Editor's Note: This op-ed orginally appeared as a blog post at PajamaPages.com. It is reprinted with permission from the author.
What would you think of a pastor who preached to his church in front of billboards advertising the newest Cadillac or Monster Energy drinks? Would you find it acceptable for a pastor to paste advertising all over the stage, filling the space with branded messages in the finest traditions of NASCAR?
Would it make it any better if the pastor was pocketing money from these ads?
The thought is disgusting, but it is happening all the time, and it's time we started pointing it out and objecting to the commercial corruption of the pulpit. While a lot of deserved attention is being paid these days to the deceptive marketing behind many celebrity pastors' books, another aspect of the whole endeavor reveals the primacy of commercial interests. Not only are pastors not telling the truth about how they're earning money, they're not proclaiming the truth until and unless they're earning money.
It takes a long time to write a book, and even longer to get the manuscript into readers' hands. From the genesis of an idea, it can easily take a year for a book to go on sale. For example, Perry Noble wrote his final chapter for his Unleash book in early December 2009, but the book didn't go on sale until late September 2010. Judging by the book blurbs and breathless celebrity endorsements, these books contain Big Important Ideas that every Christian needs to read Right Now!
Fair enough, but why do these writers keep their Big Important Ideas hidden from their own congregations until they have the privilege of paying $19.99 at the church gift shop for their pastors' wisdom? Why not offer the results of their church-funded research to God's people as soon as they were confident enough to put it to paper? The scheduling of branded sermon series with book releases is so common that it's almost unremarkable, and while they preach, they routinely plaster their stages and church websites with what are essentially ads for products being sold by secular publishing companies.
Consider the following celebrities, sermons and publication dates.
This list could easily get much longer, but you get the idea. One particularly jarring aspect of this is the appeal to the reader's readiness. Rick Warren promises that we can immediately apply Noble's teachings to achieve impossible breakthroughs. Perhaps, though Noble held out on his congregation for a year before teaching them those useful promises. In his own blurb for Driscoll, Perry Noble worries about the church sitting on the sidelines and not teaching about marriage, while Driscoll does exactly that, sitting on the sidelines waiting for his book to hit stores. Warren also tells us that Noble's forthcoming book will help us overcome difficult days, though Noble is content to leave his own congregation struggling with their problems until April Fools Day (no kidding).
One interesting aspect of Noble's new book is his recent revelation about taking antidepressant medications, an admission for which he was widely praised for his transparency. Noble says he realized while writing his new book that he couldn't fight his mental illness (his characterization) without medication:
"After a lot of prayer I decided to write a book about my battle and what I learned about Jesus and His faithfulness. However, as I began the writing process the feelings of anxiety and worry began to slowly slither back into my life like a snake sneaking up on it's prey.
"I remember writing a chapter in the book, driving home and having a panic attack in my living room.
"About three days later I took my daughter to a restaurant for lunch and found myself feeling like I could not breathe and that the walls were closing in on me."
I sympathize with Noble and think no less of him as a person for taking medication, and admitting that he does so might help a lot of people in similar situations. What made Perry decide to tell us this important and helpful news now, though? There was certainly no hint of it in the updates he gave us while he was actually writing the book. Contrast these messages from the writing process with what he now tells us happened as he wrote:
"Sitting down to write chapter one in the new book coming out next year, prayers appreciated! :-)
"Chapter one done! Yes!!!!!!!!
"Thanks so much for your prayers, another chapter done! I'm pumped!
"Hey tweets, could use your prayers today, writing the last chapter in my new book!!! Excited!!!"
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, he says about his panic attack and medications in the book, but if he decided back then that taking medication was not something to be embarrassed about, why did he sit on the information from at least last May until now? He is a minister, after all. How many people in his congregation have endured unnecessarily unmedicated misery thinking they were following the brave example of their pastor? The reason for Noble's transparency is quite obvious when you consider it in light of the marketing effort now ramping up for the book.
- Feb 5. Tweets with #overwhelmedbook start appearing on Twitter, including one by a NewSpring staff member who posts a photo of a highlighted page of the book. Noble describes him as a member of his dream team, which may be a reference to his group of personal assistants.
- Feb 5. Noble starts promoting his book on Twitter.
- Feb 20. Noble tweets an unsettling photo of him with his new book.
- Feb 24. Noble tweets the link to his antidepressant blog post.
- Feb 26. The Huffington Post and The Christian Post report on Noble's antidepressants, with links to or videos from the Overwhelmed book.
I am not criticizing Noble for taking helpful medicine, but the way that he timed his announcement for maximum marketing effect makes his bravery and transparency considerably less noble than if he'd told us last year when there was no financial payoff tied to it. The only benefit of an announcement back then would have been to suffering souls in his congregation, but that doesn't pay as handsomely as book sales do.