A cheap shot in sports is when you catch your opponent off guard and give him an illegal hit that hurts him badly. The referee usually flags you for it and the crowd boos. Even your own fans are embarrassed that you would stoop to such.
To our shame, preachers do it all the time.
Not all preachers, but some of us make a practice of finding a weak spot in our targeted sinner, one undefended, in his most vulnerable area, and letting him have it.
It was Super Bowl Sunday, a couple of years back….
A friend on Facebook messaged me privately about his intended sermon. He was going to let the congregation have it that day about their addiction to sports, football in particular. He was upset and planned to preach about this modern-day form of idolatry.
He asked for my thoughts about his intentions.
I did not accuse him of hitting below the belt–the very essence of a cheap shot, from the boxing world–but I could have. (You could say I avoided a cheap shot myself by not doing that.) Instead, I suggested an alternative approach.
“Instead of pouring cold water over your people’s enjoyment of this day’s festivities,” I said, “what if you took a different route. There are so many positive things that sports teach us, and football in particular.”
For one thing, I suggested he consider teamsmanship–how all members of the squad work together as a unit. Football demonstrates this as well as any activity I can think of.
I suggested he think about passion, the way a gifted athlete will sometimes be out-done by a lesser talent who has a stronger drive, greater “heart.” The Bible says much about serving the Lord with a whole heart.
Finally, I suggested that if he still wanted to preach that sermon against the idolatry of sports in America–I am not arguing the point–he consider doing it the week following Super Bowl Sunday.
It just seems fairer.
You see it all the time on Facebook. Someone will post a note on, say, the search for a missing child. Friends add their comments on various aspects of the subject. Invariably, however, some Christian almost has to jump in and deliver the cheap shot: “If we would search for the lost as diligently as those people are searching for that baby, we’d reach the world for the Lord.”
Is it true? Sure it is. And it leaves someone somewhere with the intended impression that the writer is a superior Christian with a great love for the lost.
The impression it leaves with this preacher (moi!) is that the writer is a cold-water-pourer-on-er, one who delights in moving the conversation off a good subject into spiritual realms where he can inflict guilt on one and all.
Here are some ways preachers take cheap shots in their preaching.
1. By attacking celebrities who are not there to defend themselves.
We used to hear bad jokes about Elizabeth Taylor’s numerous marriages, about Brad-Angelina’s shacking up, and about Jane Fonda’s politics. Thankfully, preachers seem to have tired of these subjects and moved on. However, a few still delight in harassing celebrities for acting like the sinners they are. Lord, help us.
2. By taking a single sin someone did and ballooning it to represent the entirety of fallen humanity.
“That’s the problem of this world today” is the prefix to such generalizations. It’s lazy preaching.
3. By taking one slip by a well-meaning person (whom he does not know but has heard of) and banishing them to hell for such a wrong.
A politician is caught in a prostitution sweep and loses his job and his marriage. A movie star does something unpatriotic. An athlete admits to cheating. A television preacher is found to be a liar.
4. By erecting a law God never got around to making, then crucifying his people for breaking it.
We legalists are great at this. A legalist says, “I know the Lord never said this, but He would have if He’d thought about it.”
Case in point. The Super Bowl is played on Sunday night, usually the first Sunday of February. But that’s church night. (Okay, it was church night until so many churches threw in the towel and canceled). So, the preacher decides that all who skip church that night to watch the game are violating a law of God.
The only problem is it isn’t so. Nowhere does Scripture command God’s people to attend church on Sunday nights. If they choose to go and if they actually worship Him, we believe God will honor them for that. But why should He hold His people to a command He never uttered?
When I mentioned that to a friend–Facebook again–he came back with Hebrews 10:25, the verse reminding God’s people not to forsake to assemble themselves together. Wrong verse to make this point.
Same thing when preachers harangue our culture for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Show me where we are commanded to say “Merry Christmas” in the Bible, and I’ll retract this. Otherwise, it’s a cheap shot.
The problems with taking cheap shots….
1. We hurt people.
2. We lose the respect of outsiders.
3. We lose the support of our people who still have a sense of right and wrong. Not everyone in the pew is buying this wholesale bullying the pastor is palming off as inspired preaching. Many of our people know the difference in anointed, Spirit-filled proclamation of the Word and fleshly harassment of sinners.
4. We misrepresent God.
If I were a pastor search committee looking for God’s preacher to lead our church, the first thing I would ask about a candidate would be: Is he a nice person? Start there.
No one who is mean as a snake in the pulpit is a kind-hearted Christian gentleman outside it.
Lord, help your preachers, please.