Shortly after his release from prison and the release of his autobiography, I had the chance to sit down with Jim Bakker at a convention in Los Angeles. I was working for a radio station at the time and convinced the news crew to let me do the interview. I wanted to give Bakker the opportunity to tell his side of the story.
I told him how I’d seen his ministry change, from a simple, sincere morning interview program to a media extravaganza complete with Christian shopping malls and time-share condominiums. I opened with the obvious question: “WHAT HAPPENED?!!”
He told me that the ministry outgrew his capacity to keep up with it. That, by the end, they were having to raise 1 million dollars a week* just to keep it going. The pressure was tremendous. The focus shifted from the people being reached to the money needed to reach them.
I’ve seen ministers rationalize that type of thinking. “We stress X% growth and we count numbers because each number is a soul.”
My husband, Jeff, has been working for the past year to plant a network of house churches in the working class suburbs of Porto Alegre. The problem now is that the leaders want a church building. Never mind they don’t have but about 15 people to put in it. Never mind that no one has the funds to pay rent or mortgage, or even a power bill. They want to be “official”.
I don’t begrudge these folks a building, or respect in their community. I go to a church that meets in a building, always have. My fear of the building is that the focus will shift from those people who need to be reached to the need to fill up the building and pay the bills that come with it. It’s almost inevitable.
I had a surreal conversation with a fellow missionary (not IMB) the other day. I asked about their new church plant among the upper-class here in town. She described how they were moving the time of their weekly service to Sunday morning, from Sunday evening, because they thought people might find that more convenient. She continued to tell me who all they had talked to and how they were trying to attract them to this weekly service.
I just wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her and say: YOU DID NOT GIVE UP YOUR LIFE AND MOVE TO BRAZIL TO GET PEOPLE TO ATTEND A ONE-HOUR WEEKLY CHURCH SERVICE!!!
We gave up our lives, moved continents, to see LIVES CHANGED. DISCIPLES MADE. PEOPLE JERKED FROM THE GATES OF HELL TO WALK WITH THE CREATOR GOD!
There was a time when we equated church attendance and Christian growth. In the early years of our marriage, we spent HOURS strategizing on how to get young couples to attend church. We had events, we went to conferences, we lost sleep, we prayed.
I see now that the problem was likely that our focus was on the attendance, and not the people. We had no idea that was what we were doing.
I hope this group doesn’t lose their focus.
*My memory may be faulty here. It may have been per day or something like that.