But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. — Galatians 1:8
Over the years I’ve watched, with indignation and concern, the proliferation of motivational speakers in pulpits. I’ve watched how many churches and preachers are replacing the gospel of Jesus Christ with motivational speaking. I’ve watched how some of these preachers have even built mega churches and empires with this brand of the “gospel.” But even worse, I’ve watched how droves of people have been misled into believing that they are getting fed the Bread of Life; i.e. the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ, not knowing that they are being served motivational speeches on a platter, spiced with scriptures.
But I’m not as concerned about these motivational speakers in pulpits, as I am concerned about the spiritual well being of the thousands of people attending their churches; and the several million worldwide television viewers whose lives are being impacted by their teachings.
It is this concern for the spiritually helpless that has led me to expose some of these preachers for who they really are; to warn you, the followers and would-be followers of these preachers. I write to alert the Body of Christ about this proliferation in the Church; the danger of motivational speaking packaged as the gospel; and to teach you how to recognize a motivational speaker in the pulpit when you come across one; which I say, sadly, that there are many out there.
So, let’s start by identifying the two leading motivational speakers in pulpits or what I call, “motivational preachers.” The two leading motivational preachers of our time are Pastor Joel Osteen of the New Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas and Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House, Dallas, Texas!
Surprised? Maybe! Maybe not! However, if you are surprised to learn that these two are motivational preachers, perhaps it’s because they are your favorite preachers. Perhaps, it’s because you’ve always thought them to be “O Great Ones.” Or maybe it’s because of their success, popularity, ministry size, followership, etc. or even because of the good they’ve done in society. For instance, Jakes’ Woman Thou Art Loosed book or prison outreach ministry. Or Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now.
As humans, we tend to attribute worldly success, good works, ministry size, popularity, followership, etc. with godly success. Therefore, the bigger a church, the more popular or successful a preacher, the more success we think a person or organization has. We even credit these successes to God’s blessings. But worldly success, good works, ministry size or even large followership is not necessarily the measure of godly success. A person can have all these, yet not be godly. For instance, Oprah Winfrey has all these attributes, but yet she’s not a preacher; neither can her success be considered godly; because of what she espouses.
So we cannot go by worldly success, good works, popularity, ministry size or even followership. In fact, T.D. Jakes in a CNN/TIME article was described as “Oprah-in-a-pulpit. But for Winfrey’s generic spirituality, Jakes substitutes God.” That is to say that, if Oprah were to be a preacher, she’d probably have one of the largest churches in the world! But thankfully, she has enough sense to stay in her lane (at least for now). So, all these attributes have nothing to do with godly success!
But just before we look at why Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes are motivational preachers, let’s first understand what motivational speaking is, the benefits of motivational speaking and the danger of packaging motivational speaking as the gospel.
What is Motivational Speaking?
Simply, motivational speaking is an encouraging, uplifting speech; intended to motivate the listeners to do better and be better in specific areas of their lives. In a sense, the motivational speaker is an encourager – i.e. the people’s cheer leader. He or she motivates people into action. Motivational speaking is based primarily on mental or human strength and not God’s strength. It is what a person can do in his or her own strength, rather than what God can do through the person in His strength.
Benefits of Motivational Speaking
Without a doubt, motivational speaking has its place in society. Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits of motivational speaking. For instance, it uplifts people; makes them feel good about themselves. It motivates them to see that they can do better and don’t have to settle for less or live beneath their means. It makes people strive for excellence, forgetting the past – past hurts, bitterness, anger, malice, etc. It can make people reach or strive for their full potentials. It can even help some unforgiving people to forgive those that have hurt them.
So yes! There are many benefits of motivational speaking. There’s nothing wrong with motivational speaking; IF it’s outside the pulpit. And as long as the people listening to it know for a fact that that’s what they are listening to. It’s only a problem when it’s coming from the pulpit as the gospel, and it’s mistaken for the gospel. We don’t go to church to listen to motivational speaking. Neither do we go to church to be entertained. Rather, we go to church to be taught the uncompromised Word of God, rightly divided. If motivational speaking is what one wants, one can just go to a Les Brown or Willie Jolley speaking engagement, to be motivated.
Now, does that mean that you cannot be motivated by the gospel? Absolutely, you can. However, there is a difference in how the gospel inspires you to become the Word, and how motivational speaking motivates. Motivational speaking motivates through feel-good messages; which, like euphoria, are not lasting. But the gospel inspires through doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Not through goody-goody, self empowerment messages.
So, if you leave church feeling good about yourself after every service, chances are you are listening to a motivational preacher. No one should leave church feeling good after service every time; which is what motivational speaking does – makes you feel good about yourself. There should be something in a message that convicts you; i.e., shows you the errors of your ways and how to correct them, so that you can be fit for the Master’s use. By that I don’t mean beat you up or condemn you; but convict you. There is a difference.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Well, if the Word of God pierces even to the division of soul and spirit, how can a person listen to a sermon and go away feeling giddy, and not be convicted? After all, a double-edged sword is not a toy. Rather it cuts, and cuts deep. But the Word of God is even sharper! how old was jesus when he died
The Danger of Motivational Speaking Packaged as the Gospel
Perhaps you ask, “If the motivational speaker motivates people into action, and encourages them to be better, what is wrong with that?” Nothing! If it’s done outside the pulpit! However, motivational speaking disguised as the gospel is very dangerous because it’s often mistaken for the true gospel. It’s like a chocolate covered poison – tastes good to you, but not good for you. Motivational speaking packaged as the gospel blurs the line between the gospel and humanism; which really is what motivational speaking is about. It blurs the line between human ability and God’s ability.
Unless exposed, motivational speaking can be difficult to discern from the gospel. So much so that even a motivational preacher may not know that that’s what he or she is doing. This is the other reason why I’m writing this article; to help other motivational speakers out there to identify and stay in their lanes. So that they don’t mistake their motivational speaking skills for a call to preach the gospel or pastor a church.
What is the Gospel?
Perhaps by now you are thinking, “If motivational speaking is not the gospel, so what is the Gospel?” Simply, the gospel is the “good news” of Jesus Christ. And the good news of Jesus is redemption or salvation from sin.
The major difference between motivational speaking and the gospel is better explained by this analogy…Motivational speaking can be likened to scratching an itch – it relieves the itching but doesn’t cure the cause of the itch. It doesn’t have the power to cure the cause of the itching. It is the truth of God’s Word that cures the cause of the itching. It is the truth of God’s Word that makes people free (John 8:32). Not philosophy, psychology or politics. Not sociology, fables or personal opinions.