Preying Not Praying

I was a born again, spirit-filled believer, but my spiritual disciplines had gone down the drain. I had no hunger for God’s Word and hardly ever prayed. I was a lukewarm Christian, but I knew all the right lingo to sound like a solid believer.

“What a blessing this business is! God has given me an opportunity to help others help themselves! How wonderful to be able to minister to those who need our product!” My heart was hard as stone, but my livelihood was derived from selling other believers on my way of life. All I could think about were new ways to get more people in the body of Christ involved in my business. I wasn’t praying, I was preying. I had so many people at my church involved in my business that going to church was almost like going to work.

I would look around during praise and worship and notice someone who seemed to be the type of person who would do well in the business. Then I would notice someone else struggling with a weight problem. Pretty soon, everyone I looked at in church was a prospect! During the fellowship time after the service, someone always approached me about the business.

“Athena, I want you to meet someone! She’s having great success with the product and is interested in getting the business going.”

There was always something related to business that came up before, during, or after the service. Inevitably, someone would need some product or paperwork which I conveniently had in my car. I loved going to retreats, Bible studies and church meetings because someone would always ask me what I did and that would open the door for me to sell or recruit them. This was especially true once my name and voice were blaring on Christian radio.

“Oh, you’re Athena Dean! I hear your ad every morning driving to work! Does that stuff really work?” I loved it when people recognized my name. I felt like a celebrity! When our commercials ran during the prime time Wheel of Fortune program on a major Seattle television station, it was even more enthralling!

With all the publicity, it was a natural that any Christian event I attended would be fertile ground for adding to my numbers. I was convinced that my herbal product was great for people, so I ignored everything negative about it in the press or from unhappy customers. I had convinced myself that I was doing them a favor. My heart motives were glazed over with a misguided missionary zeal to help others help themselves.

Now when I read in Jeremiah 17:9-10 where it says The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to His ways, and according to the fruit of his doings…I remembered how deceived my heart was. We easily justify what we are doing before men, but God knows our hearts. He will judge us according to our ways and the fruit of our doings that is a scary thought if you’re where I was.

Preying Online

I have been amazed at the online recruiting schemes that are perpetrated in the Name of Christ. I recently took a stroll through the Christianity Online bulletin board named business opportunities and was shocked at what I found.

One headline read, “Make Lots of Cash” and went on to read “Make $100,000 in 60 days … just think what good you could do, to the glory of God.”

All you have to do is send an email message to this guy and he’ll get you the details. When you request the details you receive a file named BIGBUCKS. It is, very simply, and online chain letter. To sign up in the program you put cash in 10 envelopes and send them to 10 names on the list. Not only are chain letters illegal, but they also violate US postal regulations as they are considered to be gambling.

Another headline read, “.65 Cent Tape Can Make You Rich!” The text of the ad read, “Nothing could be simpler! People all over the country are earning $500, $1,000, $10,000, as much as $100,000 per month doing this part time!”

On down the board I saw, “Make Money with Little Effort.” Nothing to sell, nothing to buy. Just get others (emphasis mine) to try this new long-distance company and make 5% profit off their long distance bills and their downline.

It’s sad to see that large ministries and small are going this route to raise the necessary funds to operate.

The next one read, “Make Money Fast and Easy,” and another said “Lazy Person’s MLM.” The text on that one read, “I love this money making program because it does not take a lot of work but returns lots of profits quickly.” It went on to say that “profits are almost immediate and many are making at least $500 per day after 30 to 45 days.” The ads lead you to believe that there’s not much else to do but sit back on the sofa, grab the remote and start planning on ways to spend tons of money. Another ad read “Gold Coins! Secret Source. If you open the file, you’ll see I can show you how to leverage a one-time deposit of $50 into $257,835 in gold coins and cash within a year.”

The sad thing is that many in the body of Christ are responding to all these unscriptural schemes, sucked in by the love of money. How can we be so blind?

Business as a Lifestyle

Lori was motivated to build her business up to the point where her husband could quit his job. She had received wonderful results from the product and had her whole family taking it. Everything they did and everywhere they went revolved around the business. The whole family talked about the wonders of the product constantly. Every salesman who came to the door and every friend they invited over after church heard about it. They mentioned it at every social event they attended. Even out running errands they try to find some way to talk about the product in the business.

When unethical business practices and tainted products were uncovered, Lori felt she could no longer represent the company. Since the whole family’s life had revolved around the product, their lives changed greatly. Depression and bitterness set in.

When I was involved in building my business, relationships were only important if people were into “my thing” and had the potential to make me money. This is common in American business today. We are indoctrinated into believing that we should only hang around with people who are positive and supportive of us in our new ventures. We can get to the point where we tune out any and all opposition, including godly counsel. I actually began to believe that sharing my product and business was more important than sharing the Lord. I felt my way was the only way. It took the place of any kind of evangelism in my life! I went to church with business on my mind and encouraged thousands of others to do the same. I made friends with business on my mind and taught others to do the same.

When my friend, Bob, was still an unbeliever, one of his best friends, Jim, was a Christian whose parents were deeply involved in their home-based business. The only reason Bob knew Jim was a Christian was that he knew that he went to church regularly. Bob told me he could tell what Jim’s parents priorities were by the get-rich-quick books and tapes lying about and photos of yachts on the refrigerator. After Bob got saved, Jim expressed excitement about his salvation.

Bob’s last contact with Jim was after they both were married about 8 years ago. Jim and his wife had invited Bob and Sue out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Bob and Sue had been praying for new Christian friends to fellowship with. They were hoping that renewing this relationship, separated by college and careers, might be the beginning of the Lord’s answer to their prayers. The dinner turned out to be nothing more than a sales pitch. Jim’s only interest in Bob and Sue was to get them signed up in their business. Jim expressed his disappointment, the two couples parted ways and they haven’t seen each other since.

If Christ modeled relationship building as the key to ministry, it’s a fair assumption that He expects the same from us. When the product or plan we are selling is more important than the relationship, the relationship is superficial at best and there is no opportunity for impact. It grieves me to realize that I know countless people who have had a similar experience with a friend. Many relationships have been destroyed by wrong heart motives.

When I was a guest on a Christian radio program recently, a caller shared the traumatic experience she had when she and her husband went to an evangelical church for some counseling. They had just been out of the military for a short time and were not sure which way to go for employment. This caused stress on the marriage and they needed some counseling to help them sort some things out. The volunteer counselors assigned to them suggested that their problems would be solved if they joined their particular multilevel organization. The caller said she felt crushed. She and her husband felt extremely vulnerable emotionally and were asking for help. Instead of help, all they found where those who wanted only to make a profit on them.

Mary shared with me that a woman turned to her in the prayer time of a service and said “The Lord has a word for you.” After the service the woman told her that God wanted her to start taking the product that she was selling. Mary added that she had been beckoned over to open car trunks after evening services to show her the magic product that would reduce her hips instantly or cause her to lose weight without diet or exercise. Mary and her husband had finally had enough when the pastor of the church called together “a few good men” and made a presentation about satellite dishes. Mary knew they would be descending on to the congregation soon afterwards. Mary and Jeff left that church in hopes of finding one with some integrity and righteousness.

In Donna’s church, it was the leaders who used the people to get rich quick. The choir director, elders, pastor and assistant pastors would get the members whipped up about whatever was the hot fat at the moment. One young man who had just gotten saved drew all his savings out to buy a stock of water purifiers in accordance with what the pastor recommended. When he couldn’t sell them, he had to take them all to a flea market and get pennies on the dollar just to get rid of them.

Hannah, who was in ministry full-time, recently brought me an audiotape she and her husband had received in the mail. It was a 60 minute testimonial of a well-known local pastor who had gone headlong into a network marketing program that sells magnet therapy to heal injuries in the body. The pastor convincingly told his story, mixing Scripture with marketing statements. He said, “I know one man who is making $60,000 a month without spending that much time working the business!” His tactic was to send the tape to people in the ministry who needed extra money to make ends meet, hoping to recruit them into his down line.

Dina and Jim had been missionaries in Guatemala for 25 years, translating the Bible into the Chorti language. Home on furlough, they received word that one of their largest donors was unable to continue supporting them. This was a loss of over $1,000 a month. Quickly, a friend found a couple to make up that support for the remainder of there furlough. The new donors invited Dina and Jim to visit for the weekend. After an hour or so of small talk, the couple started to ask all sorts of questions about Dina’s and Jim’s hopes and plans for the future.

“Are you able to accomplish all that you have dreamed with your current financial situation?” the questions they asked hinted that God might not provide if they didn’t help him out a bit. “We have a way for you to fund your Bible translations so you’ll never again want for support!”

Dina and Jim felt violated and set up. This couple had supported them for four months clearly with the motive of recruiting them into their business. When Dina and Jim turned them down, saying that any deviation from God’s call on their lives could be a disaster, the couple cut them off from any future support or encouragement.

I hear story after story of people in leadership getting involved in these programs. It is dangerous for those in ministry to use their credibility as ministers are missionaries to promote and earn a profit on other people. Many assume that because the pastor or elder or personal leadership is involved, it must be God! They don’t bother to pray and ask God if it is right for them. The credibility of the leader or ministry is touted and held up to prove that the program has integrity and is God’s will for the potential recruit.

I was trained by one of the best. The football coach turned insurance mogul taught us that to make it big you have to think, “recruit… recruit… recruit.”

“When you close your eyes,” he’d say, “it’s almost like you have the word ‘potential recruit’ tattooed on the inside of your eyelids! Every person you see is a prospect. Everyone you see needs an extra $500 to $1,000 a month!” We were spellbound. His motivational style held us in awe and challenged us to make a difference with our lives.

The truth is, in order to make it big in any of these programs, you must sell out. The only way to motivate others and make big money is to eat it, sleep it, and breathe it. You must be consumed by it. And the dream is the big money. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. The only way I’ve ever seen people get that big money is to be consumed. You must filter out anything that gets in your way of success: people, marriage, family, ministry, activities, godly counsel, even the Holy Spirit’s convicting power.


This is a series by Athena Dean Holtz on Multi-Level Marketing  (MLM) in the Church. Click here to start at the beginning.

Click here to go to the next post in the series.

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