By Jeff Brumley
Pastor Lawrence Bishop II generated about 300 baptisms and an internet sensation last week by riding — and getting bucked off — a large bull inside his jam-packed Solid Rock Church in Monroe, Ohio, last week.
The stunt by the former bull rider was designed to draw crowds and win souls for Christ, he told ABC’s Nightline in a report that aired May 19.
“You know, the Bible said to compel them to come in, and so that’s what we’re doing,” Bishop said during the broadcast. “It didn’t say how to compel them.”
But some ministers question the approach, describing it as a prime example of entertainment dressed up as evangelism.
“Two things,” American Baptist minister Alan Rudnick said when asked about the bull-riding pastor. “The first is: come on, really?”
‘Why should we knock that?’
The bull-riding-for-Jesus story reminded Rudnick how Christ, during his temptation, avoided the lure of using the dramatic to prove his divinity.
Nor did Jesus perform his miracles simply to sensationalize and win large numbers of converts, said Rudnick, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, N.Y.
“He listened to people and heard their stories,” he said. “He could have come on a cloud with trumpets.”
But Rudnick said he had a second reaction, as well: it’s obvious Bishop is trying every way possible to get people to hear about God.
“So why should we knock that?” Rudnick said.
The temptation to be attractional
That’s especially true in an age where just about every poll and every other piece of research on America and faith shows people, especially younger ones, fleeing or avoiding churches in droves.
“He’s trying to do something in an age when churches are dying and denominations aren’t doing enough,” Rudnick said.
But there is a challenge imbedded in any attempt to attract people to church, he added.
“At what point does it become a gimmick?”
One clue is to ask what’s becoming of those who are baptized or join churches where over-the-top events are used to put the gospel before them.
To make lifelong followers of Jesus out of the 300 baptized in Ohio involves a long-term discipleship process that isn’t always going to be glitzy and exciting, he said.
“If he’s conditioning people to come based on the spectacular, then what’s next?” Rudnick said. “Then it becomes about entertainment and not the gospel.”
And opting for the lengthy discipleship process needed to make students of Jesus out of converts is smothered by the desire to be attractional.
“Often the temptation is if you do something spectacular people will come and join your church,” Rudnick said.
Ends don’t justify means
About the most exciting event Wilton Baptist Church uses to lure people through the door is Attendance Sunday, when parishioners are urged to bring a friend to worship, Jason Coker said.
“I wear a robe during the high holidays,” said Coker, pastor of the Connecticut church.
In other words, Coker said he won’t be riding any bulls in front of the congregation.
And it’s not just to protect his health, he said.
“I do not believe that the ends justify the means,” he said.
“It’s not just that bull riding is a gimmick,” Coker said. “But if the concept is that as long as we get people in here it’s OK, then it’s not OK because Christ has to be in the means.”
‘Never a dull moment’
But Coker said he isn’t suggesting Bishop stop what he’s doing at Solid Rock Church.
“He knows his context and he knows it better than me,” he said. “And his church is a whole lot bigger than mine.”
In the Nightline report, Bishop explained that he has few talents other than playing music and “riding stuff that bucks.”
His mother told the program that she believed her son had gone “crazy” when he pitched the idea of building a rodeo ring inside the church and riding bulls in it.
Now she finds it to be an “exciting” place “because there is never a dull moment” at Solid Rock Church.
But Coker said it reminds him of other actoins, like Texas megachurch pastor Ed Young driving a Ferrari on stage in 2011.
“If it’s a show and there’s a lot of money in it, it’s hard for me to be serious about that,” Coker said.