How to be a Famous Preacher

Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen

1. Be a good public speaker. Express emotion: either be very good at anger, or weep copiously, or smile successfully. Wear the right outfit for your target audience: a Rolex,  leather, tattoos, an Armani suit, whatever cardboard caricature impresses your particular constituents and will make them quit changing channels and watch you. Use a stage set that is part of your presentation: The most successful Christian TV show in the 1980s used French provincial living room furniture with an ornate staircase.

PTL Club

PTL Club

Another successful goateed speaker of the 1980s, Francis Schaeffer, dressed in early 20th century knee breeches to hike across Europe and speak about how the great European artists preached their version of religion, juxtaposed with the true Christian religion.

Francis Schaeffer dressed for his video series on humanism

Francis Schaeffer dressed for his video series on humanism

2. Be able to take a conversion or an answered prayer story and tell it dramatically. Tell only the details that support your premise. Leave out the details that disprove your premise. Don’t be above exaggeration. Edith Schaeffer wrote how their prayers as missionaries in Lausanne, Switzerland, after WW2 were miraculously answered, sometimes down to within a dime of the amount of money they needed to purchase their first L’Abri property.

Edith Schaeffer

Edith Schaeffer

Her son, in 3 heavily autobiographical novels, tells about how an American missionary family in Lausanne, Switzerland, having purloined the mailing list from their new denominational headquarters in Pennsylvania, sent out glowing reports of their work converting young college atheists in Switzerland, and begging for money for a camp for their evangelism. The denomination demanded the American missionaries cease and desist from using the denomination’s mailing list because their donations dropped precipitously while the L’Abri donations sky-rocketed, but the Schaeffers won the popularity contest and the denomination had to back down.

Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts

3. Be able to ask for money easily. Like Rick Warren, be able to make people feel a little bit guilty for not giving money to the mission to convert poor non-Christians in Russia. Pretend you are not begging. “I’m not begging for money, I’m just letting you know how much your contribution to my ministry means to the little orphans in Africa who benefit from it.” Make sure nobody can check on how the money is spent overseas. God told the famous radio preacher, Oral Roberts, that he had to raise 8 million dollars in 3 months or God “would take him home.” He raised the 8 million dollars, which temporarily rescued Oral Roberts University and City of Faith Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma from going under.

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell

4. Look like you already have lots of money, and make your ministry look successful. Like the trainer at Edward Jones financial planning said, “Fake it ’til you make it.” When you are becoming a financial planner, nobody wants you to invest their money unless you look like you already invest lots of people’s money. So the trainer advised: “Fake it.” One famous TV preacher (Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University) always told his TV viewers that he was speaking to a packed capacity crowd, even when there were very few people present. When speaking to reporters he would over estimate his donor pool mailing list by 300% to exaggerate his influence and the power of the Christian right in the 1980s. Conservative Christians are trained to be loyal and to look the other way when one of their heroes exaggerates (lies).

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

5. Have a successful looking spouse who looks like he/she is fascinated by what you say. Make sure she isn’t too high strung, so that she can look supportive and fascinated for years, through thick and thin, through unbridled boredom, for richer for poorer, through unfaithfulness and humiliation. Like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, have your acts of penance ready for the bumps in the road.  And like Jimmy Lee Swaggart, act out your contritions in high melodrama with tearful appeals to God for forgiveness. Don’t be afraid to be so outlandish that your lives will be parodied on Saturday Night Live. Your constituents operate at a 7th grade level, emotionally and intellectually. Whatever worked in 7th grade, will work to make you a successful pastor. Face lifts are almost required for the TV preachers and their wives over 50.

 Jimmy Swaggart , 1987.

Jimmy Swaggart , 1987.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

6. Pretend you’re not bragging. “I don’t want any of the glory for myself, I’m just telling you what the Lord has done in my life.” “I pray four hours per day.” Rick Warren: “My book, The Purpose Driven Life, sold more copies than the top 10 New York Times best sellers combined.” Nevermind that biblical scholars are horrified at how Warren used the scriptures out of context to mean things that the scripture clearly did not mean, the book still was wildly popular.

7. Preach about things that your listeners already believe in. Do not challenge the status quo. Your supporters will be in Fowler’s stage 3 faith, trusting that you will be leading them into the center of the faith. Use the catch phrases and evangelical  or pentecostal lingo that let people know they are part of the in

Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson

crowd. Like Pat Robertson, find a niche: Create an “Us versus Them” scenario that your supporters can feel righteously indignant about: In the 80s it was abortion and humanism. In the current age it is old evangelicalism versus post-evangelicalism. Or Covenantal Calvinism versus the God who learns as time goes by. Or New Age Buddhism versus the God who cares for us personally.

9. Drop names of famous people you have met:

Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon

Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon

entertainers, politicians, business owners. Like Billy Graham, remain loyal to President Nixon until he turns out to be a sleaze. Like James Dobson, support popular wars and the lost blue collar young men that die in them. It is interesting that Jesus was almost anarchic in the absence of name-dropping of the rich and powerful.

10. Hint at a hierarchical competitive Christian ladder that your listeners can attempt to climb in order to grow in status in the Christian community. “She prays 8 hours per day!”

James Dobson

James Dobson

11. Promise your listeners tacitly that if they follow your teachings their lives will be full of faith and promise, their marriages will be full of love, their children will grow up productive, happy and faithful churchgoers. Make it seem like life is hopeful, predictable and manageable, like all they have to do is reject a couple of popular books, movies and TV shows, or wear the appropriate uniform, or go to the right seminars and their lives will become easy, joyful and successful, maybe even promise them they will be successful in their careers and wealthy, or that all their diseases will be healed.

12. Don’t be too soft hearted. The most successful pastors in America today plow through volunteers and “leave the wounded in their wake” as Christianity Today magazine described James Dobson and his Focus on the Family ministry in the early ’90s. An exterior of a tough Christian pastor that protects a wounded child interior is the best recipe for a successful ministry. A couple of diagnoses from the DSM-V are helpful to the successful pastor as well, the most popular being Bipolar II, and Narcissistic Personality, with a wife who has Histrionic Personality. At the very least you need to be the adult child of an alcoholic parent, even better if the parent was suicidal.

13. Preach hard against sexual sin, but it doesn’t hurt to adopt a little sexual deviancy yourself. Rolling Stone Magazine (1986) reported that a male employee said Jim Bakker extorted blow-jobs from him, and Jimmy Swaggart’s prostitute said she wouldn’t want her kids hanging around Jimmy Swaggart because of the sex acts he liked (mostly watching). This came out after Jimmy Swaggart exposed his main competitor in Baton Rouge for committing adultery. 69% of evangelical men admit using porn in the last month, and 25% of pastors report they are currently having an affair with a member of their congregation.

13. Use your kids as illustrations in your lessons and books. It’s okay to punish them in front of the entire congregation. Make sure they are angry drug-addled sex addicts who want to follow in your footsteps.

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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4 Responses to How to be a Famous Preacher

  1. These characteristics differ greatly from my Dad, a Church of Christ minister for over sixty years. He is 85 and it has been a year since his last sermon. He still hopes there will be occasions when he feels well enough to do so again. He has no interest in material things or important people. Not impressed with wealth. To him everyone is special and important. He is authentic and free of guile. That is why I see the people you mention mostly negatively. They are nothing like him. I learned some things from Francis Schaeffer forty years ago when reading a few of his books and am grateful for that. But he could not keep me within their version of the orthodox Protestant thought world. I appreciate and identify more with his son now. Perhaps I’m the one who is an old fogey; for, when I look back to the good ole days of the 1970’s, I think the general culture was more open to understanding psychology and using that as a tool for understanding ourselves. We would have a kinder gentler America if the people you mentioned were more like my Dad.

    • garycummings says:

      Steve,
      I am glad your dad is like that, Actually I knew a couple of COC preachers like thatm very gentle. It is a wonder they lasted as long as they did in a church full of wolves.
      Yep, I learned some things from the older Schaeffer. I always detested his pro-war stance and his alliance with the Moral Majority. I do not think much of his son, Frank was responsible for much of the heinous acts of the Moral Majority and even encouraging people to be violent in the name of Christ, Now he was seen the light of the error of his ways, and wrote more books about that (Books=$$$ and FAME). I think he is still some form of religious scum. Yes, I admit it, I read a couple of his books after his Damascus Road experience, but he has been “earning” making movies and writing books from both sides of the religious-political fence.
      Hurrah for your Dad, I am sure he was a blessing to many people.

  2. Pingback: How to be a Famous Preacher by Mark | THE WORD on The Word of Faith (a GroupBlog)

  3. BH says:

    You know, I was thinking about that verse about teaching people what they want to hear and tickling their ears. It dawned on me and then this blog post reminded me that the “telling people what they want to hear” and “ear tickling” varies from denomination to denomination and from church to church.

    The Church of Christ preacher who teaches no instruments, must be baptised or your damned, It’s Church of Christ or hell, and so forth is just telling his Church of Christ members what they want to hear and tickling their ears.

    The Baptist pastor does the same thing about forever saved, the Methodists about their beliefs ect.

    The bottom line though is no one actually has proven baptism washes away your sins or that the Bible is actually correct whatever it teaches concerning instruments, and so forth. No one has actually brought forth and absolute objective standard to tell what the Bible says is true.

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