No Exaggeration

December 15th, 2010 · by Tom Stuart · Communication, Leadership

“And there were about 12 men in all.” (Acts 19:7) 

If we are honest, all of us are prone to exaggerate from time to time.  Just recently I caught myself falling to the temptation to make things sound better than they really are.  I ran into a pastor friend who I had not seen in sometime.  In the course of the conversation he asked me how things were going at Bridgewood.  And then, as is so common in exchanges among ministers, he asked the dreaded question.  “What are you running?”  Now he wasn’t asking how many miles I’m running a week.  No, that’s pastor-speak for “What is your average weekly attendance?” 

Oh how I was tempted to embellish our numbers.  How I longed to be able to tell him that we had broken the next attendance barrier.  But the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me do that.  I had to give him a report that was less than what he expected.

Sad to say, exaggeration in religious circles is the order of the day.  It is jokingly referred to as speaking “evangelastically.”  That is why Billy Graham at the start of his ministry made a covenant with his team not to exaggerate his crusade attendance figures.

In my years of ministry I’ve seen many forms of religious exaggeration.  And truth be told, at times I have fallen prey to it myself. 

In my early years, I once attended a conference where I met a pastor from another state whom I greatly admired.  He regaled several of us one evening with stories from meetings he had been in where incredible things had taken place.  At one point he told us that the some of the people were so moved that they were walking on the tops of the backs of the pews like tight rope artists.  All ‘in the Spirit’ mind you.  I lay awake that night trying to wrap my mind around that. 

The next morning, at breakfast, he told us he had come under deep conviction.  He sheepishly admitted to us that he had greatly exaggerated things and walking on the pews was one of them.  My esteem for him was sustained however, because of his honesty and humility to admit his “evangelastic” sin.

Since that time I have been in meetings myself where the Holy Spirit has moved in power.  When God touches and heals people’s lives, even just one life, that does not need any embellishment.  A miracle is a miracle – period.  But on more than one occasion I have been chagrined to hear the ministers who led those meetings, share afterward inflated testimonies of what had happened.  At times I’ve wondered if we were in the same meeting. 

For many years I kept a file of some of the more sensational prophecies floating around out there from itinerating prophetic ministries.  There were predictions with time tables of amazing things God was going to do in Minnesota and in the nation.  I made it a practice to annually check them to see if they came to pass.  Several years ago I quit doing that.  None of them ever transpired.  And unfortunately, they raised more questions than supplied answers.

Why is that?  Why do we find ourselves wanting to make God sound sensational?  (As if He needs our help.)  Aren’t we just trying to give Him more glory?  Not really.  It is more about us wanting to make ourselves sound and look better than we are.  It is more about our glory than God’s glory.

Whatever God does, does not need to be enhanced.  He created the universe and raises the dead.  Why try to top that? 

You will not find any exaggeration in the Bible.  Luke’s account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Ephesus in Acts 19 proves that.  There are no inflated numbers assigned to the those participating in that revival – “about 12 men in all.”  (vs. 7)  “That’s all?” you ask.  “Luke, are you telling me that only 12 men showed up at the great apostle Paul’s revival meeting?”  Yes, that is what the Bible tells us.

However, there were other men in Paul’s day who were “evangelastic” in reporting the results of their ministry.  Paul made it clear when writing to the Corinthians, who were prone to abuses of the spiritual gifts, that sincerity is much more important than braggadocio.  In describing his and his partner’s ministry he says “God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too.  Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart.” (2 Corinthians 5:11-12)  New Living Translation

One final caveat – don’t let the exaggerations cause you to lose your appreciation for the real.

Where have you seen exaggeration in Christian circles?  What observations have you made and/or what lessons you have learned from your experiences?

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5 Responses to “No Exaggeration”

  1. This past year, I stopped getting the latest updates/e-mails from Christian groups like “Elijah list”. This was/is one of the best decisions that I’ve made. There is enough of God and His presence in my daily walk and relations to sustain me and occupy my time and I found that all of the other information/stories/testimonies that were coming to me via the media, consumed me and took up space/time that God wanted to fill with Himself in the present as I continue my daily walk where He has planted me.

  2. I have found that many can’t explain God so they add grand statements to their stories. What God does is grand, it’s just that most of it is done inside of us. It’s difficult to explain what He has done to transform my life, much took years to accomplish and much is still unfinished.

    I grew up in a “Holy Spirit, foot stomping, wild” church. I still know 2 people that were delivered years ago from drugs in 1 night – still serving the Lord today, looking as normal as the rest of us, walking the walk. However, there were 2 more that night that were delivered that you can’t see Jesus in today. No matter the miracle, we still need to walk daily and foster a personal relationship with Jesus. Those Spirit filled meetings are fun, but our daily walk is what is important.

    And by the way…we have the most fabulous people at Bridgewood with sincere hearts for Him, the numbers are irrelevant. 🙂

  3. Ann & Kay – Thank you for your perspectives. I think the rightly placed emphasis on the miracle of a changed and growing heart for God is indeed the key to safeguarding exaggeration. The Lord says “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

  4. Pastor Tom, it is very challenging though to scrutinize our life/ ministry.I remember to have been told by an elder to say that ‘I hold a big congregation’, when facing the officer US at embassy. But when I landed up facing the situation I told exactly the kind of small groups & some people far & near I go & teach the Word. The officer consulted some one over the shoulder & nodded, “yes, in that area that is how it is”. I thanked God for the Holy Spirit & His fear to have avoided that advice.
    I find that Exaggeration is a very decent word for speaking Lie, the basic tool of Satan.
    Furthermore, God forbids me to count the people in the Church.

  5. Timotheus – this is a very encouraging testimony, given your setting there in Northern India where you have to live with the threat of persecution. The Lord blessed you in a unique way through your humility and honesty. And yes, thank you for pointing out the Biblical translation for the English word exaggeration which is lying!

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