About mid 2017 I was called by a family member who asked me to look into a certain preacher on TV. He wanted me to investigate the preacher and recommend whether he should take a close relative for healing prayers to the preacher’s church. The vibrant preacher is based in Nairobi and runs a 24/7 TV station with dramatic church services that would put most Naija movies to shame.
I had watched the preacher on TV before and already had an opinion about him but now that I needed to give a report, I had to delve deeper. I knew that I had to listen to a number of his full length sermons in order to understand his doctrine. Typically, he would read a bible passage, preach on it for a few minutes then manifestations begin. People in the congregation, mostly women, would begin to shout and act out. The ushers would rush and bring the person to the front and the good apostle would deliver them, after they have confessed their evil and said something great about the preacher. It is mostly about witchcraft and spells, which is basically the central theme to the church.
Like many believers, it bothers me deeply that the gospel is blatantly butchered and misrepresented out there by some preachers and believers for their selfish gains. Even before looking into this preacher, I had begun putting down things to look out in false preachers and churches. This research only solidified my resolve to put out this article.
Following the death of Billy Graham, Benny Hinn paid his tribute to the great evangelist in a live Facebook video, in which he also said some profound things which would make some believers cringe. Relevant magazine titled it ‘Benny Hinn Says He’s Guilty of Taking the Prosperity Gospel Outside of What the Bible Teaches’. He actually says that he is guilty of taking prosperity gospel a ‘little farther than you really need to go and then God brings you back to normality and reality’ and goes ahead to talk about how in the bible ‘none lacked among them’ despite not having much.
Ain’t that sad, that many people may have been led to believe wrong things.
That may make you sad, but you see, preachers are human, they don’t come in black and white. They come in grey, shaded by their backgrounds, perspectives, perceptions, life experiences, training and influence. There are no perfect preachers, just like there are no perfect Christians, all of us fall short of his glory.
In this article I hope to expose some of the things I believe are characteristic to false preachers but are often overlooked. You can replace preacher here with pastor/apostle/bishop/dad/mum whichever is synonymous with you.
These reasons might also apply to churches since most false preachers cannot be separated from their churches. The beginning and end of the preacher is the beginning and end of the church.
So here are some things you will find in false preachers. I assure you that number 6 will not shock you.
Doctrine is the software that runs a believer. It is your understanding of your beliefs. You have a doctrine whether you know it or not. For example you hold a belief about salvation; for whatever reasons you have come to believe that salvation is attained in a certain way, which is your doctrine about it.
I had to listen to about 5 full length sermons of the ‘flying’ TV preacher in order to understand his doctrine. I had to understand where he was coming from in order to debunk his interpretations and manifestations. I had to check the contexts of the bible verses he was reading and relate them to the application he was giving.
This is what the Bereans did in Acts 17; they received the word with eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul taught was true. This is what we should do today.
What I found out about the TV preacher is that his doctrine wasn’t sound. The applications of the bible verses were really off. He would give a prophecy like ‘someone will lose a job somewhere for you to get one’ or ‘you will hear some people have died since God is removing them because of what they did to you’.
Having the right doctrine is foundational for a preacher, if you believe wrong you will live wrong. Sadly many are led astray.
Salvation by works
This is a big one because salvation is central to the gospel. It is the gospel. Without the sacrifice of our lord Jesus Christ on the cross, there is no Christianity, no church and certainly no gospel to be preached. Anyone who preaches that there is another way to God other than by his grace and mercy has lost it. Anyone who insinuates than men have anything in themselves to attain salvation has lost it.
This is fundamental, it is non-negotiable, and it cannot be touched. There is only one way to Heaven, it is by laying down all our good deeds and looking up to Jesus, accepting him as our lord and saviour and letting him guide us in our journey as believers. No amount of good works can earn us a place in heaven. Salvation is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8.
God is here
Some preachers advertise their churches like it is the only place that God has visited on earth. It is like God only dwells there and so if you want a miracle you have to come to that particular place to receive it. You will hear this a lot after the radio or TV broadcasts, they would really insist on you visiting their church.
It is not wrong to invite people but to make it look like God only works through you and in your church is misleading. It is so Old Testament. God is everywhere; we do not have to worship in Jerusalem or a particular place. He cannot be boxed or micro managed. Thankfully Jesus warned us that in the last days false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders to deceive people. They will tell people ‘Look here is the Christ’ or ‘there’ but we ought not to believe that. Mathew 24:23-28
Not all signs and wonders are from God; that is just a side note to ponder upon.
Worship not a lifestyle
If your understanding is that worship is slow songs and praise is fast songs then you need to review your salvation and certainly you are in the wrong church. It sounds so trivial but churches have branded worship as an experience or an event. Now we have ‘worship nights’ which is ok, but worship is far more than an event.
Worship is a lifestyle. As cliché as it may sound, it entails all that pertains to us. The way I treat people is worship, my giving is worship, my attitude is worship, my discipline is worship, my parenting is worship and my work/business is worship.
Any preacher who presents worship as music or an event is misleading his/her congregation.
Tagged blessings – give to receive
This is the one people identify quickly. Touch a person’s money and you will know their true self, they say. The truth is that sowing and reaping shall be there as long as the earth exists. There is a blessing in giving but it has its conditions. We all know that God does not look at the money but the heart and that is why the widow who gave two pennies gave the most in the eyes of Jesus.
A billion given with the wrong motive has no blessing from God. A shilling given from the heart touches the heart of God.
A preacher who spends time every Sunday telling people to give without addressing the motivation of giving and teaching cheerful giving is just wrong. Telling people to give without teaching them the principles of giving is like playing guitar to a goat and expecting it to dance.
You don’t give to receive; you give because God has already given you. You give to appreciate his providence, to show where your trust is, to tell him thank you. Your blessing is not held somewhere in heaven waiting for your one thousand to drop in the offertory bag, you are not bribing God and you certainly don’t have to type amen to receive your blessing for the day.
My observation is that people are more materially blessed in churches which promote cheerful and pressure-less giving.
I went to a church during the political campaigns in 2017 and the way pastors were drooling over a visiting politicians’ money was just sad. Does it matter if money comes from a known corrupt politician? The message to the congregation is that it doesn’t matter how you make your money as long as you bring it to church, you are ok.
Pastors who accept anything from anywhere without questioning are not fit to shepherd others.
Unnecessary control and pressure
I know a lady who moved churches because of this. The pastor was controlling and basically interfered in her personal life to a point that she could not take it anymore. You know those pastors who want to know how much you earn, why you are not driving, where you live, who you are dating, your bosses etc.
These may not sound like bad things for a pastor to know but some exert constant pressure on their members to live a certain lifestyle. They make it look like being blessed means living in a certain estate, driving a certain car, marrying a certain person etc. Some people have to wear masks and present a desired image to their pastors in order to look like they are ‘there’.
If there should be any pressure or concern, it should be on the spiritual health of a member, on their prayer life and on their growth in their relationship with God.
Pride is that sin, in my opinion, that God hates with passion. You only have to google ‘pride in the bible’ and see what God says about it. Pride says, ‘I don’t need God’. It is putting self ahead, it is being under your own rule, and it is saying ‘I can do it on my own’.
The work of salvation itself is to transform us to put our trust in God and not in ourselves. It is a journey of dying to self, dealing with pride. I have been guilty of this sin but allow me to highlight the issue from a preacher’s point of view.
Some preachers make it look like they are above the ‘law’, like they never sin. They present a non-existent ‘perfect’ man who is revered by the congregation. It is like they are untouchable. You wonder who they are accountable and vulnerable to. A person like that should not lead people, because the day he falls from that high place, many will go down with him.
Some are called powerful men of God which is only right if they mean God’s power working through them but not them being powerful of themselves.
Leaders fail, mentors fail, parents fail, pastors fail, bishops fail, we all fail. No one should present themselves like angels, even angels fail. We see vulnerability all over the bible, Jesus wept, the disciples doubted, Paul talks of his struggles and many others. The spirit and the flesh are in constant opposition, and as long we are in these bodies we shall struggle. That has to come from the pulpit.
A church that focuses on itself will not last. A church that is focused on lost souls out there will last. It is sad that most of our churches are inward focused. It is all about our church, our programs, our projects, our facilities, and our retreats, what we are doing for us.
Mission is the reason the church exists. We are called to be witnesses near and far. The Holy Spirit empowers us, not just for our own sake but to fulfil a purpose out there for God, to bring many to the knowledge of him. It is all about going and making disciples.
If a church exists for any other reason, then it needs to close down. If this is not the main agenda of your pastor or bishop then you should move.
False preachers are not as easy to identify as you may think. Most of us focus on the outer issues and use them as basis of our judgement. One is not a false preacher because people washed a road for him, but because they have a wrong doctrine.
We can only find safety in the word of God, reading it, studying it and living it. Only then can we stand, only then can we have knowledge and not perish.