All-star preachers visit Federal Way megachurch | 'Prosperity gospel' turns a few heads

Christian Faith Center’s Vision Conference runs March 9-11 and will feature sermons and workshops by some of America’s biggest evangelical heavy hitters: the Revs. TD Jakes, Jenetzen Franklin and Creflo Dollar.

The Vision Conference has been an annual event at Christian Faith Center since the 1980s and attracts thousands from here and across the country. Christian Faith Center is one of the largest churches in Washington, headed by husband and wife the Revs. Casey and Wendy Treat.

“It’s a boost for everyone,” said the Rev. Frank Montgomery, the worship pastor at Christian Faith Center. “We bring in the speakers and they bring their own personalities; they bring something different than (for example) what Pastor Casey would teach or what I would teach.

“There’s going to be a lot of passion and energy.”

Montgomery predicted around 2,000 would attend the conference, half of whom are not regular attendees at Christian Faith Center.

“We know people coming from the East Coast, as far as Florida and from Hawaii,” Montgomery said.

Dollar will open the conference Wednesday, Jenetzen will speak Thursday and Jakes on Friday. Dollar and Jenetzen will partake in conferences and workshops Thursday and Friday, which Montgomery said will focus on issues affecting churches — reaching more worshippers, improving social service outreach, fundraising and media relations.

Montgomery did not know exactly what Jakes, Jenetzen and Dollar would talk about during their sermons, but they will touch on topics familiar to Christians.

“They’re going to speak on grace, forgiveness, mercy and healing,” he said.

Pastors are popular and prolific

Jakes’ Potter’s House in Dallas claims an average weekly attendance of 17,000, according to the Hartford Seminary’s Institute for Religious Research (30,000 according to Jakes’ website). And Dollar’s Atlanta-based World Changers Church International attracts 15,000 weekly on average; he also holds a weekly service at Madison Square Garden in New York. Franklin operates Free Chapel in Gainesville, Ga., with an average weekly attendance of 10,000.

Jakes moved from West Virginia to Texas in 1996 and founded Potter’s House. His sermons are broadcast all over America and the world. He is a prolific author, including “Reposition Yourself,” which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 23 weeks.

Dollar’s sermons are broadcast to satellite churches across the country. He founded his church in 1986, with the first service held in an elementary school in College Park, Ga. In 1995, construction was completed on the World Dome, the church’s headquarters, which holds more than 8,000.

Franklin is popular for authoring a bestselling book on fasting and his advocacy of the practice as a matter of faith. Franklin’s sermons are broadcast on TV and radio across the country, and his ministry publishes Connection magazine. His church has acted to rebuild homes in Haiti and feed the hungry.

Pastors spotlighted for ‘prosperity’ teachings

A 2006 Time magazine article, “Does God want you to be rich?” named Dollar and Jakes along with the Rev. Joel Osteen as among the top preachers in America of “prosperity gospel.” The term refers to a preacher who teaches that personal wealth can be gained through prayer and tithing, or donating to the church — and that Scripture in the Bible backs it up.

Montgomery said that he has heard the term “prosperity gospel” only used jokingly. And, anyway, the focus should be kept on the good works of churches, he said.

Dollar and Jakes “spend millions of dollars on their communities; they’re spending millions of dollars ministering to their communities. That takes human and financial resources,” Montgomery said when asked his opinion about prosperity gospel. (According to various media reports, World Changers took in donations worth $70 million, $80 million and $69 million in 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively.)

“Then there’s preachers that have done stupid things with their money. And, of course, the media blows that out of proportion. It’s OK to make that public, but what they don’t report is the good things,” Montgomery said.

No doubt, both Jakes’ and Dollar’s churches donate lots of money to community outreach and social service programs. They sometimes preach against material wealth.

“Realize that God is the source of our every need and desire, and that he must be our priority in life — not seeking riches,” read a recent post from Dollar’s Twitter feed.

Dollar in particular has been singled out over money. In 2007, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) launched an investigation into the finances of Dollar and five other well-known preachers, asking for documentation on their compensation and how their churches spend money. Grassley’s investigation was sparked by the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation — a watchdog of church practices — and was an attempt to inspect the veracity of these churches as public charities.

Dollar did not comply with Grassley’s request. But a report by Grassley’s office found through public records that Dollar or his church owned at least two homes (each valued at more than $1 million), had once been given a gift of two Rolls-Royces, and that at one time owned four private jets.

Some in the evangelical community differ on prosperity preaching. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California — another of the largest in the country, with around 23,000 attendees on average — has criticized preaching prosperity.

“This idea that God wants everyone to be wealthy, there is a word for that: baloney,” Warren told Time magazine in 2006.

It’s about God, loving people

The Rev. Jeff MacLurg of Our Savior’s Baptist Church in Federal Way said that large churches often spread good messages.

“There’s some incredibly great stuff that’s going on with some of these megachurches. They have some incredibly great ministries going on,” he said, noting that he has a few parishioners at his church who formerly attended Jakes’ Potter’s House — also where they found Jesus Christ.

But he’s less enthusiastic about prosperity teachings.

“I don’t believe God promises a material prosperity. I differ with that perspective. God promises to bless those that honor him. That’s the primary complaint I would have,” he said, noting that he’s not familiar with Jakes’ or Dollar’s actual teachings. “I would love to be able to preach prosperity and know that everyone who gave a dollar would get one back, but that’s not what the Bible teaches.”

A couple of pieces of Scripture are held up as evidence that Christians are entitled to material wealth. Most notably, Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Joshua 1 says, “Keep this book of the law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Montgomery called it a “bummer” to be asked about prosperity in relation to the Vision Conference speakers. He said the church and Vision Conference don’t care about money, but “we are about worshipping, we’re about loving God and loving people.”

“It’s not about the money,” Montgomery said. “It’s about, how’s the peace in your heart? Where’s the joy that really only Christ can satisfy? We’re trying to love God and love people. And I agree, the love of money is the root of all evil. That’s not the Christian message.

“I don’t think God cares about whether I drive a Toyota, or if I drive a Mercedes. To me that’s not the point. The point is, how am I living through God and loving the people?”



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