When Sitting Under Less Than Biblical Preaching
Preachers are weak and imperfectly sanctified men. They hold the treasure of gospel ministry in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin (Eccl. 7:20). Not many should be teachers because we all fail in man things (Jas. 3:1). In light of such facts, Jeremiah and Amos both doubted their abilities to fulfill their prophetic offices (Jer. 1:6; Amos 7:14-15) and Paul asked who could be sufficient for these things (2 Cor. 2:16). Yet the Lord rebuked Jeremiah (Jer. 1:7), Amos spoke God's words (Amos 7:16), and God made Paul sufficient for his task (2 Cor. 3:5). No preacher will fulfill all the ends of preaching perfectly any more than any Christian can obey God perfectly in this life. All believers, including preachers, must press onward toward the upward call of God in Christ (Phil. 3:14).
In light of the previous posts in this series, what should you do if the preaching you sit under every Lord's Day falls short of the biblical definition and model of preaching? This last post provides encouragements to exercise discernment, charity, and patience in dealing with the faults of preachers.
We must exercise discernment in dealing with faults in preaching. If the preacher's flaws are fatal, such denying or neglecting cardinal doctrines of the faith, then it is time to look for a new church. I know people who sat for years under ministers without knowing that their ministers denied Christ's deity because he never spoke to the issue from the pulpit. These preachers sinned by commission by denying Christ doctrinally. However, they sinned in preaching their sermons by omission. Many of these hearers were immature believers who did not know the difference until they heard better sermons elsewhere. Other flaws in preaching are unintentional. Sometimes after preaching, I have told my wife that it was as though I was standing in the pulpit watching a train wreck happen before my eyes. Preachers can have all the right aims in preaching and work hard on their sermons and everything seems to fall apart regardless. This leads to the next point concerning charity.
We must receive the preached word charitably. Preachers need encouragement as much as all believers do. Someone once told me that they loved their pastor and profited from his sermons greatly, but that they would never tell him so because they did not want him to become prideful. I responded that they do not want him to despair and quit either. We all need to know that the Lord is using us for his glory. Jeremiah and Ezekiel despaired when no one seemed to receive their messages (Jer. 4:10; 12:1-4; 20:7-10; Ezek. 9:8; 20:49). Elijah wanted to quit because he thought that he alone remained faithful to the Lord (1 Kings 18:22; 19:10). Paul regarded faithful hearers as his crown and joy in the Lord (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19). Preachers want to know that Christ is being formed in us (Gal. 4:19) and we should tell our ministers when Christ is using them in our lives. Love also covers a multitude of sins (Prov. 10:12; 1 Pet. 4:8). Bearing one another's burdens includes helping preachers bear theirs (Gal. 6:2). We can do so by adopting a charitable attitude toward our preachers and looking for what is good in their sermons.
We must be patient with our preachers as we sit under their ministries. For that matter, we must be patient with everyone (1 Thess. 5:14). Ministers will grow in their gifts for preaching as they use them and we must give them room to grow. We should pray through the nature and goals of preaching, outlined in previous posts, to the end that the Lord would shape the thoughts, affections, and practices of our pastors in light of them. Some preachers do not believe that they need to preach Christ or apply him directly to their audiences. We should pray that the Lord would convince and convict them. Others need more years to develop their skill in preaching. We need to be patient, looking to the Lord to develop them as preachers. Leaving a church due to faulty preaching should be our last resort rather than our first one. We should first pray for the preacher, then talk to him about his preaching if necessary, and then talk to the elders of the church. We should leave a church only when the situation appears to be beyond remedy. In many cases we may have nowhere else to go and we must remain gracious, patient, and prayerful. We must cultivate a positive attitude towards preaching and preachers, since there is always something praiseworthy in the work of a preacher who truly loves Christ. We must beware of complaining and grumbling about the faults in our ministers. Satan will use such things to create an attitude of bitterness in us. This often results in becoming predisposed to criticize sermons sharply no matter who is preaching.
Using discernment, developing a charitable attitude, and exercising patience under preaching are vital in dealing with the faults of preachers. Such things are important aspects of our sanctification as well. How we respond to sermons affects how we live as Christians in other areas of life. At the same time, recognizing that even the best men in the pulpit are men at best should increase our fervency in prayer for preachers as they preach. In many cases, the church's view of preaching requires a theological overhaul in light of the texts treated in previous posts. As we pray for the spread of the gospel through the church, we must pray for more biblical preaching. The preaching of the Word extends Christ's ministry to the church and to the world. We need to know what preaching is, how it should be done, and what its goals are in order to know what to expect from sermons and how to pray for the spread of Christ's kingdom.
*This is the thirteenth entry in Dr. McGraw's series on Preaching Christ.