(This article was first published in the Trinidad Times Independent on Aug. 17, 2012).
Seeking ‘Angels’ to Grade Churches
By Ken Reamy
All advertising, regardless of media, is really nothing more than mere word-of-mouth tidbits passed from one person to another.
The online consumer review site, “Angie’s List,” is a good example. Here, people can share their experiences with a business, whether good or bad. Members can get objective reviews and obtain advance warning whether they should secure the services of a business, or steer clear of it. A favorable review or sad tale can often be the sole determining factor in people’s willingness to engage a business.
It occurs to me that such a list would be helpful for those desiring to learn about churches. Let’s call this “Angel’s List,” shall we? I think warnings and “reviews” of churches and their leaders would be most helpful prior to attending.
As a “religious consumer,” I would be interested to know if a church and its leadership are trustworthy, and if their reputation in the community is good or bad. I would like to know if they follow through with their promises, pledges, and proposals, or if their oratory is nothing more than pious platitudes.
Financially, I would want to know ahead of time if a church handles its finances in an open and honest manner, as well as if the church treasurer routinely violates his fiduciary obligations by co-mingling funds received for one account with other monies. Is church giving merely to line the preacher’s pockets, or to address ministry objectives? Is church property held in trust by devout people sincerely desiring to honor their Lord, or is it merely the headquarters of a religious franchise?
Focus on its core mission is important to me, so I would want to know if a church talks more about its corporate presence, its facilities, and its operational and organizational agenda than it does about the Lord of the church.
Prior to visiting a church I would like to know if the people in the pews are viewed merely as a revenue source or members in a living body. Are church members “sheep” to be led, or “cattle” to be driven?
It’s important to me that a church pastor is an honorable person; not one given to lies, slander, and character assassination of those he deems a threat to his position or income. Along this line, what is the pastor’s response when parishioners bring verified accusations against him—does he deny them due process, or does he allow grievances to be aired? Does he claim immunity from criticism or allegations? And does the church comply with the scriptures, state laws governing non-profits, and its own by-laws when disputes arise? Is the leading personality of the church the pastor, or the Lord on whom the church is founded?
When hard economic times hit, does the leadership roll up its sleeves and “get in the trenches” with the people in the pews by going out and getting a job in the real world, or does it insist that the pastor should be inoculated from fiscal realities, claiming the right to be fully supported by the sweat equity, labor, and wages of others? I would want to know if the pastor is a freeloader or a productive member of the community.
Does the pastor ignore, belittle, or marginalize the contributions made by others? Does the pastor vicariously impose his own guilt on others, condemning them for his own transgressions? Does he spend a lot of time on “we” vs. “them” topics to make himself appear in a more positive light? Are his favorite pronouns “I, me, mine?” Is the pastor preoccupied with self-promotion; or exalting the Lord? Does the church conduct a thorough background investigation of all prospective pastors so as to avoid installing a stealth narcissistic reprobate in the pulpit?
Can the church furnish references of previous and existing members, proof of insurance, and certification of compliance with all applicable laws governing non-profits, stating that it does not discriminate, and that it adheres to Civil Rights laws in order to retain its tax-exempt status?
Why are all these advanced warnings important? Because of the enormous potential for people to be unwittingly or intentionally wounded, injured, or victimized by religious scams and hucksters. Churches on the up-and-up will earnestly agree with such a thing as Angel’s List. Those operating on the sly will chafe at all reasonable restraints. I look forward to an enterprising entrepreneur setting up such a list to assist other religious consumers in shining the light of truth in this darkened temporal world.
The truth is either going to set you free, or set you off!
It may be a mystery to some folks how a preacher can manipulate or dupe supposedly spiritually-minded people.
When one remembers that phony ministers are described by Jesus as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), it becomes readily clear what their motives and intents are. They are versed in subtle deception that does not appear to be deception. To those who have known the depths of Satan, it’s an elementary matter to convince the non-discerning that what they’re hearing from the pulpit is of God! The appearance (sheep’s clothing) is vital to concealing the motive (ravening wolves). Soothing homilies uttered soothingly by soothsayers easily pulls the wool over the eyes of the biblically ignorant!
Biblical discernment is the only inoculation from spiritual deception. But that takes work, study, and diligence, and the modern rank and file church member resists these efforts as he rests in his contentment to relate to God based solely on what comes forth from the pulpit each week. While not all preachers engage in deception to convince others to exclusively adopt their views on things, all of them are adept at using phrases, highly-charged language, and metaphors to bring others around to their way of thinking. The sincere minister will not abuse speech and sermons to deceive the easily-duped believer, but will seek to edify his hearers with everything he says (Eph. 4:29). The preacher with a carnal or deceptive agenda, on the other hand, attempts to sway others with every word he utters (Daniel 8:23).
Salesmen use these techniques to steer the customer’s thoughts toward a predetermined outcome, as do politicians, and as did Satan in the Garden of Eden when he cleverly led Eve astray by promising wisdom only God possesses.
But when Jesus speaks to the believer, He furnishes sufficient information that empowers the hearer to think and act on his own (John 6:68); not respond in a lifeless, robotic, rote reaction that strips the hearer of individual initiative. And hearers without discernment are nothing more than sanctified robots.