Editor’s Note: This is part 3 in a 4 part series on preaching from the layman’s perspective. Previous articles in this series include How Do I Know When I’ve Heard A Bad Sermon? and How Do I Know When I’ve Heard A Good Sermon?
Ok, let me start off by apologizing for just now getting part 3 out. We have been in the process of relocating our staff offices at church and so blogging has been placed on the back burner lately. But I’m glad to finally have a little time to discuss what you should do after you’ve heard a bad sermon. And I would like to begin by placing these kinds of sermons on a continuum (By the way, if you didn’t get a chance to read part 2 on how to know when you’ve heard a bad sermon, you should check that one out first before reading this one. In this article I will assume some of the information I shared in the last one).
In a nutshell, bad sermons are ones which are heavy on the use of 2nd person pronouns (you, you all) and light on 3rd person nouns and pronouns (God, Paul, he, she, etc.). These types of “YOU” sermons tend to fall somewhere on the following continuum…
Obedience Driven——————Self-Help——————-Prosperity Gospel
These are sermons in which the pastor wants desperately for his people to put into practice what he sees in the passage. This kind of sermon is actually very healthy, so long as he consistently places the imperatives in the larger context of the gospel. After all, Jesus shows no qualms in saying that if we love Him, we will obey His commands (John 14:15).
The issue that can arise, however, is that if the sermon is filled with what YOU should be doing the entire time, it will be cut short of actually explaining the passage and, if not seen from the perspective of what Christ has first done for us, can tend to make people feel that their acceptance by God is contingent upon doing the right things. But the radically good news of the gospel is that even while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And this is the basis upon which we now desire to live a life of obedience to God, out of sincere gratitude.
This kind of “YOU” sermon isn’t really fixed upon calling people to obedience, but helping them find ways to “fix” their lives. Three Steps To A Better Marriage. Five Ways To Become A More Effective Employee. The focus is on using the Bible to find “principles” that will make our lives better. Now, does the Bible talk about marriage or how to be a better employee? Yes, it does! But those things are secondary to God and His glory revealed in Scripture. The main reason we go to the Bible is to learn more about the God who has plucked us out of the mud and mire of our sin and has made us trophies of His grace, expressed through the work of Christ. If the primary reason your pastor goes to the Bible is to find “principles” for making people’s lives better, the focus is on the wrong thing.
Self-help is usually the gateway to this kind of preaching. Here, the pastor wants the people to see how God’s ultimate aim is to continually bless us with financial resources and a perfect body of health. This type of preaching is incredibly dangerous for your soul and simply leaves out everything the New Testament says about the fact that in this life we will be met with persecutions and various types of sufferings. The emphasis in churches like these is that if you can just “believe hard enough” God will bless you with everything your selfish heart tells you you should want. And that is probably the reason why this preaching gains so much traction. It caters to the sinful desires of our hearts which want to receive gifts from God but do not want God Himself. Indeed, if we could find another avenue for receiving these things without God, we would probably prefer it.
Now take a second and go back and review the continuum…
Okay, I’m trusting you did that. Now here would be my counsel.
If the preaching you hear consistently falls somewhere between self-help and prosperity gospel, it is probably time for you to leave. If it falls heavily on prosperity gospel, you need to get out of there now! Let me put the matter bluntly: the pastor(s) there do not care about your soul. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
If, on the other hand, you find that most of the preaching you hear falls between obedience driven and self-help, you should use a lot more caution. If it falls hard on the obedience-driven side, ask yourself if the pastor really doesn’t put obedience in the context of the gospel or if you just really don’t want to obey the hard commands of Scripture. Let me reiterate: when we are saved from the penalty of our sin our response should be to then lead a life of joyful and willful obedience to God. So before you take shots at your pastor for leaning too hard on obedience and not hard enough on the gospel, be sure that it isn’t just your sinful heart wanting to make excuses for not obeying.
In addition to that, if, upon close examination of your heart, you still feel that the preaching does not adequately explain the Word of God or is too focused on finding ways to make our lives better, I would encourage you to speak privately with your pastor about this and resolve to pray for him daily. The decision to leave a church should never be taken lightly. This is something you need to pray carefully about and, if married, discuss at length with your spouse. I would also highly recommend that you read this article by Mark Dever before deciding to check out.
Finally, resist the temptation to become a weekly critic of your pastor’s sermons. Yearn for his success in the pulpit and, again, pray for him! Preaching and teaching the Scriptures isn’t as easy as it looks and most pastors generally feel a tremendous weight on their shoulders to bring God’s truth to the people in a way that honors the text of Scripture. Our knee jerk reaction to our pastor’s preaching should be to do everything we can to encourage. And it should not be an easy decision when you determine that the preaching you hear just isn’t healthy and you ,for the spiritual health of you and your family, need to leave. Actually, if your heart is in the right place, it should be a gut-wrenching decision.
Preaching is a critical part of a church’s overall ministry. It really sets the tone for everything else that happens in the church. So listen carefully, think hard, and pray constantly.