Christian Snake Oil: Supersalesmen Pastors Are Getting Richer off of Your Hopes and Insecurities

I am a pastor and a blogger.  As a result, I have gone to a lot of conferences, received tons of mailings and read quite a number of books and I have concluded that someone is out to sell you something you don’t need and that doesn’t work.  Now, don’t get me wrong, my office and Kindle are loaded with books including quite a few from some notable pastors and leaders.  However, there is a marketing strategy that has you and your church as a target and you and I have been encouraging it for far too long.

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First, let’s talk about these men and women.  They are Christian mega-stars.  There are quite a few reasons that they became such and many of these mean that you and I will more than likely never be like them (in a few paragraphs, I may have you thanking God for that).  One is that many of them were born into privilege.  Some of them even inherited a parent’s ministry or road the coattails of mommy or daddy’s success.   A case in point is Joel Osteen.  Look it up for yourself.

Another reason is that they have out-sized personalities.  These people are the very definition of charisma.  They can charm a room with ease.  And as for their eloquence, these silver-tongued individuals could sell very expensive hair products to bald women.  No matter what field they enter, they do and will succeed.  Even when they sin in ways that send shock waves through the Christian world, they can re-package themselves, claim some road to redemption while blaming others and make a very impressive comeback.  Just Google “Ted Haggard” and with a few clicks of the mouse you will see what I mean. 

Unfortunately, the sins of such mega-stars are apparent.  They are filled with pride.  Often, they consider themselves self-made men and women.  Boards and congregations cater to their every desire, if they even have such “accountability.”  Few, if any, dare to tell them “no” and if they do, such people are soon marginalized, if not removed.  Sins of infidelity, outburst of wrath, etc., that would get pastors like me removed (and deservedly so), are often swept under the carpet, left unanswered or “graciously” forgiven.  Ministries like these fear that if the mega-star is removed, the ministry will suffer, so instead of a biblical answer, there is some kind of dance of shock, anger, tears, supposed contrition and restoration. 

These mega-ministers are given time and opportunity to write and to go on speaking tours.  Slick mailings are sent to every known church in a region, if not around the country, playing to local ministers hopes that they too can grow their ministry into a boom or enact some amazing program that will turn out the masses.  Insecure pastors and churches get on planes or travel long distances, paying large sums of money, for them the sums are large, in order to have some charismatic leader tell them how they are doing it all wrong but it’s okay, since they will then inform them how to do it all right.  These ministers and lay leaders go home jazzed, seek to incorporate (and fail to convince those who didn’t go) or in fact do implement these plans and then . . . nothing. 

Books with enticing titles by well-known stars of Christianity are hustled to the poor, ignorant little people (you do note my sarcasm here, don’t you?).  If you read this book, then you will become a better leader.  Implementing these principles will grow your church beyond your imagination.  You are only one purchase away from success!  Despite multiple volumes, the average pastor is still, well, average.  Why?

Can I tell you a secret?  It won’t cost you anything but a little time to read along a little further.  The secret is that there is no secret.  While mega-ministers draw you to research and new ways to do things, they miss the most critical, essential and only means to grow yourself as a leader and as a congregation.  It’s the Bible, stupid.  Sorry, if that sounded offensive.  Think Bill Clinton’s campaign and “It’s the economy stupid.”  You’re not stupid BUT you have been played by these hucksters as if you are. 

When you consider purchasing any books or going to any conference, ask yourself if the author or presenter is leading you to the fountain of living water.  There are some signs that he or she is (or isn’t).  The first sign is the sign of humility.  By their fruits you will know them.  If the person and those around him treat him as if he is God’s gift to the world, or at least the Christian world, then don’t waste your money (or your life – some of you will get that reference). 

Another sign to watch for is the content of the material.  Check the book by getting a sample, if available, or “paging” through on a website like Amazon’s preview option.  Something else you can do, if you have your hands on the book, is page through or, by an index in the back, check to see how much Scripture is a part of what is written.  One of my favorite authors is John Piper, though I don’t agree with everything he believes.  If you look in the back of any of his books (I believe I can say that authoritatively), you will find a Scripture index.  The one in my lap, as I type, has 14 pages of Scripture references indexed to the book. 

If you have the opportunity, watch the person on television.  Does he actually have a Bible in his hands or teach from it?  When he does, is the sermon God exalting or some kind of treatment of the Bible as a self-help manual to a better you (that reference is also on purpose)?  Do you feel like you are watching a 30 minute info-mercial for someone’s books or an actual attempt to sit together at the Master’s feet and learn from Him (Him being Jesus of course)?  Is the program a performance or a service?  As for the Bible, is it lightly touched upon like a rock skimming across the surface or does the person take you deeply into the Word? 

One other thing that I would like to touch on is your calling and your church’s calling.  If you sometimes stumble over your words, you are in good company.  Moses complained about his lack of eloquence.  Even the Apostle Paul admitted that he wasn’t great with words and often enough shook with fear.  Such “weaknesses” may not get you a spot on television or speaking opportunities at Christian retreats, colleges or conferences but they will get you to lean on the One who can speak through us with power despite our weaknesses.  Such failings may keep you humble and that, my friends, is a great spiritual gift. 

Don’t say, “God, why have you made me like this?”  He who called you is faithful.  If you don’t doubt your call, then don’t doubt the One who called you.  God delights in using little people.  The pages of Scripture are filled with them.  He does this so the glory may be His and His alone.  As for others, as Jesus said, “they have their reward.” 

One of my favorite ministries had been “the Pastor to Pastor” ministry of Focus on the Family.  There were times that I listened to the monthly tapes (yes, that long ago) and tears would form in my eyes.  They were ministering to me and I was growing under the ministry of the Word and encouragement from them.  A particular program I remember was with Joseph Stowell.  In it, he stated that he expected there would be some surprises in heaven.  Stowell shared that he had received quite a bit of attention in ministry but that there are tons of pastors who are hardly known.  He said that he wanted to sit on the front rows of heaven and applaud those ministers that kept on despite the struggles.  His conviction was that God had much more reward waiting for them because ministers like him had already received so much in this life. 

I close with this thought.  Get back to the Bible.  Study to show yourself approved.  Physically get on your knees before the Lord, pray and do it often.  Repent, confess, ask God for wisdom and insight and leading, tell the Lord your insecurities; share your passions and dreams.  Ask God to do some jaw-dropping work in your life, in your family and in your ministry.  Believe that He can and that He will.  Also, have the faith to believe that so much more has been accomplished for God’s kingdom then you will ever see on this side of eternity.  And as you do these, buy yourself some books and read them and go to some conferences but only those that will get you to sit at the Master’s feet and learn from Him

And would you do one other thing?  If you know of one of these great servants of God that serve in little places with way too little credit, show some love by sending them this link.  I hope and pray that God uses it to His glory and I pray that it encourages them deeply.  





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