My wife was commenting on a sermon she heard recently. “It was a fine sermon in many respects. It called for the right kind of actions and spoke of the Holy Spirit. And then it hit me. Nowhere does this person’s preaching deal with the gospel, mention Calvary, or call for repentance.”
She said, “I suppose the sermon works if everyone is saved and obedient and has a sincere desire to serve God. But what if they aren’t? What if we are rebels, what if our hearts are in rebellion against God? What then?”
“Preaching like this sneaks up on you,” she said, referring to what that sermon was missing.
Much has been said about the sermon delivered by the Episcopal bishop at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19. Most of us enjoyed hearing the sermon, particularly because it was so American and so typical of the African-American tradition we’re familiar with but which presumably the British elite crowd is not.
“Whoever receives you, receives Me. Whoever listens to you, listens to Me. Whoever rejects you, rejects Me.” (Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16)
Pastors are reluctant to preach this because it sounds self-serving. “People, the Lord in Heaven is taking note of how you treat me. Whatever you do to me, Jesus considers it the same as though you were doing it to Him.”
He’ll not be saying that.
So, I’ll say it for him. Because it’s true.
Consider this. “A king arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding. And they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready; come to the wedding.” But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.” (That’s Matthew 22:1-6)
We must not miss the reaction of the king in the Lord’s story. “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And his sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.” (Matthew 22:7)
However the people treated the king’s messengers, it was the same as doing it to him.
“And a mixed multitude went up with them.” Exodus 12:38
“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?'” — Numbers 11:4
The world is attending your church.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is sometimes we turn it over to them. Not good.
When the Israelites left Egypt under Moses, they were not alone. Exodus 12 says a large company of riff-raff seized the opportunity to flee the Pharaoh’s harsh rule also. (Various translations call them “a mixed multitude,” “a motley mob,” “a mingled array of other folk,” “a crowd of mixed ancestry,” and “a great rabble.”)
Did we think the Hebrews were the only slaves in Egypt? Doubtless there were slaves from many countries. So, in the same way a jailbreak might free all the prisoners, many of the Pharaoh’s “inmates” decided they had had enough, that anything was better than the slavery of Egypt, and they threw their lot in with the Hebrews and the fellow named Moses.
Before long, the wisdom of that decision would be put to the test.
If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth…. (I Timothy 6:3ff).
Some people debating religion are this way, Paul. Conceited and ignorant, rabble-rousers and mean-spirited. I’ve sat across the table from them more than once. It’s no fun, as you know.
But some are sincere and faithful brethren trying to get this right.
Help us, Lord.
If you are a Southern Baptist, as I am, you may find yourself having a problem with the theology of some people whom you happen to like and respect as brothers and sisters in Christ. You respect them and would like to be closer friends, but this “thing” they believe and teach stands between you. So…
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. –2 Timothy 2:2
Pastors teach from the pulpit. Bible teachers will teach in classes. But in addition, there will be occasions–often sudden, spontaneous occasions–when a lay leader will have the opportunity to teach a biblical truth.
Leaders should always be prepared.
Here’s one way it often happens….
The church member is upset at the pastor. She calls her deacon to complain about last Sunday’s sermon. “We don’t need more sermons on (whatever the subject was).” He listens until she is empty. Then, he asks her something.
“Do you have a minute to listen to something?”
She is puzzled. “Sure. What is it?”
God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. –2 Timothy 1:7
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. –2 Timothy 2:1
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. –2 Timothy 4:1-2
“They’re almost to the point of giving me my walking papers. The animosity from some of our leaders is so thick you could cut it with a butter knife. What do I do now? How do I stand in the pulpit and preach? And what should I preach?”
If you’ve never preached the gospel while sitting throughout the congregation were people who hated you, arms folded and brows furrowed, you’ve missed out on one of the great experiences of the Christian life.
If you’ve never feared for your job for nothing more than preaching the whole counsel of God, you’re in a minority, pastor.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Anyone doubting that should stand outside a typical church on a Sunday morning and listen. “I like the way he preaches.” “He makes me feel good.” “I don’t like what I hear.” “I’m not sure what it is about that preacher, but I don’t like him.” I like, I don’t like, I feel, I don’t feel.
What I want in a church. What we’re looking for. Why we’re considering leaving.
“…who loves to be first among them” (III John 9).
I’ve known them in quite a number of churches. They have no trouble identifying themselves as the force to be reckoned with around this church.
If you are the visiting preacher, their words to you before or after the service will be an announcement, not a comment. You will know you have heard from the control room of the universe. You have heard the voice of God. This man is in charge around here.
No one has to tell you. You just know.
This one calls the shots. Rules the roost. Throws his weight around. Is the power behind the scene.
He loves to have the pre-eminence. (See Diotrephes in III John, above.)
When King David was criticized by a fellow named Shimei–and I mean publically and cruelly, cursing him–one of David’s men asked for permission to execute him on the spot. David’s response is worth noting. “My own son wants to kill me; how much more this Benjamite. Let him alone and let him curse, for (perhaps) the Lord told him to do this. Maybe, if I’m merciful to him, the Lord will be merciful to me.” (Paraphrase of 2 Samuel 16:9-12).
Every leader gets criticized. If you don’t want it or cannot take it, please refuse when they offer you that promotion.
To be a leader–the manager, president, chairman, or pastor of the church–means you will have a target drawn on your back. You must be able to take the heat.
Every leader needs the blessing of positive criticism from the ranks of the membership or team or congregation. The leader who rejects criticism is asking for all the trouble he/she is going to inherit.
But what if you are the employee or member of the congregation or team member and need to get a word of constructive criticism to the leader?
There are wrong ways to get criticism to the pastor. To the leader, boss, chair, president, whoever.
We have dealt with this subject several times over the years on our website. But it seems to meet a need to return to the matter from time to time.
There are two answers to this question: The best and shortest is to put mature leaders and sound structures in place to head off troublemakers. That is, stop trouble before it begins. And the other answer is everything that follows here….
In South Carolina, a pastor entered the worship service one Sunday morning and his jaw dropped. There sat a family that had belonged to every church in town, and had torn each one up. The only church they’d not joined was this one. And now they were here.
Sure enough, during the invitation they came forward and, because this was the way they did things in that church and no plans had ever been made for dealing with troublemakers, the pastor presented them to the congregation. The people dutifully voted to accept them into the membership. Then, the pastor called on an elderly deacon for the benediction.