“But encourage one another, so much the more, as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
It sounds like such fun, being an encourager of ministers of the gospel. And it is.
Except for when it’s not.
What does an encourager of preachers do when he finds those who need not so much encouragement as basic instruction? They have fundamental problems in their preaching and need to make some serious changes but you’re in no position to tell them.
Compounding the problem, what if those preachers are being outwardly successful in their Kingdom work (as far as you can tell) in spite of their preaching flaws?
Many would say, “Leave it alone then. Clearly, the Lord is blessing, so maybe you are not the judge of their preaching.”
I happily admit I’m not the judge of anyone’s preaching.
–What about when a preacher saturates the sermon with references to himself and his family, his goals and his activities, and hardly brings up the name of Jesus at all? You walk out knowing far more about him than you do about the Lord.
Should you say something to him?
You have no way of knowing whether this is his usual way of preaching or if today was an aberration. And if it was out of the ordinary for him, that raises a question: Does a pastor have a right not to preach the Word sometimes, but to preach himself, his views, his stories, and his convictions?
Paul said, “We do not preach ourselves but Jesus as Lord…” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
–What about when the pastor reads the scripture, then uses it as a platform from which he dives into his pet theories and ideas and convictions, with hardly a reference to the text thereafter? You leave with an ache inside, knowing there was so much in that text that could have meant so much to his congregation.
The pastor’s self-confidence is sometimes just that: confidence in himself.
–What about when the minister reads a great passage and then preaches in and around it, analyzing it–sort of–from a remote distance but never makes it come alive for the listeners, never seems to appreciate what is happening in the text, and never asks what the Spirit is saying?
Was he tired today? Had he been too overworked that week to prepare adequately? Should we pray that he gets this right the next time?
Or should we leave it alone?
–What do you think about the preacher sabotaging his sermon at the crucial invitation time (the last 5 minutes of his message) in order to do something entirely different and unrelated to almost everything that has gone before? The invitation time was then tacked on, but as out of place as a lean-to on a mansion.
Does the fact that as his members exit the building they say “I enjoyed the sermon” make it all right? Does the fact that the preacher has drawn a huge crowd justify his shoddy preaching and prove he’s being effective even if his technique is lacking?
The encourager of preachers is something like an itinerant medicine man. When you find a sickness, you want to address it. But often you cannot.
–a) You don’t know the ministers, but are visiting in their congregations, so you have no basis for speaking to them about your observations.
Keeping one’s opinion to himself is part of the self-discipline the Lord requires of any of us.
–b) Since such preachers seem to be thrilled with the success they are enjoying, numbers-wise, they would probably be surprised to learn anyone thinks their preaching is woefully lacking.
You have no right to tell them, Mr. Encourager.
–c) And, because these preachers are young and, in some cases, you are older than their parents, even if you had the opportunity to make suggestions, they would probably write you off as out-of-touch with how the Holy Spirit is doing things in this new generation.
And they may be right, a fact you must always consider.
And so, you have one avenue to address this issue and one only.
You happen to own a blog. (smiley-face goes here.)
Arriving home, you open your laptop and go to your website and type the story of your frustrations in the hope of making a point, not so much to these ministers (you feel confident they would never seek out a brother’s blog to learn how to improve their techniques) but for others coming after them.
What you wish for these and all other ministers is something like the following…
–a) That preachers would occasionally listen to two sermons (DVD or CD or 8-track tape!): their own from the previous Sunday and one by a master preacher. It’s just possible they would be amazed at the contrast, and that would be a positive beginning.
–b) That from time to time, pastors would invite an outstanding gospel preacher to sit in their congregation for a couple of sermons and then give the pastor a confidential, no-holds-barred personal assessment (not written, but face to face) of what he is doing well and where he needs improvement. The minister could do with it what he chose, but just the discussion alone would be worth whatever it costs.
–c) That all pastors would study preaching and work at improving their techniques, and not just copy a favorite motivational speaker. (For a motivational speaker, everything is fair game. But the minister of the gospel must rule out much material that would be entertaining or even uplifting, but detrimental to his purposes and distracting to his message.)
–d) That all pastors would seek out two or three friends to critique their preaching from time to time. These could be members of the congregation gifted in communication and wise in their methodology. Have an English teacher who belongs to your church give her suggestions from time to time. Again, what he does with their analyses is his decision and his alone. But he will have heard from his audience, and that is something.
It takes a strong person to welcome criticism and a mature one to want to continue to improve.
For this encourager of preachers, I will pray for those ministers. Believing them to be sincere followers of Jesus Christ, I am confident He is their biggest Encourager and therefore their most trusted Critic and best Helper. And that’s good enough for anyone.