I Can't Compete

by Jefferson David Tant

The religious world is a world of fierce competition, just as car dealerships are in competition with one another. Obviously, the dealer that sells the most cars makes the most profit and has bragging rights — "We're the #1 Chevy dealer in the Southeast." How does a car dealer become #1? It offers the most — friendly salespeople, up-to-date service center, free loaners, comfortable waiting rooms, etc. That's all the name of the game. But a car is a car, and whether Ford or Chevy, will get you from point A to point B. The choice comes down to personal preference.

Much is the same with churches, but there are also sharp distinctions. I get calls asking what the Roswell church offers. Do we have a sports program? Do we have a "youth minister?" Do we have a day-care program? Do we have a "Mother's Morning Out?" Do we have a "divorce recovery" program? Do we have praise bands? In other words, are we a "full-service church?"

Then I see the preachers on TV, with $1,000 suits and $100,000 cars (or a $350,000 car, which is driven by a local mega-church pastor). I don't even have my own jet plane to fly me to my preaching appointments. (I don't even fly first class on scheduled airlines.) I don't stand before an audience of 10,000 or 20,000 on Sunday — not even one of 1,000. I don't have a staff of people to write my sermons or do my research, or make hospital visits. I don't have a drawer full of amusing stories to liven up my sermons. I don't even have any sermons in my notebooks dealing with the "health and wealth" gospel. And I certainly don't make $1,000,000 a year as some do. And some of these churches have bragging rights about being the largest in their particular denomination in the state, Southeast, or even in the nation.

Then who am I, and what do I have to offer? I am just a preacher of the gospel of Christ, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation…" (Romans 1:16). All I know is I have "determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Corinthians 1:13). I preach for a congregation of people who love the Lord and who love one another. I preach for people who come to worship assemblies and classes to learn, to worship, to encourage one another, to express thanksgiving to our God. The congregation may not be large, but the members do have large hearts. 

Do I want people to "feel good" after they leave? Certainly, but I also recognize that Muslims and Hindus and pagans may also "feel good" after their worship. Feeling good is great, but the gospel doesn't always make people feel good. Thousands were "cut to the heart" when Peter convicted them of sin in Acts 2. People rushed upon Paul and stoned him more than once for preaching the gospel. If emotion is what it is all about, then I guess the mega-churches with their entertainment would win the debate. But as I search the New Testament, I find no such mandate for God's church. In fact, there are times when preaching the truth may make people feel bad (guilty). Paul instructed Timothy to "preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables" (II Timothy 4:2-4).

We see this in churches that go into communities to find out what people want a church to offer, and then design a church around what pleases people, rather than what pleases God. And then if the preacher says something that "offends," people get upset. Paul understood this when he asked a poignant question: "So then am I become your enemy, by telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16). Then there are those like Joel Osteen who state, "I don't preach on sin. God hasn't called me to do that. I want my people to feel good." One day he will meet his Maker, who often dealt with sin, urging mankind to turn from sin to righteousness.

The true competition is between God and Satan for the souls of the lost. And Satan is a good strategist. He knows how to please people. He knows how to get preachers to tell people what they want to hear. He knows how to mix the Bible with pop psychology. He knows how to wow the crowds with great entertainment and pleasing sermons. He even has his own preachers. "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds" (II Corinthians 11:13-15).

If it's OK with you, I'll stick with being a simple preacher, preaching the simple gospel. I don't think of myself as being either eloquent or powerful, just someone who loves the Lord and loves the souls of men. Thanks to those who put up with and encourage me.