Every week preachers are routinely evaluated by how well they did or did not do with the messages they preach. The congregation is constantly evaluating, for the most part in the private confines of their mind, the value of a sermon. In the interest of time, they evaluate the length. The complaints are that it is usually too long. While I have certainly been trapped a few times with long, windy sermons the other end of the spectrum ought to be considered too. Was the sermon too short? So the private thoughts continue about preaching—length, subject matter, tasteful, diplomatic, and so forth. Consider with me how deadly it is to begin to evaluate sermons in this particular manner.
First of all, it caters toward making preaching entertainment. Preaching is nothing more than a dish that is being sampled at a recipe contest and tested for its sweet taste. Preaching becomes just another venue to say “Good!” or “Bad!?” just like one of John Grisham’s latest novels. Preaching can be evaluated just like a cake, a steak, a book, a play, a podcast, or you fill in the blank.
When we listen to preaching for the sake of entertainment, it will do nothing for our soul growth in the long run. What few people understand is that this is a very active role of spiritual warfare that takes place every single Sunday of the year. Spiritual warfare is anything that reduces your ability to take in spiritual things and accommodate them to your life. Most people who think of spiritual warfare immediately want to equate it with an ethereal, mystical never-land that is filled with ghosts and goblins and all sorts of other matters. To do this means that we have fallen into Screwtape’s trap—making too much of spiritual warfare. So you have to watch your listening and stay focused on what you are hearing. If it helps, take notes. If taking notes is not a good option for you then consider that preaching is just as much an act of worship as is praying, singing, and giving. All worship is a verb and preaching means that we are active participants in the preaching—through listening!
Secondly, it creates hero worship. When we thumb up and thumb down preaching with our expectations, it won’t take you long to understand that some men are more gifted in the pulpit than others are. I am convinced that there are some who could be jerked from their beds at 3 AM and hastily thrown into a pulpit and ordered to preach and they could do it. Not only could they do it, you would be blown away by their personal gifting and talents. Thank God for those men like that but all of us don’t pass the muster in the 3 AM test!
Take it from me as I am well aware of this fact. In my early (undiscerning?) years, I was very impressed by those with a flair for talent in the pulpit. As the years passed and I gained some maturity and discernment, I started noticing that flair in the pulpit did not always equate to personal holiness and personal godliness of life. A man could be a star-studded wonder in the pulpit and could be a rogue in his personal life and he was given a pass for it. Forgive me for my forthrightness but we need more authenticity of life than flair in the pulpit. If you have an authentic life, you will have an authentic anointing to preach the Word.
So be careful how you listen. One of the things that can happen to a pastor who spends his life in one church is that more often than not, he preaches with his life and not so much his words. That congregation hears what he says but they do far more hearing with their eyes than with their ears. All of us who have been called to preach owe it to those places that we serve to live cleanly and clearly as we articulate the Gospel.
Thirdly, it diminishes the power of the provoking Word in your life. We all love those moments when the encouragement is flowing and the inspiration is at a high pitch during the preaching. We can feel good because our spiritual and moral flaws are not confronted. We can feel the mental massage as the Word brings about a spiritual rush of adrenaline in our lives. But constantly evaluating preaching in this way quickly reduces (annihilates?) the ability of the Word to provoke us toward living a higher life. You need more than a “feel-good” sermon, you need transformation. This necessary transformation takes place in our minds (Romans 12:1-2) and it is greatly facilitated when we are willing to hear the Word and allow it to provoke us.
Most spiritual provocation is going to make you mad but just stay with it because you are now on the way toward spiritual growth. We love for our physicians to talk straight to us about our temporary human bodies but we take great offense for our pastors to talk straight to us about our souls which are eternal. You will resort to all sorts of suggestions to get your weight down, your blood pressure down, your cholesterol down, and a host of other things but it is hard to make the same changes that lead to spiritual growth. Yet the provoking preaching of the Word is the only real way that we will notice that we have true spiritual revival and personal growth.
So if you are evaluating preachers on their preaching. . . Can we evaluate you on you’re listening???
More tomorrow. . .