The use of gimmicks is a sure sign of just how desperate pastors are becoming as they see rising expenses, declining revenues, and a dispersal of their congregations to other churches or their decision to just give up on the manipulative pastors and stay home.
I'm not referring to any specific church here - I see different forms of these gimmicks on a regular basis as I watch what happens in churches all over the country. Sadly, these gimmicks in the long run will hurt their churches. People are busy - and people are educated - and to try to waste people's time through manipulative sermons pushing manipulative gimmicks demonstrates the pastors' own lack of faith and trust in God, and shows that they think their people are stupid sheep.
When it comes to pastors trying to get people to give more money for a building or restoration project they will often preach a series out of the book of Nehemiah. Pastors will paint themselves as being a modern-day prophet sent by God to "rebuild" the church. Just do a Google search on "Nehemiah building program", and you'll see examples of sermons, sermon outlines, and blog posts everywhere from pastors using Nehemiah.
So when your pastor says God gave him a vision, and the vision involves sermons out of Nehemiah, you will be presented with the following cast of biblical characters fit to your modern day church:
Nehemiah: your pastor is the modern day Nehemiah, sent by God with a "vision" to you the church members to "rebuild the walls of Jerusalem"
Walls of Jerusalem: Well, the "walls" Pastor Nehemiah needs to build are actually the church buildings. You might need a new building, or maybe you stingy members didn't give enough the past 5 years and now the roof leaks and the carpet is ratty. Or maybe you just need more money so the church can do basic ministry.
Faithful Builders: If you get on board with Pastor Nehemiah's vision, you will be counted as part of the faithful Jews in Chapter 3 who got busy and rebuilt different parts of the wall. This is where the gimmicks come in so you can visibly show others you are with Pastor Nehemiah. You might have to come forward with a card, a rock, a stick, a tennis ball, or give a testimony and cry, or something else so that you can be seen by all as being with the pastor. And ultimately you will be asked to make a commitment. On a card.
The Evil Opposers: in your Pastor Nehemiah's sermons, if you don't get on board, if you object to the manipulation, if you dare to open your mouth and criticize the plan in any way, you will be cast as the evil opposers of God. You will be the "Sanballat" of Nehemiah chapter 4 who ridiculed Nehemiah and the Jews. You will be told you're "angry", so angry that you will be told you run the risk of developing esophageal reflux and throat cancer. You might not be a true Christian, because to oppose pastor Nehemiah means you are opposing God like the evil Sanballat and Tobias. See the guy with the turban on his head? That is not Ergun Caner. That is Sanballat. That is you, oh criticizer. Those frail guys at the top of the scaffold are your fellow church members who are
digging into their walletbusy laying bricks to help. And please, Sanballat - do NOT send a critical email. That is exactly what Sanballat did - see the scroll in his right hand? That is his hard copy email delivered to Pastor Nehemiah.
The Bricks: you might be asked by your pastor to make a brick. You might be asked to decorate a brick and bring it to church as a visible sign that you are not Sanballat or Tobias. Or some churches have used cardboard boxes. You'll be given a flat cardboard box, given specific directions on how to fold it into a box, and then asked to decorate it at home. Then you'll be told the day to bring it to church, so you can march it up to the platform and together with the other faithful builders you can make your own cardboard Nehemiah's wall. That will be a great way for you to show you are a builder, a true believer, and not a Sanballat with a turbine on your head and a critical scroll in your hand.All of this orchestration just really insults the intelligence of church members, and shows the pastor's own lack of faith to just leave the results to God. Many pastors and their associates will demonstrate their lack of trusting God by hitting the "Evil Opposers" sermon very hard to lay a huge guilt trip on people and to silence critics who are spreading dissension among the ranks. When they do this, they are scared.
But be careful, because more and more these days churches are being outright aggressive in their fund raising efforts. Some churches are very explicit in their desire to get their hands on your savings, your retirement account, your real estate investments. More and more churches during their campaigns will ask you to consider liquidating your assets and give them to the building program. Robert Jeffress did this a few years ago when he said:
"...may I suggest to you: the greatest thing you can do for your spiritual health, would be to take a large chunk of your assets, and give them to this campaign. Just slice off a big hunk of 'em [as he slices with his hand] and give them to this campaign."Churches will also use carefully selected video testimonies of members who will explain how committed they are to giving lots of money to get you to follow suit. I saw one video recently of a single mom who admitted she was going to up her tithe for a building program, using her new child support money. Not kidding. This is ugly stuff. If I were this lady's ex-husband, I would be playing this video for my lawyer and getting back in front of the judge to discuss the need for my child support payments if they are just going to be used for a church building project.
So watch your wallets. I've heard reports of Sunday School classes of senior citizens being encouraged to dig into their retirement accounts and give money to the building program. These men of God really have no shame in asking you for more of your assets to keep their failing churches afloat.
What should you do? Give as you purpose in your heart to give. Don't be swayed by the manipulation. If you love your church and want to help, do it. But don't do it out of guilt or manipulation.
Remember that pastors are quick to shift the blame of years of their own poor leadership and the lay leaders' poor money management practices - and their own actions that have driven givers AWAY from church - and making it YOUR problem that YOUR life savings will be needed to solve.
So if so inclined, you might want to write on the committment card this statement of definance:
"Years of poor leadership on your end, Pastor Nehemiah, does not now equate to a financial emergency on my end."
Signed, Sanballat and Tobiah