The New Televangelists
"Pastoral work is the aspect of Christian living which specializes in the ordinary."
I thought we were done with the Televangelists.
I grew up as part of a generation that scoffed at their expensive suits, golden watches, flawless smiles, and poufy hair. The sermons I heard growing up had lines about their cheesiness and insincerity. These sermons proclaimed a gospel that could not be bought, one that didn't need vials of healing water or anointing oils that could be mailed to you after a small payment. I liked being part of that generation, one that stood for authenticity and rejected anything that smelled phony. And when it comes to being phony, Televangelists were Exhibit A. I believed our Christianity was moving away from the make-up encrusted, spiritual hucksterism that dominated the airways during our childhoods.
I was wrong. Sure, most members of my generation still have no time for Televangelists, but many of us have fallen prey to something just as pernicious.
Role Models under Shining Lights
During the first two years of church ministry, I was surrounded by some really wise older pastors. They met with me regularly, prayed for me, and kept me up to date on the business of the church. We all worked for a pretty classic suburban megachurch, but all loved one another. But there was one problem: I didn't want to grow up to be like any of these pastors. The pastors above me were pretty normal guys. They had solid skills and were leading decent-sized ministries. They wore Hawaiian shirts or pressed dress wear and enjoyed golfing. But that wasn't me. This was not my future, I thought.
I began looking for role models, for people I wanted to be like. Through the Internet, I was exposed to ministries from all over the country—pastors with 3,000 member churches preaching to multiple campuses and looking good doing it. They preached slick sermons under shining lights. Best of all I could watch it all on my laptop from anywhere.
I want to be a pastor like that, I thought. I just need to be like them, imitate them, and then I'll have success—my ministry will grow. These pastors taught me how to teach, how to read Scripture dramatically, and how to hold a Bible the right way when making a point. It seemed like all these guys had to do was prepare a sermon for Sunday and deliver well and watch their churches grow—how rewarding! It all seemed to be working for them. Certainly, I thought, this will work for me, too.
This slowly became my vision of a life in ministry. But as I soaked up podcasts and sermon videos from famous pastors, I was unwittingly forming an inaccurate vision of the life of a pastor. The more I listened to and watched these dynamic pastors, the less I heard the voices of the pastors in my own church. They don't know what they're talking about, I would think as I loaded another video.
But two years into my ministry, I found myself with the same sized group. What's more, they seemed to experience only marginal spiritual growth. I was frustrated with my ministry and annoyed at the small things I needed to get done and the people I needed to tend to. It was around this time that I realized what I was doing. I wasn't sincere at all. I wasn't authentic. Sure, I knew a bit about the Bible and knew how to sound good, but when it came to caring for people and guiding them toward spiritual maturity, I didn't have a clue. The podcasts were teaching me a lot, but I wasn't learning how to pray for the sick or counsel someone in a bad marriage or comfort the hurting. It wasn't that I just needed to look at some different role models; I needed to figure out if I really wanted to be a pastor in the truest sense of the word. Was I committed to ministry even if it didn't mean communicating to thousands of people from a stage?