What this televangelist learned from televangelists

If words mean anything, I am technically a televangelist.

Tele = “TV.” Ev = “Good” in Greek. Angel =“Messenger” in Greek. Since I am a messenger of good news (aka Jesus) who shows up on TV, the title fits.

(Which means I can no longer tell my daughters, “No, we cannot buy that! Who do you think Daddy is, a televangelist?” I guess I’ll have to default to that money growing on trees line . . .).

Recently, I read a book about two of America’s most famous televangelists from the 1980s, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. While I had heard their names, I really didn’t know their story. Now I understand both the reputation of televangelists in this country as well as some valuable truths that none of us should forget as we spread the good news of Jesus.

Here are my top 4:

4—Money matters.

What led to the downfall of the Bakkers’ ministry was money. They spent more than they had. They asked for donations for missions but then allocated them to their institution. When questions were raised about finances, the answers were vague enough to avoid accountability . . . until the whole house of cards came crashing down.

This is why, for every local church and media ministry, money matters. It matters that every dollar and every cent are accounted for. It matters that there is integrity and accountability for those involved. No one is an exception, not even the senior pastor himself. Paul himself believed, “We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift” (2 Corinthians 8:20).

Question—Does your church get an A+ grade for financial transparency and integrity? If not, how could you improve?

3—Live humbly.

When I first got involved with Time of Grace, a neighbor asked me how many helicopters I was going to own. Given my rusted-out grill and 200,000+ mile mode of transportation, I was surprised at his question. But then I read how some televangelists have lived—expensive clothes, sports cars, luxury homes—and why the reputation precedes me.

Paul was willing to give up his rights for the sake of loving his fellow Christians (1 Corinthians 8:13). Given the reputation of most churches when it comes to money, we are wise to do the same. It is not sinful to own this or to live there or to drive that, but we can avoid criticism and suspicion by choosing to live humbly for Jesus’ sake.

Question—Do your church’s leaders’ lifestyles inspire confidence in Christian giving or call it into question? If the former, how could you encourage them? If the latter, how could you gently convey your concerns to them?

2—Family first.

As a husband and father, one of the things that struck (but not shocked) me about Bakkers’ story was the lack of heart in their home. The Bakkers did not have a strong marriage. Jim worked insane hours on the ministry, which left him with too little time and energy to love his wife like Jesus loves the church. His children later admitted that they could not remember reading the Bible at home with their own parents.

Paul told young pastor Timothy that pastors are first called to be blessings to their families (1 Timothy 3:4) and then to their churches. You can only cheat God’s priorities for so long before your family, and then your church, suffers the consequences.

Question—How could you encourage and enable your pastor, if he’s married/has kids, to spend the necessary time to have a healthy, happy home life?

1—Preach eternal prosperity.

The theological error that rotted Jim Bakker’s message from the inside out was what some call “prosperity gospel.” The message, which is VERY appealing to every human I know, says that God wants you to be happy. Therefore, he wants to make you healthy and wealthy here and now.

If you’ve ever read the Bible, that message should seem off. While the Bible does talk about joy/spiritual happiness, the facts are that Jesus was homeless, the apostles were martyred, and suffering was normal for Christians. Therefore, biblical happiness cannot be connected with healthy bodies and bursting bank accounts. It must be rooted in the promise of the presence of God, which is all ours through the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Paul was not ashamed to write, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Nice houses are nice. But being with the Father through the blood of Jesus, his Son, is even nicer.

Question—When is the last time your pastor told you about Jesus’ cross? If you can remember a time, email him and thank him for preaching the truth.

The Bakkers’ story is not meant for Christians to feel smug and condescending. Rather, it’s a modern reminder that what we believe and how we behave make a difference.

In life. At church. On TV. 

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as the lead speaker for Time of Grace, where he shares the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.

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