First off, can I say that I have no ministerial background (or seminary as it is in the US), nor any theological training, so I fully appreciate my ‘arrogance’ in trying to teach any self respecting minister how to practice his skills or approach his preparation for the sermon he will preach on Sunday.
I’ve listened to a lot of different sermons over the past few years primarily through use of SermonAudio which is a tremendous facility for those of us not always able to get out to church every Sunday. And today listening to the “White Horse Inn” who provide a Christian talk show I heard a superb comment in respect of how any minister should approach their preparation for their sermon – before they determine whether it is suitable to preach they should ask themselves “Does the content of this sermon require that Jesus had to be crucified for it to be valid?” The hosts were discussing primarily those churches which now tend to preach more of a social gospel, where Jesus may not even be mentioned, let alone be provided as the answer to the needs of those who’ve not yet met Him. But I thought the point was superb, and would truly hope many ministers and pastors do read this and take it on board whenever they’re preparing what they desire to speak on.
I’m blessed to be in a church with a superb minister, who does preach Christ crucified, and who does push the need for salvation on those listening more Sundays than not, but I know of many others who feel that they could have learnt as much by staying at home, as they did by attending the service. There’s a huge trend nowadays for churches to be “relevant” to the culture – to the extent that many have been reduced to social meeting houses where people go to meet their friends, catch up on news, listen to the latest gossip about anything that takes their fancy, and be entertained by a witty and non offensive message on some social issue e.g. how to manage their money or cope with uncaring partners.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that we, as Christians’ don’t need to be helped and counseled in such areas, but the church pulpit is not the place for it to be done IMHO!! The pulpit is about the only place many will ever hear anything of the Gospel message, and if preachers continue to drift away from preaching that to their flock, they will be under severe judgement for it. Theirs is not an enviable task – they undertake to care for God’s people and to provide instruction, counsel and teaching as well as enable those who have yet to make their commitment to Jesus understand just what it is He offers. The Gospel message as it should be presented is raw and an offence to those who hear it because it will convict them of their sins – something none of us desires, but which is vital to the lost sinner if s/he’s to ever come to salvation. A man stuck in quicksand doesn’t realise he’s drowning, and won’t initially see any need for help or being saved – he will continue to think he can save himself right up until the point when it’s way too late for him to do so or indeed for anyone else to either.
I think most pastors would agree that perhaps 2/3 of their church flock are in church each week purely for social needs or the wrong reason perhaps, and these are precisely the people who need to be challenged on their situation. Others who would openly state they are Christian show little evidence of it in their lives and you have to wonder whether they truly have made that life changing decision or not. We all have a responsibility before God to learn as much as possible about Him, His Word and His Will for our lives – pastors can only do so much, but I truly pray more in the pulpit will start to recognise that time is running out extremely fast just now for this world, and all of us have to deal with the fact that Jesus will judge us for our work for Him and those to whom much has been given will much (more) be required.
If you are in a church where you feel you’re not being fed spiritually – don’t take it out on your Pastor – pray for him and support him more. It could be that he has such a heavy workload of tasks that should be delegated to church members, but he feels nobody would undertake them, that he has little time left for solid sermon preparation. If you have skills you feel aren’t being made the most use of see whether you can use them in some way within the church. Personally, I never did this before my current church, and have to confess I didn’t set out with the goal of providing help much when I began attending but a chance conversation with the minister at the end of my first visit, ended up with me undertaking to take charge of the church website. While I didn’t feel competent to begin with as my web skills were very limited, the task has proven encouraging in every sense as I continue to increase my knowledge and skill, and others complement the site, and thus I can give back something to a church that is providing me with more support and spiritual sustenance than I’ve ever had before. So look around and don’t wait on others to do the necessary – be like Peter, jump out of the boat and get wet! You never know what doors the Lord will open for you and your church as a result.