dr-rev-bill-winston_web.jpgThe Rev. Bill Winston says he wants to change the way people view the Bible. Shifting perspectives from the hard and tough Old Testament philosophy to the New Testament’s more loving tone, he explained, could help a person live a more successful life.

“It’s a book of success, and people haven’t seen it like that. It’s a love letter,” said Winston, pastor of a 19,000-member Chicago area church who will join the South Florida Times’ Prayerful Living page as a columnist in the coming weeks.

His Joseph Center School of Business and Entrepreneurship recently expanded to include a Miami site.

The school is a nine-month, Christian-based, entrepreneur education center that meets on Saturdays. It educates Christians on how to become successful entrepreneurs and business leaders using biblical principles.

In a telephone interview from Illinois, Winston spoke about why people with a rigid, traditional view of the Bible should soften their stance, that there is nothing virtuous about poverty, and why success comes after gaining a true understanding of the Kingdom of God.

The charismatic, hugely successful pastor – who also owns malls and banks – said he received clues when he was a little boy that his calling involved moving people from “death to life.”

Referring to it as “a little bit morbid, but it’s a good story,” Winston shared a childhood dream that involved caskets in his family’s living room that would “fly open and the people would sit up,” as he walked through during the middle of the night.

Although the dreams would have a profound effect on him, causing him to sometimes scream out in fear, he said, “That was me really trying to understand my calling,” he explained of the recurring dream when he was “maybe 10 or 12.”

He said the dream provided him with a small preview of his future.

“It’s interesting how God can sometimes give a glimpse to people. If more people could understand life from a destiny standpoint, you won’t give up, you won’t give up.”

His journey from the dreams to his current role as the founder and pastor of the Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park, Ill., included a successful stint at IBM, which is where he was when he got the “calling” to join the ministry.

Winston said that when he informed his IBM supervisor of his decision to leave the company and start a church in the late 1980s, he was advised to “take two weeks,” to think about it, which he did.

“They’d invested a lot in me and I’d moved way on up. He thought I was going to the competition,” Winston recalled.

While he did not go to the competition, taking with him the solid business skills he’d acquired as a regional marketing manager has been an essential aspect of his ministry’s overwhelming success. Winston said understanding God’s idea for blending the sacred and the secular helped him to accept his calling.

“Traditionally, people in ministry don’t think about the marketplace,” he said. “When I began to understand Christianity from the Kingdom of God standpoint, all of a sudden, it began to make sense. There’s the priest, sacred; and the king, secular. When those two flow together, the word of God must become tangible.”

What has clearly become tangible for Winston is not only the church, but also a wildly successful Christian empire that includes shopping malls, banks and business schools. Forest Park Plaza, a 33-acre mall that was a decrepit eyesore for the community before Winston and his church purchased it, is also home to the Living Word Christian Center's award-winning, state-of-the-art auditorium, where worship services are held.

Some of the mall’s tenants include K-Mart, Taco Bell, a convention center, a multi-purpose community center and other Living Word ministries, including the Joseph Center School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Winston is not without his critics. One of them is pastor and author John MacArthur, who has written extensively on what he calls “Plexiglas preaching” that promotes a “prosperity gospel” and is “seeker-friendly.”

Referred to as a “prosperity preacher” by some and often included in the same category as pastors such as Rick Warren, Joel Olsteen, Creflo Dollar and T. D. Jakes, Winston said he learned from Oral Roberts that the best way to deal with his critics was to not deal with them at all, and be able to love them.

While others place him in the same category as other “prosperity preachers,” Winston said his ministry is also about transformation that doesn’t remain within the church walls.

“There’s a thinking that we have to do when you really understand the Kingdom of God. The thinking is that you have to become transformational-minded… we just don’t want to convert a person, we want to transform them,” he said of his desire to see people take what they learn in church and use it to not only change themselves, but also to change their households and communities.

He cites Dallas, Tx. as an example of a place where churches grow, but do not transform.

“Dallas probably has some of the biggest churches in the country, [however], people who are on the bottom, stay on the bottom. It doesn’t change, in other words, you just have a church there.”

To people still convinced that poverty is a virtue because they believe that Jesus was poor, Winston points out that, “You cannot find a poor man that can feed 5,000.”

To those who insist that Jesus was homeless, Winston responds, “He told the disciples, come over to his house.”

He quotes the Bible verse Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for the lack of knowledge,” to explain why people hold onto old information that does not work for them.

“Only because of tradition, they have to flow with what they know, unfortunately, they don’t know enough. There should be something inside of you that piques your interest,” the married father of three shared.

With his South Florida Times column, Winston said he intends to pique interest and help the paper’s readers look forward to a brighter future.

“We’re looking at writing about things that people have to go through daily, and have a practical application of faith to overcome them,” he said.

“People don’t leave where they’re at until they find a better future. Future-based people are sharing people.  When people who don’t have a future have something, they tend to hold on to it for dear life,” he said.

For more information about the Joseph Center School of Business and Entrepreneurship, please log onto www.jbsmiami.com.


Photo: Rev. Bill Winston