Pastor Duane unloaded. “I don’t need to revolutionize the sermon time. I don’t need to entertain. I just preach the Word. Period. People need to sit and listen to the unadulterated Word of God proclaimed from my pulpit.”
That was Pastor Duane’s reaction to an announcement about a new book that suggests some ways to make sermon times more effective.
Allow me to respond to Pastor Duane.
Dear Pastor Duane:
I appreciate your desire not to denigrate the Sunday morning message time with anything inappropriate. And I resonate with your affirmation of the Word of the God, the scriptures. And, please understand, neither I nor millions of others in the pews have any argument with the “unadulterated Word of God” on Sunday morning. The scriptures communicate God’s life-giving power and love.
It’s not the Word of God that’s in question. It’s the words of Duane that are up for scrutiny. When you say you “preach the Word,” that may be true for the two minutes that you actually speak the actual words from scripture. The other 38 minutes you’re not preaching God’s Word. You’re preaching Duane’s words–your own interpretations and embellishments.
There’s nothing wrong with that per se, Pastor Duane. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that your words are well-considered, doctrinally sound, and well-prepared. But they are your words. They are not the “unadulterated Word of God.” They are, in fact, adulterated. And because of that, they–and you–have room for improvement.
When you say, “I just preach the Word,” it sometimes comes across as a defensive warning: “Don’t ever challenge my time in the pulpit. My words are God’s words. Period. Don’t mess with God.”
I’m afraid some preachers attempt to deify the sermon–to imply that this 30- or 40-minute lecture is itself hallowed, on equal ground with the Almighty. It is not. That’s not to say it can’t be very edifying and pleasing to God. But it is not God.
Now here’s the good news, Pastor Duane. If you’ll let go of the notion that your sermons are entirely the unadulterated Word of God, you’ll relieve a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself. And you’ll be free to consider some additional methods to deliver the message. You may even try some of the effective methods Jesus used, such as participative experiences, object lessons, and dialog.
Be open to grow. You’ll be better positioned to help your fellow humans grow–in their relationship with the Lord. And that, Pastor Duane, makes your role vital.
God bless you and your important work.
I agree, Thom. So many sermons are full of jokes and stories and personal opinions that sometimes there is very little of the actual word of God (the Bible) in them.
When I was a pastor someone told me that every good speaker always begins with a joke. I guess Jesus wasn’t a good speaker.
This is where pastors have to be careful they are not proclaiming God in their image. This is too easy for anyone to do and even do within our own minds.
Some pastors think they have to tell a joke every time just before they preach to get the peoples attention. I’m speaking from experience at my fellowship.
Maybe instead of waking up the congregation someone should wake up the preacher
Over my 40 years of ministry I have known so many other ministers who claimed that they only spoke the Word of God, yet they also referred to the stage as “my pulpit!” Interesting. I have known pastors who refused to let any others stand behind their pulpit. A smaller, less impressive podium was offered to visiting speakers, women, or those leading in worship. Many preachers today allow very few others to speak at all throughout the year. I hear them say, “MY people want to hear MY preaching in MY church.”
Its time to not just return to the teaching styles of the Master, but also the attitudes of Jesus. He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” That’s a good place to start for anyone who really wants to speak the Word of God. The next step would be to listen to what Thom and others are saying, they are sharing real truth mixed with a large measure of love.
Two things about pastors I have learned, 1-The longer they are in the pulpit, the more untouchable they see themselves. One pastor told me “the longer I preach, the more of a dictator I become”. 2-“Preaching the Word” means whatever they want it to mean, based on what they want. If the Pastor wants a new building, all scripture leads to that. A raise, every illustration will point to that, etc.
I pastored for nearly twenty years. I can say that if a man has a servants heart, it will show in his preaching. But the American model of church leadership does not attract men with a servants heart.
Honestly, I wouldn’t give too much time to this type of blowhard. I’ve seen many of them, and you won’t change their opinion. They’ll eventually choke out their congregations with their boring messages, and will likely end up either looking for another job, or pastoring a tiny congregation with a bunker mentality.
I agree, right after they drain the general fund.
Mark I have heard many unsavory stories of corporate churches lately “draining” the church funds for a variety of reasons that they justify with their inflated salaries and such.
Many churches run 80% plus administrative costs. Wouldn’t even qualify as a charity in most books.
Assuming what they preach is sound our speakers need to make sure their flock are actually listening, absorbing and applying what they hear. Methods that include interaction should certainly be a part of the weekly schedule. What certainly must be abandoned or even repented of is any attitude of “they ought to…….”with any hint of “they must be stupid” or “they clearly don’t take God’s word seriously” Paul may have ministered in a lecture hall but we are not told he delivered lectures. Disciple is not the direct equivalent of student. If ministers really know God’s word they should open themselves up to dialog and group discussion – they won’t be thought worse of if they occasionally have to say, “I’m not sure I’ll check it out” Almost certainly they know enough to talk about how to apply truth to life.
The poor guy believes or experiences the Word of God as a monolith, whereas the Pentecost event shows the Word of God is fundamentally polymorphic and kaleidoscopic–another reason you never give the same sermon twice!
We need to be open, not only to the Holy Spirit, but also to anything that will help us communicate the the love of God to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The moment you believe you know the only to do this is the moment you need to get out of the pulpit.
Mike, I so agree with you! For that very reason, I never save a sermon. I know some pastors that have files and files of sermons and now they kinda sit back, go through their files and preach something they preached years ago…really nuts IMO. The other thing is that we can always learn. I really don’t trust these kind of preachers who think THEIR word equals God’s word.
Not in pastoral ministry, but as a lay-person I’ve done some speaking and have found that recycling old notes is like trying to eat the manna days later. Same principle.
Good thoughts, Thom. I would like to offer a couple of questions to provoke and encourage further study and reflection on this topic.
(1) Why do (or should) churches meet? To sing a set of songs and listen to a sermon? Or to meet with Christ in fellowship with one another around His table (sharing a real meal as the Lord’s Supper) for mutual edification (which includes instruction, encouragement, sharing of spiritual and material gifts, prayers and songs of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication)?
(2) How do we learn God’s truth best? Only through sermons (one-way lectures)? Or also through mutual exhortation, sharing personal experiences and testimonies related to lessons learned from our daily walk with the Lord, practical examples expressed through hospitalty, merciful and selfless service, and personal study of God’s word enlightened by the Holy Spirit who endwells all believers as fellow members of God’s New Covenant, royal priesthood?
The following site offers a variety of resources that explore many rich dimensions related to healthy church life: http://www.NTRF.org.
Well said. Our pastor usually shows a video at the beginning of his sermon — sometimes it ties in with the subject, sometimes it’s just entertainment. He also interacts with the congregation, asking questions and getting responses. Of course, we are a smaller church and it’s easier to do this, but the Word of God gets preached in a way that makes us contemplate what He is saying to us.
I resonate with Pastor Duane and understand the guidance that you bring to the process of reaching the hearts of people WITH the Word of God. After much prayer and surrender to the leading of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, I position myself with the guidance of the Spirit through my words as they line up with the Word. This may technically be adulterating the Word but should be seen as His WORK through the presentation of His message to the listening ear. That necessitates the mediation of the Spirit even in our flawed attempt at apologetics. The process may change with careful attention to the audience and the platform – traditional preaching takes a back seat to a medium that speaks the clearest (or listens).
But, forgive me if I’m misunderstanding, isn’t the Spirit’s work cleaning up the messes of our best efforts in all we do for the Lord (Rom. 8:28) including sharing the Gospel?
Priscilla commented on Facebook: “That’s what is wrong with the church today! May God help us all!”
I don’t need “entertainment” when I go to church. I NEED God’s Word PREACHED and not TAUGHT as “some” men… who refuse to call themselves “preachers” anymore and now prefer the word “pastors”… do today. I know way TOO many “pastors” who are anything but a “pastor” and I also know quite a few very GOOD “preachers” who PREACH the Word of God when they are in the pulpit…which has turned into an entertainment stage from whence you can no longer kneel and pray at an altar. We have far too many “corporate” churches this day and time and not enough good old fashioned churches that are run by a body of deacons alonside the preacher and the church members. A whole lot of these CORPORATE churches are going under today and closing their doors because it is against God and everything Christians stand for. The devil has entered and taken over far too many churches and their members with his lies and deceit. I don’t need rock music and flashing lights to entertain me…I need the old hymns that speak to my heart and my soul way down deep in the depths and bring tears of joy to my eyes. I can sing these songs for my own pleasure and they stay in my head all week. I can wake up in the mornign with a song in my head and it stays with me all day. A good preachers words will stay with me long after I have left the church building, but when I have to write down his talking points and I have forgotten them before I can get them all on the paper I am writing on they are not words that will last in my mind long after leaving the building. So an entertaining chirch I do not need, but a preaching the Word of God church is what we all need.
Interesting that in the New Testament ‘preaching’ was as a rule not to believers but to non-believers outside of formal church gatherings. Nancy, surely at the end of the day it is not what suits you and me but what suits God. By the way, I pastored ‘good old fashioned churches run by a body of deacons alongside the preacher’ for a lifetime… eventually I just couldn’t stomach it any more and am now following Jesus along a road less travelled and it has made ALL the difference… God bless you.
True statement re Jesus teaching v preaching. Preaching was reserved for Pharisees more often than not. Bible teaching can be just as convicting as preaching.
Errollmulder can you elaborate on the road less travelled?
Visit ‘ABOUT’ on my blog ‘Conversations About Jesus & Community’ at http://errollmulder.wordpress.com
Thanks for asking Mark. This is what worked for me and is working for many others around the world. However, it may not be everybody’s ‘cup of tea!’ Blessings.
Preaching and Teaching are both necessary – it was even said that Jesus “taught them saying…”. Interaction is also needed as the scriptures state that iron sharpens iron.
I’ve stated that preaching is the act of proclaiming and magnifying Christ in order to reach someone. (P = proclaiming to reach= reaching others) but teaching is (T = training for – each = each and every believer). The proclamation of Christ is simple and it concentrates on magnifying Jesus in the hearing of all that will hear. The teaching aspect is reserved for believers and is definitely interactive.
Solid sound preaching doesn’t need a pulpit – our very style of pulpit/audience is similar to the synagogue of Judaism (elders elevated – looking at everyone else). Jesus preached in the synagogue – but did more one on one and question and answer series among the people.
When people equate there very word on par with the scriptures, they tend to think that any disagreement is equal to heresy. We are all fallible men and women. Most of us have changed as the Holy Spirit has enlightened us throughout the years. Many of us have noticed doctrines of men being taught as doctrines of God (NT Tithing is one – don’t even start there 🙂 ), but God is faithful. It took a health amount of discussion to change things we have believe all our lives that turned out to be untrue – which is good for the Body of Christ. God hasn’t changed – neither is he the author of confusion, but whats normal to God – can seem totally confusing to us.
I totally believe that God is doing a work – and challenging us as believers – for all of us to be fellow students of his word, but not just being students but becoming teachers as well, as a dear friend of mine wrote in a book published years ago – “every member a minister”.
Mike commented on Facebook: “The greatest blessing to a congregation is a pastor getting over himself.”
This article is nothing more than a strawman argument responding to the original strawman argument.
I disagree. Pastor Duanes rebuke was overly simplistic and bordered on arrogant. When a pastors goal is to get as many people under the sound of his preaching as many times per week as possible, you are a Diotrophes.
If there was a compassionate, humble man who loved building people more than building buildings, I would drive 100 miles to attend. I would put aside differences in music, clothing standards, any if it. But to be told as we were last Sunday that we should be ashamed for scheduling family time on Sunday PM is about to run me off. Mind you we have been in church for 23 years and attend Sunday School, Sunday AM, Wednesday PM every week. We tithe and give offerings. I am very discouraged sorry to vent…..
The greatest message we might hear during a Sunday sermon time might be shared by the Holy Spirit speaking through our neighbor in the pew. It is amazing what happen when we anticipate the Divine showing up through one of His children rather than thinking the Pastor is the only messenger.
Jerry, great point! Participants in the early church also benefited from one another.
Ask yourself; just how many sermons does one actually need to hear over a lifetime???
Let us think about this for a minute.
I have known many people who have attended church all their life and have very little scriptural and theological understanding at all, so what has happened there??
I was talking to our Bishop recently and said that if you sat in church and listened to sermons for 30 years you should have a degree in theology by now!!!
He was inclined to agree. My personal experience over the years is that sermons per se have little effect at all in peoples lives.
We have an alternative Anglican service called the 11:30 Service where we open up the Lectionary readings and give a little background and the group then speak to this and have a discussion on the passages read. We explore the verses to see how these may be of relevance to our spiritual journey.
This has proven to be very popular and indeed spiritual challenging and valuable. People like to be actively involved in this rather than listening continually to some one presenting their personal opinion each week.
Active involvement will beat passive complacency every time.
We are now being appointed a deacon to assist us with this meeting. Sometimes I take it when the minister is called away. We then finish with a light lunch together.
I have heard many pastors over the last 55 years or so and so many of them were simply full of them selves, especially the Pentecostal ones. It seems they believe they are just a finger puppet through which God is directly using them as a ventriloquists doll.
I have said many times that it is quite simple these days to do an Open learning or distance education course in theology which is what I did; quite simply we just do not need to be “sitting under the sound” of any ones sermons theses days.
kevinp you hit the nail on the head. You don’t state what your church does for outreach but so far so good….
Love it! 🙂
In the Reformed tradition, the words from the pulpit may not be the “unadulterated” Word of God and they are certainly not ex cathedra, but in a sense, they are the words of God. That is why Reformed pastors are usually not too concerned if a parishioner hears different words than s/he actually preached, because God is working through the words–through scripture and preaching–to bring about something in the hearer’s heart and mind.
Theoretically, at least.
The preacher and the hearer each have responsibilities, and they are different from each other. The preacher is responsible for thoughtfully (regardless of style) expositing scripture and the listener is responsible for responding (in whatever manner) to that. In the Reformed churches, the only two things that a preacher has absolute control over in worship, the only things that are not subject to session, are the choice of text and what s/he says about it. Session usually doesn’t meddle in the details of a service, but it has a right to, except for those two things. For that reason, though I may criticize a sermon’s contents or delivery, I never question the right of a preacher to say what s/he has to say.
I do wonder about your 40-minute sermons, though. Ours generally go 15-25 minutes, and honestly, except for rare occasions and rarer preachers, a preacher should be able to say what needs to be said in 20 minutes.
My friends, I can agree with Thom and with most of the rest of us who’ve responded. At times I’ve had it up to my NECK with the massive egos of many of our pastors.
But… we are who God has to work with… warts, arrogances, flaming egos, limited vision and all. Our pastors come from among us, not from heaven, and suffer the same sins we do. And leading us can be like herding cats. We demand to be heard, our every issue validated. If offended, many of us are quick to move on to another church and pastor and start the same pattern there.
We are at our best when we take responsibility for our own spiritual vitality. We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God, who leads us into all truth. Our pastors can’t bear up under that burden.
But Duane, listen to Thom. He’s right. Structure your ministry so that you have time and energy to improve your communicative skills. Find a pastor on Youtube that you’d like to emulate. And let younger pastors influence you… they can have raging egos too, but they aren’t afraid to
experiment, and they produce some very good stuff.
As usual, a very good post Thom! With all the discussions over people leaving the church BUILDINGS, the “Nons” and the “Dones”, the issue of preaching/teaching is a good subject to address. I come from a Muslim background. I’ve been a believer for over 40 years, and over half of those years I pastored an Iranian church, which has taught me a few things. Preaching/Teaching is way overrated. As @kevinp said, “Ask yourself; just how many sermons does one actually need to hear over a lifetime???” Or ask yourself, how many messages can you get out of 66 books? How often do we put to practice what our pastors talk about on Sundays? Honestly, after 40 years of being a believer, do I really need to hear another sermon on loving my neighbor? Or more than anything else, I need to put those teachings to practice. And at least, after 5 years of living next to him, get to know the name of my Mormon neighbor. I personally prefer to spend 3 hours listening to a homeless person at the Starbucks and share the hope that I have within me than to spend another hour listening to a pastor telling me why/how I should love my neighbor. I know I’m getting a bit off the subject at hand, but we can argue over teaching vs preaching all we want, if we don’t act on either, we’re just people with miles of knowledge and a millimeter of depth.
” if we don’t act on either, we’re just people with miles of knowledge and a millimeter of depth.” Describes American evangelical Christians pretty well. Great post SSR.
On Facebook, Steve writes: “I think he ran out of my words a long time ago.” -God (George Burns in the movie Oh God)
I find myself reacting to both “Pastor Duane” and “Pastor Thom” in this exchange. On the one hand, Peter admonishes the elders to speak “as the oracles of God,” which I take to mean two things:
1. Make SURE what you say is what God would say to the congregation this time.
2. EXPECT to speak “from God,” like the prophets of old.
This creates an automatic problem. Too many of us feel like we’re speaking “from God” when, as Pastor Thom points out, we are really delivering a message that “we believe is needed” for this particular moment.
The question is, how do we arrive at our decision as to what and how to preach? Most of us don’t have the direct contact with God that Jeremiah did, for example, and when we teach and preach, it’s often Seminary Notes, or something “out of the deceit of our own hearts,” or better, “the commentaries,” I know this because for many years I attended a church where “the Bible was taught,” but I also knew that the pastor was merely regurgitating what he’d learned in school. I knew this because MY OWN Seminary notes told me the same thing–almost to the point of the same outlines.
So I have a couple of thoughts about all this (in addition to what I wrote above):
1. We need to spend more time reading Jesus. HOW He taught, and I don’t mean, “He taught in parables,” or, “He lectured.” I mean that we actually see how His topics fit together with his society. Was He poliltical? Did He discuss current events? What was HIS focus?
After all, we profess to follw Him.
2. We need to study the prophets and apostles–not what they said, because our society is quite different, at least in the details, but in how God called them and spoke to them, and how He humiliated them constantly before their contemporaries (Amos, for example, who was a fruit picker). We need to see what their total focus was–what God said to them.
3. Then we need to chuck all that into our memory bank, and ask God to speak to us. Until He does, we have nothing, even if “we have the Bible.” When He talks, we have the right to speak. Not before. We only have the right to say what He says, not to dilute His message with our opinions.
Frankly, I think that this was one thing that made Billy Graham great. He did not preach “From his own heart,” but chose to hear from God, not from within himself. He also avoided the fads that were so characteristic of his (and my) day such as”Positive confession…” “Deeper life…” “Church growth…” “Send me money and get rich yourself…” “Tongues” (I’m charismatic myself, but not in every sermon). In other words, he stayed along the centerline of Scripture. The effects of his life and teaching will last for generations. We could certainly do worse.
4. We need to let people talk, just like Jesus did (the prophets did, too, but it’s a bit harder to catch).
5. We need to avoid fads in our teaching, extreme positions, or excessive “requests” for money. Let God decide how your church is going to go.
6. We need to stop showing off, or trying to do so, and give up the ego trip. It’s always a trip that ends badly. MUST NOT lord it over people.
7. We need to hear our congregations. People are often afraid to talk to us. They need to have the freedom to tell us about themselves in the context of what we are teaching without us talking over what they’ve said.
8. We need to HATE entertainment for entertainment’s sake. There are many fine Christian groups, and ministries, but are they there with us to help the people we serve? Do they help them?? Maybe praying about who to have as musicians/singers is as important as “having a good service so people will come…”
9. We need to LOVE our people. Pastoring is not about the Bible. It’s about the people. The Bible can be efficiently taught on the radio, TV, through tapes, books, whatever. It’s you and me loving them that builds them up AS we teach and listen. Then we need to let them love us back. This is dangerous, as I can attest, since I’ve been “stabbed in the back” more times than I can count by people whom I “let in.” But we have to do it. We MUST. There is no substitute for that reciprocal love that Jesus discussed in John 13.
Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 4:11 could apply to anyone who speaks, just as it addresses anyone who serves to do so “as one who serves by the strength that God supplies”. He is not singling out the elders here as he does in chapter 5:1ff. Peter is addressing all the saints in chapter 4.
Thank you, Thom, thank you most sincerely!
Rev. Alan Adams
First Baptist Church
Isn’t interesting that when God sent the WORD it was in a PERSON not a book, a method, an idea, a service or a program. After all, when the WORD becomes flesh and incarnates, everything changes. The greatest tragedy of modernity is it largely imprisoned God in a box and defined Truth through rules and reason, principles and propositions (a.k.a., institutionalized religion).
Christianity preaches the WORD as a Person. The Way, Truth and Life emerges in Relationship, which naturally demands interaction, participation and metaphor. Consequently to “preach” is to proclaim this WORD through culturally-sensitive strategies and media, as Paul especially demonstrated. Jesus used parables, experiences, stories, conversations and object lessons to reach his first-century audience and all were brief, participatory and interactive.
Ironically, Jesus’ preaching was also finely tuned to a single brief point: “Repent, for the Kingdom is near (Mt 4:17).” It’s still a good (short) message for today.
As always, Thom, your generous and thoughtful reply to Pastor Duane hit the nail on the head.
Love the way you think, Rick.
Why can’t we just read the Bible and let it speak. Apostle Paul warn about preaching another doctrine.
Why do we need such long discourses to explain a verse.
Didn’t Jesus just throw out a few verses and not interpret them?
The Sermon on the Mount is 142 verses. You could read this sermon through in 20 – 25 minutes. This sermon covered many subjects and sometime we criticize the preacher if he preaches “From Genesis to Revelations” theoretically speaking .
What did Jesus’ sermon have that most ministers don’t have? The annointing of the Holy Spirit was the thing.
Does the Holy Spirit know what culture we are living in. The Holy Spirit knows how to get the listener’s attention over all the distractions.
So if you’re congregation is not feeling the effects of your sermon. Get the annointing of the Holy Spirit. IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
I am a pastor & I have learned my sermons are much shorter when they are just the unadulterated Word of God & not full of my own opinions. I live by this, There is a thin line between a sermon and a hostage situation. I am surprised some ministers are not bored by their own long sermons.
Ben commented on Facebook: “That attitude is why people don’t go to church. You don’t know what God says any better than I do. Give the good gift that we each have to each other. Now if Pastor Duane said: “I just talk about how I interpret scripture through my understanding…” Then, maybe I’m willing to listen.”
My journey on the Jericho Road has taken me far and wide, allowing me the exposure to a variety of teaching & preaching. Across the ecumenical scope cultures abound. Far too many of us cling to a theology, a doctrine, a polity that elevates us above all others. We have the ‘Way’. We are the only ones that have ‘the True Body & Blood of Jesus’. And we are quick to exclude all others who do not believe as we. The sermons of ‘guest preachers’ must be theologically examined to ensure compliance with the Culture — denominations. The result? Folk are leaving. In Rockford, IL house churches are booming, gathering about the Word, discussing it, wondering at it, confused by it, yet eager for more and more. Trust funds are drying up. Many of the Swedish cathedrals of Rockford have dwindled trying to find relevancy. Guests and visitors are viewed with suspicion and fear. There are very few of us walking down the Jericho Road anymore. And the bloodied, wounded, and dying are every where. We have preached and been preached to for far too long. We may not save our sermons, but we definitely need to save the Word. In my view the best way to do that is to find the Jericho Road. The Church has lost its relevancy, because we have been hearers of that Word for so long, we’ve lost touch with the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the imprisoned, the naked, the sick.