Monday, May 28, 2007

Snakes On A Plane (Pray You Don't Get Bit!)

Okay, I'm stealing this title...twice, actually! Of course it was a movie title, but I also saw it used elsewhere for a PHOTO DISPLAY on this same topic. What topic, you ask? Well...

Can someone please explain to me why it's necessary for pastors to fly all over the U.S. to preach at other churches and mega-conventions? And, yeah, I called 'em snakes, cuz that's how I feel at the moment. After reading this ARTICLE, and discovering that some of the biggest names on the circuit are flying in private jets costing millions of dollars as they continuously appear on our television sets reaching out their hands for donations, I'm appalled!

For the record, I do believe that most of the preachers we're discussing here do truly have a love for Yahweh, however, I also believe that they are being falsely led by a Spirit of greed and grandiosity.

Back to my original question, though: Why the need to fly all over the U.S. to preach to those who are already saved? Here's why this is personal to me. See, I belonged to a church that gives this huge convention each year (they give a few smaller events during the year too, but this one is their annual big deal shin dig). Now, once upon a time, I used to get in my car and drive all over town to see Bishop Jakes, Rod Parsley and the rest of them. However, once I was firmly planted in a good church where the word was regularly preached and TAUGHT, I didn't feel the need to go out of my way to see the "Big Names". Nothing personal against them, I still watched them on television, but that desire to see them just dissipated after a while. So, fast forward to this new church (not the original one where I regularly got good preaching and teaching) who gives this big annual conference. The first year I was there, I didn't attend the conference at all. I recall one of the speakers being Fred Price that year, who I do like, but didn't feel the need to get all dressed up, find parking and squeeze past crowds to see especially when I can watch him in my p.j.'s on the weekends for free. Anyway, the following year, I was asked to help out with a few small tasks for that year's convention. Although I feel these things are a huge waste of time and money (hundreds of thousands of dollars, folks!), I was asked to do something that I had the skills to do and, seeing as this was now my home church, I agreed. I attended one evening of that year's 3 day event and, in fact, caught a cold because the air conditioning was so high in the auditorium, lol. So, now the next year comes along and I'm asked to actually join a committee to raise funds and obtain sponsors for the next year's event (2005). Although I really wasn't with it, again, I believed it was my duty to help my church and, again, I had the skills to do so, had the time and liked the people I would be working with, so I did it and went full steam ahead. I attended that year's event too. The following year, still working on the committee, I was really questioning myself, but kept pushing. In fact, as one of our fundraisers for this event (we had several), we opened a cappuccino bar which was available every Sunday on the church's main campus. Myself and the other committee members were the only ones to volunteer to work at the bar, which meant that yours truly bought designated food items every Saturday and was up at 5:30a every Sunday morning to prepare the items for sale, get them to the church and set up the bar which opened at 8a and we didn't shut down most days until 3p. This may not sound like a major deal (and really it wouldn't have been had I believed in the cause), but I was also missing out on attending church with my family (Mr. Free and Free, Jr. still attended, but I was outside working the bar while they were inside enjoying the service). Not to mention, I was exhausted by the time I'd get home in the afternoon. As a family, prior to all of this, we'd been in the habit of attending church in the morning, getting a bite to eat out or cooking at home, resting a while and then returning to church for the evening service. After I began working the bar, our whole family, Sunday routine was out of the window and evening service was out of the question for me...I was exhausted. This went on for several months until I just couldn't take it anymore. Don't get me wrong, I loved the ladies I worked with and I loved the actual work while there, but I didn't believe in the reason behind it and I was sacrificing precious time with my family (especially my son who was nearing adulthood and I wanted to savor the times of us fellowshipping as a family while he was still at home). So, finally, I announced that I would still participate, but that I needed to cut down to maybe one or two Sundays per month instead of every Sunday. This worked for a while until I took off for a few Sundays only to return and find out that my pastor had purchased a $300,000 Ferrari! After this, I quit the bar entirely.

How do you purchase a $300,000 car, but then still want church members to raise money to put on a conference that costs at least that? I should also mention that he bought the car with financing. And when you understand how these conference things work, my feelings are that they create a certain type of celebrity for the host and speakers which further helps them get on the major circuits where they can command top dollar for appearances...more on that in a bit. In my heart, I never felt the conferences were necessary, but after seeing it from the inside, I knew they weren't and strongly believe they exist primarily as a means of showcasing "preachers" and making money. I mean, 9 chances out of 10, they're preaching to people who are already saved. Doesn't mean we don't need to hear a good message, but do we really need to spend close to a half a million dollars to deliver that message? Especially when there are others in the world who've never heard the Gospel to begin with? Do you know how many people could be reached if we spent that kind of dough reaching out to them?

Now, I loved (still do, though I'm no longer a member) my pastor and his wife dearly. I mean, as people, they are totally cool with me. But I just don't understand where that kind of appetite comes from. I don't mind a pastor having nice things...heck, we (as a congregation) would have bought him another car if we knew he wanted one. Yes, I said "another" because we'd already pitched in and bought him one for his birthday prior to that (which added to the multiple classic and high end luxury cars he already had). Okay, maybe I wouldn't have been down with buying him another one, lol, but I'm making the point that we loved him and his wife and didn't have a problem with him having nice things. However, money gained from having that church was used to buy his car and, further, I just don't understand where that kind of desire to spend comes from when you have an assignment to feed the flock. Did I mention that there wasn't one outreach program at this church to help poor or struggling congregants, much less to help anyone in the low income community where the church sits?

Okay, so my pastor bought his dream car (well, not his dream car, cuz he bought a Rolls Royce right after that), I quit the cappuccino bar and my Soul was bothered by the whole situation. Still, when it came time for that year's conference (2006), though I swore that I wasn't going, I allowed Mr. Free to talk me into attending just one of the nights. Did I mention that it cost $100 to attend the whole event (there was a discounted cost for only attending one night, I think, but I forget what that price was)? Well, it did. Choir members, ushers, musicians, committee members...everyone had to pay even if they were working at the event!

The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back was when I was turning into the convention center and saw a homeless man crossing the street in front of us. My heart ached as I thought Here, this man could probably use a good, inspirational message of how Messiah loves him and died to save him, but he can't get inside because he doesn't have the admission fee (and there were guards at every door making sure no freebies made it inside). Bishop Jakes, Juanita Bynum, Kirk Franklin - some of the biggest "names" in the ministry circuit were there, but this poor man would never get to experience or hear the outpouring flowing through them since he couldn't afford the admission price (sadly, I'd learn later that some members of the congregation couldn't even afford it, therefore, were unable to attend!)

Since then, I've been realllllly thinking about this whole issue of how much money and material wealth is being emphasized in various ministry. And, when I stumbled upon information disclosing the airplanes that some of the "big names" such as Joyce Meyer, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Paul and Jan Crouch, Jesse Duplantis, etc. own at the cost of several million dollars apiece, I began to wonder why? I mean, the places where they're typically invited to speak already have pastors and, as previously mentioned, the people they're speaking to are already saved. Which leads me to question myself...and others like to why we continue to run all over town (and in some cases fly to other cities and states) to see these folk. We see them on television, we've read their books, we visit their websites, we listen to their tapes...are we so caught up in the hype that we also have to go see them anytime they're in town? We contribute to this whole phenomenon, since we're the very ones paying the high ticket prices (or, if there are not tickets, the pay is gotten on the backend via tape and book sales) at the gate.

If we have bibles, can't we open them at any given time and read whatever it is these men and women are being paid enormous sums to speak on?

And why are they charging to deliver the gospel, anyway?

I won't mention names, but I will mention numbers. At the 2006 conference I mentioned, one guest was being paid $25K, another was being paid $40K and another the pastor refused to disclose the amount they were being paid, but stated that it was considerably more than the others (and he hired them at that rate!).

This is getting ridiculous and we, as audience participants, are just as much to blame.

I wouldn't mind the million dollar planes and the million dollars in cars (which is a modest estimate of the amount my former pastor has spent on cars for himself and his wife) if these planes and cars were being used to take the gospel to places where people have never heard it. Or, if the pastors riding in them were spending just as much in poor communities helping to feed homeless people, educate children, rehabilitate addicts, etc. Some of the ministries I've mentioned do have reputable outreach programs, but how many of them sow into those programs what they spend on cars, planes, homes, etc.? Can you imagine if Kenneth Copeland (whose wife, Gloria, has a matching plane and who, together, own several other planes and an actual AIRPORT) spent $20 million dollars preaching the gospel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda or Sudan where terrible atrocities take place on an hourly basis by soldiers (many of them mere children) who rape, pillage and torture women and children because they don't know the love and salvation of Messiah and are, instead, mislead by evil warlords into doing what they do? Imagine the child slavery and prostitution that could be stopped in third world countries if that $20 million dollars were focused on sending missionaries into some of these remote regions and teaching people how to be freed from the bondage of sin and evilness? For the price of just one of Copeland's airplanes, how many souls could be reached or hungry children fed?

The whole situation sickens me to no end. Yet, many of us are content to make excuses for this behavior (including our own). We're so enamored with being in the religious clique and attending these huge social events that we can't see the ridiculousness of it all.

Can you imagine Messiah requiring $40,000.00 to come speak to a group of Believers? Can you imagine Him requiring a $20 million dollar plane and His own private airport to get there? Can you imagine what Messiah must be thinking when He sees His gospel being sold while those who need it, but can't afford the ticket price go without? Can you imagine what Messiah must think of all of us who continue to feed into this frenzy?

Surely there are phones on those multi-million dollar planes. Quick! Someone call the preacher up and tell them that there's no airstrip in heaven!

People, please STOP the madness...


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