I’M NOT BEING FED…
Have you ever heard from one of your members, either directly but most probably indirectly, “I’m just not being spiritually fed?” Well, it is wise to listen to your critics as I have heard it said that they are the first ones to see our faults, and usually before we ourselves see them. Although I admit how frustrated and angry those kind of comments have made me, it usually meant I wasn’t doing something right in my preaching.
That kind of statement is often a signal that a person or family is getting ready to leave the congregation. It doesn’t have to be so, they might have other issues going on in their lives and so they begin to complain about the preaching and once those issues are dealt with they are no longer dissatisfied. Sometimes there is sin hardening their heart and the content, delivery, and impact of our sermons has nothing to do with their complaints.
However, sometimes they are speaking the truth and we are not adequately feeding them from the Word. Yes, if they were really spiritual they would somehow be able to get something out of our sermons. Then again if we were really spiritual maybe we would be putting something into them worth getting.
I want to encourage my fellow preachers and pastors to do some self-analysis about their preaching. I want to encourage all of us to get deeper rather than just smarter. Let’s talk about study, learning, and knowledge for our preaching first.
Obviously we need sermons based on truth (true Truth as Schaeffer used to say) which are correct as to the teaching of Scripture. There are many emotionally moving sermons that come from a totally out of context and misused portion of Scripture. The uneducated and unstudied pastor might be all fired up, yet his listeners may be intellectually embarrassed about what he is saying, or at least have cause to be. Many of our listeners might be educated, but even those who haven’t finished high school or college are not stupid. Folks will know if we misquote the Bible, mix up the main characters in a story which they have heard many times, or even make mistakes in terms of common science, geography, or history.
My point is that pastors need to “study to show themselves approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) This of course is the strong emphasis in conservative seminaries and in ordaining bodies so it results in many of our pastors being excellent students, spending many hours in sermon preparation and general study. It does not automatically follow that they will be good preachers, nor does it mean they will always be “feeding the sheep.”
Intellectual ability is a great gift, but it doesn’t protect you from being boring. Being widely read is a great mental asset, but it doesn’t mean you can communicate the great truths you have learned in ways that make an impact. Being theologically accurate is a necessity for any sermon that dares to call itself Biblical, yet theological accuracy will often miss the target of the heart if it comes off as an academic lecture.
We don’t need more didactic moments that simply tickle the minds of those who thirst for more information, we need the forming of the heart though great sermons powerfully delivered. People need truth that shapes hearts into the obedience that comes through faith so people can be doers of the Word and not just hearers of it.
The forming of the heart comes from a response of faith and therefore one of the most disappointing results of a sermon wonderfully prepared and brilliantly organized is for people to leave after listening while saying “so?” in their minds. This kind of preaching is vacuous, it has no depth, it does not penetrate. “What does God want me to do, and how can I possibly do it?” People are asking this question, and the answer of course has to be accurate, but it must also have empowerment. Is there the stress, in our sermons, on the ability of God to enable us to do the will of God?
The preacher sits in his study and he goes through some wonderful moments of insight and connection. “This sounds like Moses, and he agrees with David, and here it is in Paul, and yes, I can see it in Jesus, and I remember this philosopher said something like it, and that preacher made an allusion to it and this word in the original language gives it such punch.” What wonderful moments, and the wise preacher doesn’t tell his congregation all that he learned in his study and he knows he can’t possibly include them in all the fun he just had learning more and more about this text. Yet, the fun will all be self-centered fun if he doesn’t know how to mine out the gold of God’s intent for our faith and obedience, and how he can stimulate us to love and good deeds, and how he should include and move us through story, illustration, and direct challenge of application. Tell us what to do with what you are teaching us!
All preachers have egos, they all have insecurities, they all have their own unique styles, but if they are God’s man they speak as an oracle of God according the ability that God gives them. Some preachers hide behind the intellectual analysis of a text because they never want to make self-disclosure. They make no confession, they flee from revealing failure or weakness, and thus they divorce themselves from the struggles of their people. We sometimes are our own best illustration of how a text applies, or how it should be applied, or about how we failed to apply it.
The greatest preacher in the history of the world told stories, and captured the hearts of men and women. The greatest theologian, the one that wrote most of the books of the New Testament, did lots of self-disclosure concerning his weaknesses, in fact he boasted about them. The preacher needs to put himself in the Gospel story, and not expect by distancing himself from it that somehow the people will find by themselves the green pastures in which is their spiritual nourishment.
The helpful weapons for every preacher are of course fervent prayer, humility, and the breathing of the Holy Spirit upon us when we preach. Preaching without brokenness and honest emotion about grace and the Gospel leaves congregants wondering if we are sincere, if we are telling the truth about this God we proclaim. There is joy for all of us in the tears of repentance and forgiveness, and rich food too.