Seven Great Reasons Pastors Shouldn’t Use Gimmicks

    Making himself relatable to sports fans, “Pastor Tim” at Grace Fellowship eats a cockroach in front of an applauding crowd over a lost sports bet.

It’s very common for pastors to use gimmicks to either get people to church or to maintain their interest. Here are seven great reasons pastors shouldn’t use gimmicks.

In just the last several weeks, we’ve seen a plethora of gimmicky stunts passed around the internet. Responses either range from annoyance to admiration. This preacher (pictured above) ate a cockroach because he lost a bet. This preacher zoomed into the pulpit on a zip line to illustrate the return of Christ. This preacher lived in a cherry picker to collect frozen turkeys. That’s just been the last week, and there are thousands of more examples of pastors going the extra mile to prove they’ll do whatever it takes to get attention, pack the house, or get a laugh.

However, these seven reasons should help persuade you that changing the office of the pastorate to stunt-man is neither glorifying to God nor effective.

7. The office of the pastorate is one of dignity and honor.

The Bible is very clear that the office of the pastorate is one of dignity and honor (1 Timothy 3:4). Pastors must maintain this dignity because church members are told to respect and obey them as stewards of their soul (Hebrews 13:17). It’s hard to maintain a semblance of dignity and honor when the pastor is cutting off his tie for high-attendance Sunday, painting his hair pink to highlight breast cancer awareness, or putting on his own version of Fear Factor to add an extra looky-loo or two in the pews.

“Pie in the Face” night was an Awana tradition at my church for many years, in which the kids with the most merit can throw a whip-cream pie in the face of any Awana leader they choose. I made myself the exception. It wasn’t about being dirty; I’ve covered myself with manure working with church members in calving season or blood while helping church members butcher a deer. I’ve covered my legs in grass while trimming the church’s lawn.

I’m not afraid of being dirty. My fear is that children learn to show disrespect to their pastors, even by something as slamming a pie in his face. The very idea sounds like something thought up by the devil, rather than God. And frankly, it’s really hard to respect someone who is acting like a clown.

6. What you attract people with is what you’ll keep people with.

To make this point, I’ll merely quote the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon:

From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if He had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him.

Then again, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers .., for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

If you attract people with gimmickry, it will take gimmickry to keep them. It starts with eating cockroaches, and the next thing you know the pastor is riding a motorcycle into the sanctuary and shooting midgets out of canons. The pastor is not your dancing monkey, people.

5. The duty of the church is discipleship, and that requires sober-mindedness.

Churches don’t actually make Christians (God does that). The church is commissioned to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). A part of discipleship is sober-mindedness (1 Peter 5:8). This means to be serious-minded, and not acting juvenile or sophomoric.

What, all fun and no play? That will make Jack a dull boy.

It works like this. You have one life. You have one life to live for Jesus. Most people you know will split hell wide open when they die. You live among the walking dead. The Gospel they’re most likely to hear is still in your mouth, heart and head. So yeah, it’s a serious life. Asking why Christians are so serious is like asking why Robert Schindler didn’t joke around more…there are people to save, and we live in a spiritual dead-zone and are trying to reach the perishing.

Pastors are to be sober-minded (1 Timothy 3:2). There’s nothing sober-minded about eating cockroaches because you lost a sports bet.

4. Lost people don’t really think it’s cool. They think it’s desperate.

When Greg Locke gave away a television recently to get people to church, he said the Bible instructs Christians to “do whatever it takes to reach people.” No, the Bible does not say that anywhere. The Bible does not teach bribery as an evangelism method. And frankly, lost people don’t think it’s “awesome” to see a pastor on a zipline or a stripper pole in the sanctuary to highlight a sermon about better love lives. Lost people think it’s lame.

You know that unpopular kid in school who thought his new pair of name brand shoes were going to suddenly make everyone want to be his friend? That was sad to watch. When Christian people act in a worldly way, it doesn’t really attract worldly people. They already have worldliness, and their worldliness, frankly, is way more fun than our version of worldliness.

Years ago, when part of a community-organizing non-profit, I was surprised to hear my rather progressive supervisor argue against after-school programs that use video games to reach kids and keep them out of trouble. The latest and greatest fad, at the time, was to provide a “hang-out” for latchkey kids to play video games. The problem was – as my supervisor pointed out – is that kids wouldn’t come (she was right). The reason is that latchkey kids already have video games at home, and they have adult-rated games where they can beat hookers with baseball bats while the after-school centers have age-appropriate games. Simply put, they couldn’t compete. Churches are the same way when they try to be worldly. They can be kinda worldly, but they can’t go “full-worldly.” And if you’re attracted by worldliness to begin with, you’ll choose debauchery over pseudo-worldliness every time.

Look at the Facebook threads where these articles about churches using gimmickry are publicized. The heathen aren’t impressed at all. They think it’s lame and sad. Here’s an idea; provide an alternative to worldliness, not just a poorer version of it.

3. It’s the pastor’s job to fill the pulpit, not the pews.

Pastors feel immense pressure to fill the pews. If they don’t, they may get fired (that’s unfortunate, but it’s the case in many churches). And so, they’ll do whatever it takes, eating cockroaches and all. And yet, the pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus say absolutely nothing about the qualifications of elders including being an apt carnival-barker.

The pastor’s primary job is preaching and teaching the Bible (2 Timothy 4:2, Acts 20:28, Ephesians 4:11-12). God’s people will naturally be drawn to that.

The devil’s people will be drawn to lights, lasers, and shiny objects. The problem is that once they’re there for the show, the show must go on or else they’ll leave. And in the meantime, God’s people starve to death for the lack of spiritual food.

2. There’s no time for gimmicks.

Let’s see here, exactly what should the church be doing during the Lord’s Day gathering? I should know, as I’m responsible for planning the services at the Fellowship Baptist Church.

We are to have a time of singing hymns, songs and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19). We should devote our time to preaching and teaching, the Lord’s Supper, prayer and fellowship (Acts 2:42). Sometimes the church must devote ourselves to carrying out matters of discipline (Matthew 18). We are to take up an offering (1 Corinthians 16:2). We are to devote time to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13).

Now, the math may work differently in your church, but here’s how it goes in mine.

The singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs takes about 25 minutes. Taking up an offering happens during a song, so it’s moot. Prayer time (before Sunday School and periodically throughout the worship service) takes about 20 minutes. Public Scripture readings take about 10 minutes. Teaching takes about 30 minutes and a sermon takes about 50 minutes. The Lord’s Supper takes another 15 minutes. And general fellowship before and afterward (if done well) takes another 30 minutes or so of just casual, caring conversation. In total, that’s coming in right at 3 hours.

This means if I get to church fifteen minutes early for casual conversation among the Beloved (that’s at 9:30 AM in my church), that means I should get out of church about 12:30 PM. And that’s if there’s no baptism that Sunday and no love-feast (aka potluck) afterward.

I’ve been keeping that schedule for years, and honestly, the whole Lord’s Day endeavor seems entirely rushed. I certainly couldn’t find time for a stand-up comedy act, a zip-line intro from the balcony, or to ride a mechanical bull. I assume it would take at least five minutes for the pageantry of shooting a midget out a canon. But I don’t have an extra five minutes. If you want people to go to church, don’t waste their time with doing garbage events that are nowhere listed in Scripture as the point or mission of the church.

1. There is no example of gimmickry in the New Testament.

There are a few examples of eccentric Old Testament prophets who did some pretty weird things to get the attention of hard-hearted people. However, under the New Covenant, the church shouldn’t consist of hard-hearted people. A church is a “called-out assembly,” as the word in Greek is defined. For how to do New Testament church, the New Testament is our example. Nowhere in Scripture do we see the Apostles or early church elders performing gimmicks to attract people to the gathering. God’s word should be enough to attract people to the gathering.

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:2

Just preach the Gospel and teach God’s Word, brothers. That’s sufficient for God’s people and all who will become God’s people.

[Editor’s Note: Contributed by JD Hall]