Feature Article of Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Columnist: Tawiah-Benjamin, Kwesi

Re: TV3’s Pulpit Show is Not For Show

True, we taxi about in a world whose chief characteristic is the speed of change. Apostle Paul did not confront us with a paradox when he warned that we are in the world but not of this world. Even in the midst of all the allures and seductions of Las Vegas, certain things should set Christians, and indeed the church, apart from freethinkers and control freaks. The dividing lines between what is permissible and what is beneficial should be clear (1 Corinthians 10: 23). But in a modern world where mega-church preachers find it biblically instructive to buy personal jets for the sake of Paul’s good old gospel, whatever is permissible is usually also beneficial. It has therefore become convenient for accusers of the brethren to join in or shut up.

Even where we seem to have secured some agreement on how things should be done in the body of Christ, doctrinal differences and inconsequential issues such as the price of our pastor’s shoes, continue to confound the wise and divide the church. Showing forth brilliant flashes of thoughtful insight, journalist Ebenezer Afanyi Dadzie attempts a not so ‘spiritual’ examination of some of these issues in his July 26 article which appeared on www.myjoyline.com. He critically appraises TV3’s Pulpit reality show, where 12 to 16 year olds are assessed by a panel of judges on their understanding of scripture and treatment of subject matter, and asks: “Should one’s ability to present the word of God fluently qualify him to be a man of God? He quizzes: “Is preaching an art or a calling?”

Mr Afanyi Dadzie does not make it clear whether he is against training or apprenticeship in any professional calling. He, however, renders his argument against The Pulpit flawed by assuming that once the call of God comes upon a servant of the most high, Yahweh forbids them from seeking any ‘carnal’ training, because the supernatural is all knowing. Yet, he remains silent on Bible schools scattered around the world where many of our great pastors received pastoral training. Archbishop Duncan William and Christie Doe Tetteh trained in Nigeria. The journalist also conveniently failed to appreciate that it is part of their apprenticeship and training for young pastors to start from classrooms and tents before they build their auditoriums. Mensah Otabil’s ICGC started with 20 members in a certain classroom. Today, they count their membership in several thousands, with some 450 branches around the world. They are still growing strong.

To be fair, Afanyi Dadzie’s problem is not how big preachers are made; he is concerned with the age of the participants in the contest and also shocked that some renowned preachers form the contest’s panel of judges. The Pulpit “is designed to groom and prepare young aspiring preachers and prospective teachers of the gospel, giving them the platform to build confidence and also unearth their God given talents”, according to the programme website. The biblical prescription in Proverbs 22: 6 is the programme’s inspiration.

Verily verily I say unto Afenyi Dadzie that the kids involved in this programme would make better preachers than many others–if they also happen to receive the call of God later down the line. Instead of waiting for the call of God to hit them before they start to school themselves in the art of preaching, The Pulpit goes the extra mile ahead to prepare would-be preachers before the call. Preaching, Mr Afanyi Dadzie would realise, is an art that must be learned and perfected. Most pastors practice their delivery in front of a mirror, rehearsing their intros and anecdotes, and checking their body movements to ensure they add to the communication of their messages. The good news the congregation hears every Sunday from their pastor’s pulpits, is a product that may have passed various quality control tests in the mission house. It is even the practice of some pastors to submit their messages to head pastors for correction before they proceed to mount the pulpit. There is nothing spiritual about that. It is a whole art. It is wisdom.

Fact, not everybody should preach the word of God. It is a very difficult undertaking. Today’s congregation is an informed and critical one, much like a theatre critic in a big audience. The modern preacher is not only expected to present an inspirational sermon on the gospel of John 3: 16; he is required to gauge the sentiments of the times and plank his message on carefully selected themes to educate, admonish and encourage people. Serious preachers employ scientific research findings, radio surveys and opinions from op-ed columns to process their arguments. It is art at work here. Many of our finest preachers abandoned their professional callings in medicine, pharmacy and law, to devote more time to the serious intellectual work behind the pulpit. The call of God alone is not enough. Without the art, preaching will be bland and stale, appealing only to the gullible.

In ‘The Pulpit’, TV3 has responded to a critical need in a fast-moving information age. They are giving a gorgeous opportunity to youngsters to prepare themselves for a very noble enterprise. If it is for God’s glory, then they will be justified (Romans 8: 30). Otherwise, as Afenyi Dadzie suspects, we would be growing a generation of charlatans and fraudsters who would have mastered the art of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ so well that it would not be necessary to wait on the call of God any longer. For, even presently, it is not very easy to tell preachers who received the Heavenly call from those who were called by their wives. Besides politicians, the clergy are the most scandalous. From juju peddlers who visit shrines for sikaduro, to adulterous nation wreckers whose only motivation is money and fine suits, there are too many pretenders passing themselves off as preachers and raping people’s vulnerability before the pulpit. Some are homosexuals.

Church these days is fun, and many a preacher have tried to make it funny indeed. I sat confused in the pews of an Assemblies of God church in Accra, when a young pastor called out for those who want their kids to become prophets in future to sow a seed with 1 Ghana cedi. Is he kidding me, the guy behind me asked? Is that all it takes to make a prophet out of a 2 year old? Yet folks poured to the front in their hundreds, dolling out the red cedi note into the offering bowl. His sermon centred on how God blessed him with a 2011 Toyota Sequoia. A stranger who had heard him preach years ago felt a certain uneasiness in his spirit to bless him with the SUV.

What do I take away from a message like this? I don’t have a Sequoia so God has not blessed me? Or that I should look forward to somebody blessing me with a Sequoia? You feel like asking the same question Tevyie asked in Fiddler on the Roof: Does God sometimes sit up there playing mischief and laughing away while Tevyie’s only source of livelihood breaks his legs? No, there is no mischief there at all, Mr Tevyie. God knows the saints He has called for His glory. Those who mistook another person’s voice for God’s will soon be answering media queries about their fraud. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked (Galatians 6: 7).

The call of God comes in various ways. A former sixth form buddy, who occasionally posts some Bible quotations on Facebook, is planning to start a church. At last he has received the long awaited Call because his FB friends like the posts. He prophesied to me twice last week: “God wants to make you very great.” Apparently, he had volunteered to fast on my behalf and an Angel showed him a vision of my greatness. I felt like asking: Then, what is stopping Him? Please, tell God to go ahead and make me great. Besides Facebook, God uses other platforms to invite some people to work in His vineyard. We know them…by their fruits and deportment outside of the pulpit. Let’s hope TV3’s Pulpit show succeeds in making a few Otabils.

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin is a journalist. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.

Email: bigfrontiers@gmail.com