Tag Archive: Sermon Illustrations

Liars for Jesus: Evangelical Preachers and Their Sermons, Stories, and Testimonies

liar liar pants on fire

Evangelical preachers, regardless of their theological flavor, are liars. I have known a number of Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, and professors in my lifetime. Without exception, these men of God, at one time or another lied to their congregants or ministerial colleagues. Now, this doesn’t mean that they set out to deliberately obfuscate or deceive — though some did — but the fact remains these so-called men of God played loose with the truth. I plan to deliberately paint with a broad brush in this post, so if you just so happen to be the Sgt. Joe Friday of Evangelicalism, please don’t get upset.

One way preachers lie is by withholding truth. On Sundays, pastors stand in pulpits and preach their sermons, giving congregants a version of truth, but not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Evangelical preachers enter their pulpits with an agenda, an objective. Their agendas affect how they interpret the Bible and what they say in their sermons. The Bible, then, becomes a means to an end, be it saving the lost, calling congregants to repentance, raising money, or advancing pet projects.

This means that Bible verses are spun in ways to gain desired objectives. Instead of letting the Bible speak for itself, the text is manipulated and massaged in the hope that congregants will buy what their pastors are selling. And make no mistake about it, there’s little difference between pitchman Billy May and the preacher down at First Baptist Church in Podunk City. Preachers are salesmen with products to sell, and the goal of a well-crafted sermon is to get hearers to sign on the dotted line. (Please see Selling Jesus.)

Another way preachers lie is by giving the appearance that their sermons are God’s opinion on a matter. God speaks through God’s man as he preaches God’s infallible Word, or so the thinking goes, anyway. However, every preacher’s thinking is colored by his past religious experiences, education, and culture. Pastors regurgitate what they heard their pastors preach while growing up, what their professors taught them in college, and what they read in theological books. Every Evangelical preacher walks in a certain rut, interpreting the Biblical text as others do in that rut. Birds of a feather flock together, the old saying goes. Christianity consists of thousands and thousands of sects, each with its own peculiar spin on the Bible. Countless internecine wars are fought over minute points of doctrine and practice. Only within the Christian bubble do these things matter, but boy, oh boy do they matter! Evangelicals, in particular, are known for their bickering over theology and how followers of Jesus should live. This fact is a sure sign, at least to me, that Christianity is not what Evangelicals say it is. If there is one God, one Jesus, and one Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer, it stands to reason that Christians should all have the same beliefs. That they don’t suggests that there are cultural, sociological, and geographical issues at work. How else can we explain the theological differences between sects, churches, and individual Christians? Why, Christians can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion/Eucharist/Lord’s supper.

Most preachers know about the diversity of theology and belief among Christians, yet they rarely let it be known to their congregations except to call other beliefs false or heretical. It is clear, at least to me, that the Bible teaches a number of “plans of salvation”; that both the Arminians and Calvinists are right; that both salvation by grace and salvation by works are true. Why don’t preachers tell the truth about these things? Is it not a lie to omit them — the sin of omission?  If Christianity is all that Evangelicals say it is and Jesus is all-powerful, surely Christians can handle being given the truth about the Biblical text, church history, and the varied theological beliefs and practices found with Christianity. If pastors want to be truth-tellers, they must be willing to tell congregants everything, including the stuff that doesn’t fit a particular theological box. Imagine how much differently Evangelicals might act if they were required to study world religions and read books by authors such as Bart Ehrman. That will never happen, of course, because it would result in most preachers losing their jobs due to attendance decline and lost income. Truth is always the enemy of faith.

Atheists such as myself know the value of wide exposure to contrary beliefs. After all, our deconversions often followed a path of intense and painful intellectual inquiry. In my case, it took years for me to slide to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief. Along the way, I made numerous stops, hoping that I would find a way to hang on to my belief in God. I found none of these resting places intellectually satisfying. I wanted them to be, but my commitment to truth wouldn’t let me. In the years since, I have encouraged doubters to follow their paths wherever they lead. Meet truth in the middle of the road. Don’t back up or try to go around. Do business with truth before moving forward. This is, of course, hard to do, because it requires abandoning previously held beliefs when new evidence is presented. It requires admitting you were wrong. And therein is the rub for many Evangelical preachers: they have spent their lifetimes being “right” and preaching their rightness to their church congregations. To admit they were wrong would cause their metaphorical houses to tumble. So instead of telling the truth, Evangelical preachers lie. They lie because they have careers, congregations, and denominations to protect.

And finally, some Evangelical preachers lie in their sermons, stories, and testimonies because they never let the truth get in to way of telling a good story. I have heard countless testimonies and sermon illustrations, and the vast majority of them were embellished at some point or the other. Not that this is a great evil. We all do it, Christian or not. My problem with Evangelical preachers doing it is that they present themselves as pillars of moral virtue and arbiters of truth. When you ride your horse on the moral high road, you should expect attempts will be made to push you down the ravine to where the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world live.

Preachers know that there’s nothing like a good story to seal the deal with people listening to their sermons. Believing that “the end justifies the means,” preachers shape and mold their stories and testimonies in ways that best lead to desired outcomes. For those of you who were raised in Evangelical churches, think about some of the salvation testimonies you heard on Sundays. Fantastical stories, right? Almost unbelievable! And in fact, they aren’t believable. All of us love a good story, but when trying to convince people that a particular sect/church/belief is truth, surely it behooves storytellers to tell the truth. Instead, preachers color their stories in ways that people will be drawn into them. Every story and every sermon is meant to bring people to a place of decision. A preacher has wasted his time if his sermon hasn’t elicited some sort of emotional response. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Politicians, sportscasters, and preachers — to name a few — all use the power of stories to draw people in and get them to make a decision — be it to get saved or vote. Any preacher worth his salt knows how to manipulate people through their use of stories. A boring sermon is one that is little more than a dry, listless lecture. Gag me with a spoon, as we used to say. Give me someone who speaks with passion and uses the power of words to drive home his or her message. As a pastor, one of my goals was to inspire people, not put them to sleep.

Sometime during my early ministerial years, I stopped expecting preachers to be bold truth tellers. I listened to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) conference speakers Jack Hyles, Curtis Hutson, Tom Malone, and others tell stories that were embellished or outright lies. Hyles, in particular, lied more often than he told the truth. He is famous for telling people how many people he counseled every week. Much like President Trump, Hyles’ statistics didn’t hold up under scrutiny. Hyles could have told conference attendees that he counseled a number of people each week, but instead he led conference attendees to believe that he counseled hundreds and hundreds of people every week. He wanted people to see him as some sort of super hero; an Evangelical Superman. The same goes for his soulwinning stories. While there may have been an element of truth in his stories, they were so embellished that only Kool-Aid-drinking Hyleites believed them to be true.

Such is the nature of preaching. Does this mean that preachers are bad people who can’t tell the truth? Certainly, some of them are. More than a few Evangelical churches are pastored by con artists who want to scam their congregations, troll for children to molest, or seduce naïve church women. Most preachers, however, are decent, thoughtful people who genuinely believe in what they are selling. They want to save souls and help congregants live better lives. Often raised in religious environments where embellishing truth or outright lying was acceptable, these preachers preach in the ways that were modeled to them. Isn’t that what we humans are wont to do? We tend to follow in the footsteps of our parents and teachers. There is nothing I have said in this post that will change this fact. All I hope to do is warn people about what they hear preachers saying during their sermons. Tom Malone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Pontiac, Michigan and founder of Midwestern Baptist College, one time said during a sermon, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth!” Dr. Malone meant to be funny, but what he really did, at least for me, is reveal that what preachers preach may not always be the truth. Judicious hearers should keep this mind the next time they listen to this or that preacher regale people with their fantastical stories. Remember, it’s just a story, an admixture of truth, embellishment, and lie. In other words, good preaching. Amen? Amen!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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How Preachers Put the Fear of God into Church Attendees

fearful of god

Fear is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to manipulate and control church attendees. While many Evangelical churches are taking more of a relational approach that focuses on feel-good how-to sermons, hellfire-and-brimstone churches can still be found in virtually every community. These kind of churches are known for sin-hating, devil-chasing “hard” preaching. The men who pastor such churches take pride in the fact that their toe-stomping sermons cause sinners and saints alike to fear God. And in some instances, not only do church attendees fear the Almighty, they also fear the preacher.

There are two ways commonly used by preachers to cause people to feel afraid of God. First, there are the various Bible verses that promote a healthy fear of God. The book of Hebrews says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments. The Bible also says that people should fear he who has the keys of life and death, “he” being, of course, God. Then there are also various Bible stories that remind people of what might happen if they disobey God. Preachers remind church attendees that disobeying God shows that they have a lack of fear. Church members who are not regular attendees or faithful tithers are told that their disobedience reveals a heart that does not fear God. No matter the sin, according to Evangelical preachers, the root cause is a lack of fear of God. If people feared God they would do all that God commands them to do. Of course, far too many Evangelical preachers confuse their personal convictions and way of life with the laws, commands, and precepts found in the Bible. I have written several posts in the past about the long list of rules and regulations that can be found in many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) These rules and regulations are little more than personal interpretations of various Bible verses. There are no verses in the Bible that prohibit many of the things that Evangelical preachers preach against, but this does not keep them from conflating personal beliefs with the teachings of the Bible. While many Evangelical churches have softened their stance on many social issues, plenty of churches still preach against “sins” such as alcohol drinking, drug use, gambling, mixed bathing, movie attendance, swearing, immodest clothing, long hair on men, pants on women, rock ‘n roll music,dancing, petting, and premarital sex. Preachers scour their Bibles looking for verses and stories that can be used to prop up their peculiar social and moral codes. Again, the main purpose is to put the fear of God into people so they will not do the things that preachers and churches consider sin.

The second method that Evangelical preachers use to promote the fear of God is the telling of personal stories that are meant to remind people of what happens when people ignore God and live in ways that show a lack of fear. Remember, people show that they rightly fear God by obeying God and the teachings of the Bible. People who attend church, yet ignore God’s commands, are treading on thin ice, and if they do not repent, God could bring judgment down upon their heads. Preachers often tell stories about former church members who ignored their preaching and stern admonitions, only to find themselves being punished or even killed by God. Years ago I listened to a preaching tape by Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard. His sermon was titled, God kills people. Will he have to kill you? The purpose of Barnard’s sermon was to provoke church members to explicitly obey the commands of God. Threatening people with death was certainly a good way to get their attention. Of course, despite all the fear-mongering, most church members remained passive attendees who threw a few bucks in the offering plate and said, Great Show.

Evangelists were often the best storytellers. These merchandisers of fear and judgment use unverifiable stories about people in other churches who did not fear God. With thundering voices and apocalyptic pronouncements, these men of God tell stories about people who angered God, and He made them sick, took away their jobs, killed their children, or suffered any of a number of other reversals of fortune people face in this life. Instead of seeing such things as shit happens, evangelists see these things as signs of God chastising his children.

I vividly remember a revival meeting with Don Hardman in the late 1980s when the evangelist left the pulpit and came down to where the church teenagers were sitting. With a raised voice Hardman pointed his finger at each teenager, telling them that GOD sees everything they do. He then recited a list of the typical “sins” committed by rambunctious, hormone-raging young people. By the time he was done, I could see that the teenagers were fearful. I thought, at the time, that God was using Hardman to ferret out sin and rebellion against God. I now know that the church teenagers did not fear God as much as they feared Don Hardman. Or perhaps they feared being found out. Either way, come invitation time, numerous teenagers came to the altar to pray. I suspect very little changed for these teenagers, but by coming to the altar to pray, they showed, outwardly at least, that they had received God’s and evangelist Hardman’s message.

Many Evangelical preachers save their best fear-mongering stories for unsaved church attendees. These kind of stories are used to show unsaved people what could happen to them if they put off getting saved. Every Evangelical preacher knows of people who had heard the gospel and had an opportunity to be saved, yet they put off their decision to another day. And before they could be saved some sort of tragic accident happened that led to their death. Once dead, the sinners no longer had an opportunity to make things right with God. They should have feared God and taken him up on his offer of eternal salvation. But because they didn’t, they are now burning in hell.

I wish I could say that I did not use such manipulative stories and means to get people saved, but I did. I justified it, at the time, by reminding myself that the Apostle Paul became all things to all men so that by all means he could save some. What is the harm of a psychologically manipulative story if the end result is sinners saved from the fiery pit of hell. I employed all sorts of justifications for my use of heart-wrenching, tear-inducing stories of human tragedy, suffering, and death. Believing that I somehow had to get people’s attention, I used these stories to force people to see the brevity of life and the importance of putting their faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of people came forward at invitation time, knelt at the altar, and asked Jesus to save them. Nearby, at the same altar, would be church members — people who were saved — who were also doing business with God — confessing secret and not-so-secret sins.

Putting the fear of God into people is good for business. Without it, I suspect many people would not bother to attend church.  Without fear and threats of judgment, most people would choose to sleep in on Sundays and enjoy a leisurely brunch before they turn on the game. I know I would. One of the greatest joys that came with becoming an atheist is that I no longer fear God. Since God doesn’t exist, I no longer have a need to quake in my boots at the very mention of his name. Of course, Evangelicals are fond of reminding me that there is coming a day when Bruce Gerencser WILL fear God, but I am confident that when that day comes, the fear-inducing God will be found nowhere. This God is little more than a tool used by preachers and churches to keep people in the pews and money in the offering plates. Remove fear from the equation and I suspect there will be a lot more Baptists at the lake on Sunday morning.

Did you attend a church where the preacher regularly made use of fear inducing sermon illustrations? Was his fear mongering successful? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Sermon Illustrations: The Lies Preachers Tell

lying for jesus

From 1976-1979, I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Midwestern was started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone, pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. Dorm students were required to attend Emmanuel. One Sunday, Dr. Malone made a statement during his sermon that I have never forgotten. Meant to be a joke, Malone said “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.”

I was 20 years old when Malone made this statement. I will soon be 59. In the intervening years, I preached thousands of sermons and heard hundreds of other sermons, either in person or on cassette tape. Preaching is an art form meant to convey some sort of spiritual message to hearers. While Evangelicals love to make much of the Bible, preaching is far more than just reading the Scriptures. Following Jesus’ example, many preachers use stories to illustrates their sermons. Story-less sermons are, in my estimation, boring. I suspect most church goers would agree with me. Imagine going to church on Sunday and hearing a sermon that consists of a droning-fan-on-a-summer-day preacher reading the Bible word-for-word. B-or-i-n-g.

Illustrations help keep parishioners engaged. There’s nothing better than a couple of stories interjected at just the right time. In fact, many parishioners won’t remember anything about their preachers sermons except for the fantastical stories they told. Marge, wasn’t that a wonderful story Pastor Billy told today? Yes it was, Moe. Why, that one story was almost unbelievable. Pastor Bill wouldn’t lie, so I know he is telling us the truth.

Dr. Malone got it right when he said, “I am not preaching now. I’m telling the truth.” Malone knew that preachers love to tell stories, and sometimes their stories are not as factual as they should be. Younger preachers often buy illustration books. These books provide preachers with a ready source of catchy, provocative illustrations sure to get the attention of parishioners. Older preachers often develop a cache of illustrations that can be pulled out of their mental file cabinet and used when needed. These illustrations often come from past experiences, especially for preachers who did a lot of “sinning” before Jesus rescued them. I have heard countless preachers regale parishioners with stories about their lives as drug addicts, drunkards, Satanists, atheists, or hit men for the mob. These stories often seem larger than life. And they are, because these kind of stories are often embellished.

I recently posted a video of anti-porn crusader Dawn Hawkins telling a story about seeing a man watching child pornography on an airplane.  Several commenters said that, based on their flying experiences, Hawkins was lying. I believe they are correct. I think the same could be said for many of the stories preachers use in their sermons. Simply put, these men are liars for Jesus.

The late Jack Hyles, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana was a masterful storyteller. I heard Hyles preach in person and on tape. His stories were mesmerizing, especially to a wide-eyed young Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher from Ohio. However, over time, I came to the conclusion that Hyles was a narcissistic, pathological liar.

For many years, Hyles pastored the largest church in the United States. Those raised in the IFB church movement know that for men such as Hyles, it was all about the numbers: church attendance, souls saved, baptisms, and offerings. The ministry was like a bunch of third grade boys in the restroom playing the who has a bigger penis game. Preachers who had John Holmes or Ron Jeremy-sized churches were considered men who were being mightily used by God. Young preachers and men who pastored smaller churches were expected to sit at the feet of these preachers, learning how they too could have a large church.

Hyles, due to his church’s number one place on the charts status, was viewed as a demigod by many IFB preachers. I was one such preacher. Hyles told stories about how many people he counseled, souls he had won to Jesus, and the thousands of miles he traveled to preach at Sword of the Lord conferences. Wow, what a great man of God, I thought at the time. I want to be used by God just like Brother Hyles.

I now know that Hyles’ stories were lies. He simply did not have enough hours in the week to sleep, eat, shit, have an affair,  pastor a church, win souls, and fly around the country to preach at conferences. As with all lies, Hyles’ stories had elements of truth. However, when carefully analyzed, Hyles’ sermon illustrations sound too good to be true.  Let me illustrate this with several stories found in Hyles’ book Let’s Go Soulwinning:

So I walked in and said, “Hey! Anybody home?” And there was—thirteen people at home—company all dressed up in suits and fine clothes. There I was. Imagine, Rev. Hyles, a cup in his hand, fishing hat on, split tee shirt, patch in his breeches, and a pair of tennis shoes on his feet! And I said, “Hello.” The lady looked at me, she looked at her company, then announced, “This is my pastor.” I was horrified! I was humiliated! I wanted to evaporate but couldn’t.  Finally I said, “Excuse me; I’m sorry.” Then I got to thinking. Shoot! Just take over the conversation. Just act like you have good sense. So in I walked. “How do you do! How are you? Are you a Christian?” I went around the entire room asking the same question. Then THEY got embarrassed.  (I found out long ago that when a preacher goes to a hospital or gets some place where he feels like a fifth wheel, he should just bluff them and take over the conversation. That will help you, too. It really will. You go to the hospital.  Here is the doctor, the nurse, the family. And everybody says, “That’s the preacher.” You know how you feel, pastors. It’s a terrible feeling. So I walk in, “Hello Doc. How are you?” Make HIM feel bad. Make HIM feel like he’s a fifth wheel.)

So I walked in and asked each person if he or she were a Christian. The last man, a young man, said, “No, I’m not, but I’ve been thinking about it.” Well, I said, “I can help you think about it right here.” We knelt there in that home and opened the Bible. He got converted. He lived at Irving, Texas, forty miles from Garland. I said, “Now, J.D., you need to walk the aisle in the church in Irving tomorrow.” He said, “If you don’t mind, Preacher, I’ll just stay over tonight and come to your church and walk the aisle.” He did, and that night he got baptized in my church. Later he joined the First Baptist Church of Irving, Texas.

You don’t realize how many places you will bump into people. I saw a lady while on vacation just recently. She said, “Hello, Brother Jack. Remember when you won me to the Lord?” I said, “I certainly do.” It happened while I was looking for a Mrs. Marsh. I knocked on Mrs. Marsh’s door—I thought. She came to the door. I said, “Mrs. Marsh?”

“No, I’m Mrs. Tillet.”

I said, “Mrs. Tillet, I thought Mrs. Marsh lived here.”

“No, she lives five houses down the street.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tillet.” I walked off. Then I said, “Wait a minute, Mrs.

Tillet. Are you a Christian?” She began to cry. I led her to Christ right there.

I have won shoeshine boys and fellows on airplanes. I was going to Phoenix to a conference last year. I sat down beside a man seventy-two years old, a wealthy rancher. “Where do you live?” I asked.

He said, “On a ranch between Phoenix and Tucson.”

I said, “Do you and your wife live alone?”

“My wife died a few months ago.”

I asked, “Do you ever think about having anybody else come and live with you?” “Oh,” he said, “If I could find somebody who would come and live with me, a friend to keep me company, I’d give anything in the world.” He had chauffeurs, servants. He owned a big ranch with hundreds of acres, but was as lonely as he could be.

I said, “I know Somebody who would come and live with you.”

“You do? Does He live in Phoenix?”

I said, “He sure does. He lives everywhere.”

He said, “Who is it?”

“Jesus will come.” In fifteen minutes that man had Somebody to go home with him to live.

Oh, if we will just take time to witness. The trouble is, we are ashamed of Jesus. We don’t mind saying, “Isn’t it hot today?” or, “I wonder how the Berlin situation is.” We don’t mind talking about Khrushchev. We’re more eager to talk about him than about Jesus. Isn’t that a shame! Here we are redeemed. He died for us on the cross. We have been made heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. He is building a home in Heaven for us. We’re God’s children and we won’t even tell a stranger that we belong to the Lord Jesus. Be soul-conscious.

Storytelling preachers love to tell stories about people suddenly dying and going to hell. What better way to drive a point home than to tell hearers about this or that man rejecting God’s plan of salvation and then dropping dead and awaking in hell. This story can be told numerous ways with different characters and circumstances. The point is always the same: now is accepted time, now is the day of salvation.

Let me conclude this post with several stories I have heard preachers tell. One preacher told a story about a man God had called to preach. The man ignored God’s call and went on to have a large family and made lots of money. One day this man’s wife and children were driving down the road when a truck hit them head on. This man’s entire family was instantly killed. In a quiet moment before the funeral, the man wept over the caskets of his loved ones. And at that moment  God audibly spoke to him, telling him that it was God who had killed his entire family to get his attention. Are you ready to serve me now?, God asked the man. The man collapsed and told God that he would indeed forsake all and follow him.

Another preacher told a story about the people in hell. One day, a crew that was drilling an oil well began hearing what sounded like people crying and screaming. Where was this noise coming from? They soon ascertained that the noise was coming from the oil well casing. One of the workers decided to drop a microphone down the well casing, and sure enough they heard people screaming about being in the unrelenting, fiery flames of hell!

Of course, neither of these stories is true. The first story was a legend of sorts. I heard variations of it numerous times. Preacher Bob heard Big Name Preacher John tell  the story at a Sword of the Lord conference. Bob thought, why not use this story in my sermon, impressing on people the importance of immediately obeying the voice of God.

The second story is pure fabrication. But hey, if souls get saved . . . right? The end justifies the means, even if it means telling stories that are more farcical than the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

Have you ever heard too-good-to-be-true sermon illustrations?  Please share them in the comment section.

 

I’m Not Preaching Now, I’m Telling the Truth

preaching

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan from 1976-1979. Midwestern, started in 1954 by Alabama preacher Tom Malone, was a small fundamentalist Baptist college.  Malone pastored nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church. In the 1970’s, Emmanuel was one of the largest churches in the country. Today its buildings are shuttered and a FOR SALE sign sits in the dust-covered main entrance door.

During my time at Midwestern, I heard Tom Malone preach several hundred times. Considered by many to be a great pulpiteer, Malone’s preaching was fervent and punctuated with illustrations meant to drive home the point he was making. During one sermon, Malone said something I never forgot. In the middle of sharing an illustration, Malone said:

I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.

Everyone laughed and then he finished his illustration.

Over the march of my life from infancy to the grave, I’ve heard thousands of sermons and preached thousands more. I’ve heard men that had no public speaking skills and others who were wordsmiths capable of enchanting hearers with their preaching and illustrations. Sadly, there are a lot more of the former than the latter.  Even though I am an atheist, I still enjoy hearing a well crafted sermon delivered by a man who knows how to turn a word into an epic Broadway production.

Preaching only the Bible is boring, uninspiring preaching. An effective sermon requires illustrations. Jesus was a master storyteller. His sermons made ample use of illustrations meant to drive home a spiritual point. A preacher that is good at his craft knows that illustrations are key to helping listeners understand and embrace his sermon. And therein lies the danger.

When I started preaching, I used illustrations from illustration books. As I aged and experienced more of life, I began to use more and more illustrations about my experiences and personal life. If a preacher isn’t careful, it is easy to massage his illustrations to “fit” a particular sermon or audience. Sometimes, the illustration becomes a lie.

As I mentioned above, I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard thousands of illustrations and personal stories, all meant to get my attention or drive home a point. Over time, I came to understand that many preachers played loose with the truth, often shaping their stories to make a particular point or to cast themselves in a positive light. In other words, they lied, even if they don’t understand they are doing so. Often, a speaker can tell the same lie over and over until they reach a point where the lie become reality and they think it is the truth.

Take Jack Hyles, by all accounts a masterful speaker and storyteller. He was also a narcissistic liar. I heard Hyles preach numerous times at Sword of the Lord and Bible conferences. His sermons were usually long on illustrations and short on Scripture and exegesis. For Hyles, it was all about the sermon, the story, and the invitation. Everything he said was meant to bring hearers to a point of making a decision for or against Jesus.

Here’s a story Hyles told about winning an auto mechanic to Christ:

When I got to his house, he was working under the car. He was lying face up on a creeper and could not see me as I arrived.

“Hyles Mechanic Service!” I shouted.

“Who called you?” he asked.

“I was not called,” I replied, “I was sent.”

“Well, roll yourself under and see if you can see what is the trouble.”

I got another creeper, laid down on it, and roiled myself under the car with him.

“Looks like to me you need the valves ground,” I shouted.

“How can you tell from under here?”

“I am not talking about your car. I am talking about you.”

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am Pastor Hyles of First Baptist Church.”

Then he became inquisitive, and I explained to him that he needed Christ as Saviour to make him a new creature and that he was in worse shape than the car. With both of us lying on our backs looking up at the bottom side of the car, I told him how to be saved. When time came to pray the sinner’s prayer, he closed by saying, “Lord, I am just coming for a general overhauling.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. The next Sunday he came forward in our service professing his faith in Christ.

Great story, and one I have no doubt is an admixture of truth and lie. Every time I read a story like this I am reminded of that Sunday morning almost forty years ago when I heard Tom Malone say, “I’m not preaching now, I’m telling the truth.”  Now, that will preach, as the Baptists like to say.