher of men. Some men catch fish with nets; others catch fish with bait and hook. You have to bait them in first. And once they bite the bait, you have the hook already in them. Then you skin them.
3. Know your target audience and minister accordingly.
It is quite difficult to sell a man something that he doesn’t feel/think/know he needs just like it’ll be impossible to convince me to take some medicine that I don’t think I need. It’ll be challenging to get someone to commit to a time-consuming, inconvenient, gruesome workout plan when they see no need for it. And so it will be near impossible to convince a man to receive salvation when he doesn’t feel that he is lost or damned.
Proverbs 11:30 – …he who winneth souls is wise.
The bible says that whoever wins souls is wise. This is so true! If you can win a soul to the Father, you are wise because it requires wisdom to know how to persuade someone to do something, to buy what you’re offering when it comes to salvation. First, you have to know that person fairly well or at least be able to discern things about that person. And then when they trust you, they’ll trust when you offer them something that you see that they need. If my doctor knows me and if I know my doctor’s history, I’ll trust when he says I need a certain medicine or procedure done. And so when it comes to ministry, you have to know who you’re after first of all. Study the audience. Discern their needs. Pray to God about what it is that is keeping them from believing and receiving the gospel message. Pray to God to tell you what that person needs to hear to draw them in. Pray for wisdom to win their soul. This might be controversial, but I’m going to list the name of some well-known ministers, who I believe their target audience is, and how they wisely present the gospel accordingly:
- Joel Osteen – Discouraged believers/unbelievers – Encouraging, motivational bible verses and stories/prosperity gospel
- Joyce Meyer – Defeated believers – Wisdom and personal testimonies of how God helped her to get the victory and related bible story examples
- Creflo Dollar – Financially struggling believers – Bible passages from the Old and New Testament about how God will financially bless His children/prosperity gospel
- Kenneth Copeland – Sick believers – Bible verses on healing/prosperity gospel
- Paul Washer – Lukewarm Christians/unbelievers – Passionate, hellfire sermons
- Charles Stanley – Conservative Christians – Fundamental, conservative, old school messages
- John MacArthur – Educated Christians – Hermeneutical, expository, exegetical, scholarly teaching
- TD Jakes – Discouraged, traditional churched believers – Charismatic churchy with a new twist/prosperity gospel
Now whether or not we agree with all that these ministers preach and teach, we can all agree that they have seen much “success” in the “ministry business”. They have wisely presented certain aspects of Christian living in a certain way to certain people. I’m sure they all haven’t voiced their ENTIRE opinion publicly. And depending on how much they disclose, it determines how far they can go and how many people they can reach.
For example, many people do not know of Paul Washer and John MacArthur because they are very opinionated and unwavering in their strict beliefs. But those preachers who are not as fundamental get bigger platforms. They will reach more people. Now we all may not agree with how they do what they do, but I see a purpose in it. I can see that the unbeliever, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist that Paul Washer will NEVER reach, has a chance of hearing Washer SOME DAY perhaps after that unbeliever stumbles across Joel Osteen while flipping through the channels. You may not like someone’s style or approach of getting the word out about God and Jesus, but at least He is being preached. And I do believe that some men can open the door/sow the seed, and then another man can seal the deal by drawing them in/reaping the soul. Maybe one man can pass out the “coupon”, but another man can sell the product.
Philippians 1:15-17 – Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
Rejoice when Jesus is being preached and proclaimed and accepted as people’s Lord and Savior regardless of who closed the deal! That is one less soul that will spend an unspeakable, unbearable eternity in the lake of fire.
Many people have amazing inventions and services that many people would do well to patronize. BUT the problem is that they have the arduous task of convincing others to purchase their product or services. Our product/brand/service is THE BEST without a doubt. The hard part is PROMOTION. If everyone knew how great is our God, how sweet our Savior, how beautiful our afterlife, and how precious our faith, they’d all get saved. But they don’t know how great our product is. And they don’t know how badly they need it. Persuade them of their need. Glorify Jesus so that Christianity looks attractive. Pray for wisdom when evangelizing for souls. The product is so good, it can sell itself once they see what it can do for their life. So be the one who wisely introduces it to them! Seal the deal!