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Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Preaching Business

So, do we have a deal? Three men sat at a table next to where I ate my lunch in the dining area of a vegetarian eatery along Session Road. Two of them were listening intently to a middle-aged man in a ballcap and maong jacket, his hands spread over a multi-layered plastic folder.

I couldn’t help overhearing them as Mr. Ballcap-Maong obviously intended to make known his Smart/Globe “load wallet” business to everyone in the hall, perhaps hoping that some of the other diners will take interest in his enterprise.

From their conversation I gathered that one of his two listeners whom he often referred to as “Pastor” had become part of his “downline” and had convinced his younger companion, a Bible school graduate, to join him in the “loading” business.

Addressing the younger preacher, the dealer asked, “So kailan ka magsisimula [So when are you starting]?”

“Bukas siguro [Tomorrow, maybe], came the reply.

Ballcap-Maong shook his head, sighed and said, “Alam mo, ang business parang Bible Study yan e. Kung ako ang binabible studyhan mo, hindi ako maniniwala sa ‘yo. Di ka sigurado e. Pwede ba yun? Dapat huwag mong pakitaan ang prospect mo na nagdududa ka sa mga sinasabi mo dahil oras na me makitang pag-aalangan sa ‘yo, hindi mo siya macoconvert. Ganyan din sa business. Dapat kung bukas ka magsisimula, wag mo nang sabihing ‘Siguro.’ So ano, i-close na natin ang deal?“ [Engaging in a business is just like conducting a Bible study. If I were your student in a Bible Study class, I won’t believe you. You are unsure of what you’re saying. That can’t be. You must not give your prospect any hint that you’re doubtful of what you’re teaching. Otherwise, you won’t be able to convert him. In business, when you say you’re starting tomorrow, don’t add ‘maybe.’ So do we have a deal?]

Quite a salesman, I thought, as I finished my meal. I glanced in their corner as I made my way out of the dining area in time to see the young prospect handing in his initial payment to the triumphant dealer.


Tentmakers. The pastors mentioned above are just a couple of the hundreds of preachers in the country who are striving to make both ends meet by engaging in secular work (“tentmaking,” in Bible school parlance). Some have been quite successful in juggling their time between their worldly and heavenly commitments and have even become the financiers of their churches’ outreach programs.

Others have not been as fortunate, though – just like those I know who have tried earning their keep as insurance and real estate agents, multi-level marketing salesmen (read: Amway, 1st Quadrant, Forever Living, etc.), or promoters of other income generating schemes. For often, their neighbors and acquaintances find it hard to figure out whether these enterprising messengers of the kingdom of heaven view their “prospects” as lost souls to evangelize or potential business associates to recruit.


Bible or Business Studies? To a certain extent, the salesman was right: doing Bible studies is much like doing business. In Bible School, especially in Evangelism I & II, we were instructed to incorporate some principles of the business world in our teaching and preaching techniques. We were challenged to be "wiser than those in the world” and use “worldly wisdom” in selling the Gospel message. In a sense, we must see Bible doctrine as a business package that must be wrapped in attractive cover and the contents thereof explained or described in a seamless and convincing way. Our targets of evangelism – our “prospects” – must be 100 percent sold to our message.

In the mission field, I came across various motivational, inspirational or manipulative techniques and strategies used by preachers from different denominational or theological backgrounds in their attempts to “win souls” to their respective causes.

In a way, many of these preachers assume different identities ala Avatars. They morph into one or more of the following characters:

♦Health Buffs. They use Martial or Internal Arts programs, dieting tips, food supplement ads, and other clean-and-healthy living practices and tools to subtly promote their religious convictions.

VIP-mongers. They try to win souls by showing off a list (and yes, even photos) of their big-time members – those who are well-known in the entertainment industry, the government, the academe, non-government and private organizations, and other institutions.

Personality cultists. God’s spotlight is fixed on their preacher/pastor/priest/minister/imam/founder. Their religious leader with feet of clay is the Star for all seasons, The Anointed, The One. Those who disbelieve in him/her will not have eternal life.

Number-crunchers. They may not necessarily be good in Math, but they sure are engrossed in statistics. They either tell people that they are “the fastest growing church/religion” in the world, or that their number runs into hundreds of thousands of millions and hordes are getting baptized or initiated into their group.

Imeldifics. Magnificent temples/churches/mosques, hallowed halls, grandiose ceremonies, expensive ecclesiastical robes or ministers’ suits, luxury cars – all these we have, they claim, and so “prove” the veracity of their truth-claims.

Generation XYZiers. Rock-and-roll, theatrical gadgets, the latest teenage craze... you name it, they got it all. Whatever and wherever their market approach takes them, they’re all for it as long as their auditoriums get filled up with those who are in search of meaning. You wanna be hip? Join us! Come to where the flavor is.

The Boo-ers. A horror movie and a hard-hitting sermon are all they need to convert people. Listen to the groans of the rich man in ETERNAL torment ! Watch how the worms go in and out of the man’s nose, eyes, and ears! Oh, you wouldn’t want to have such a terrible end, would you?!

The Bwhuhu-ers. Experts on playing on the emotional strings of people, they look you in the eye and with all feelings tell you of how they know deep in their hearts that they are in God’s one and only religion. Their carefully worded, tear-jerking stories are enough to prove their sincerity of their character and the truthfulness of their claims.

Colonialists. They capitalize on their White missionaries who have a better apprehension of truth than their Black, Brown, Yellow and Red neighbors in this global village. Look at how tall they are, how their blue/green eyes sparkle! Listen to how fluent they are in our own local language! And their testimonies – how touching! Surely, these zealous Americanos know a lot and speak no falsehood!

Old Path-ers. They got all these charts on when, where and how denominations began. They contend that these false churches are but corruptions of the Divine Pattern for the Church. But thank God, they add, the One, True Church remained faithful to this day. The long line of our martyrs from AD 1 onwards left a “Trail of Blood” that proves our church to be the real one. Or, We have restored the Ancient Order of Things and are therefore the New Testament Church.

The Scholars. They attempt to either intimidate or impress their prospects with their smattering knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Since they know the original languages of the Bible so much, they alone qualify as exegetes and hermeneuts.

The Wonderfolks. With their health-and-wealth gospel, they attract multitudes of people and some of their spokespersons rake in millions of money. They treat your psychosomatic illness and you become a believer. They bless your empty purse, and you become hopeful.

Praiseworthy or contemptible? Judge for yourself.


Anthony Herron said...

Brother, you are completely ON-TRACK about all of these. This being a GREAT attribute of yours, candor, your listing and description of three of these really "get under my skin" and really "dogs" me: The Scholars (yes, they think that they know everything); The Old-Pathers (they think that they are DIRECT DESCENDANTS, in a Manifest Destiny type of way, of the 1st century Christians and the one that really makes me . . . ugh, is The Colonialists, because they go into other countries and "convert the natives" because they are not only smarter than but also superior to the ignorant natives. Uggggggh!

scott saboy said...

Amazing how John L. O'Sullivan's catchphrase has survived and evolved after 163 years... My greatest wish for the CofC in the Philippines is for it to finally shed its colonial past and become truly a church that is true to its indigenous roots. Some may think that this borders on ethnocentrism and anti-Americanism. I think not. For to be true to one's roots does not necessarily mean feeling superior to others, nor does rejecting "American Exceptionalism" mean hating everything American... Thanks for the comment, manong. :)

Aldous Echegoyen said...

Well said kapatid! A lot of religious group may hate you for this but that doesnt really matter, does it? What matters is the truth. I call you the Jose Rizal of modern the way, I have always admired JPR and his works.

PS: I'm with you brother. My support goes with you. Cheers!

scott saboy said...

The mavericks among us are the Jose Rizals of today. We may not speak a dozen or more languages like JPR did, blessed with the wealth of his Illustrado heritage, nor inclined towards his fancy for multiple romantic relationships :) , but many of us do share his iconoclastic attitude, reformist stance, nationalist passion, and spiritual temper.

It really feels great getting in touch with you again, brother Maverick! :) Thanks for dropping by.