Recently, while reading a book on pastoral counseling, I was reminded of the sacred responsibility of preaching. The book was The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to every pastor and elder who seeks to better understand and fulfill his calling as shepherd. There is much in this book to digest and put into practice. I found myself underlining something on practically every page.
Toward the end of the book, one quote in particular caught my attention. It reminded me how important my preaching ministry is to our church’s culture and practice. The authors write:
“But as the pastor, you are the primary shaper of the church’s culture. Because you preach most frequently, your beliefs and values are far more influential in steering the culture of the church. What matters to you usually defines what matters to the church. This influence is a grave privilege” (Heb. 13:7).
It’s hard to argue against the pastor and his preaching shaping the culture of the church. However, the question should be raised: “What is the character of that pastor and the content of his preaching that is shaping the church?” Too often the excesses of the pastor are displayed in his preaching and thus similarly and sadly shapes the culture of the church as well.
As pastors, we must be keenly aware of the influence we have in forming the culture of our gatherings. For those of us wanting to avoid the pitfalls of a church culture wrongly shaped by the preacher, here are three suggestions:
1. Don’t treat the pulpit as a personal political platform.
This is a very easy thing to do and a trap both liberal and conservative preachers fall into. For example, The Civil Rights Movement gave us the blessed legacy of struggling for freedom, justice, and a way forward from discrimination. But because it was lead by preachers (per se), it also left many subsequent preachers feeling the need to use the pulpit for social protest and action. As a result, today many mainline black churches are nothing more than community improvement associations because the preachers are more versed in community development than in the proclamation of the atonement of Christ. As the coming presidential election approaches, there will be a parade of politicians and pundits in the pulpits across our country. And yet, we should be reminded that the church’s pulpit is for Christ’s agenda and the message of his eternal kingdom come to earth, not the fleeting and fickle agendas of the social left or the political right.
2. Don’t turn the pulpit into a stage for performing and entertainment.
It was Shakespeare who said, “All the world’s a stage, and all men and women are mere players.” Unfortunately, the Bard’s words are reflective of too many churches today. Today it seems, all the church is a stage, and preachers are mere players. From those who fancy themselves comedians, to those who believe their song and dance are worthy of Grammy consideration, too many pastors have turned their churches into little more than Sunday morning at the Apollo. Brothers and sisters, contrary to popular assumptions, the church is not a stage, the pastor is not the headliner, and the pulpit is no place for entertainment. We must prefer faithfulness to the word preached over filling the pews (2 Tim. 4:1-5). The culture of a church that ranks high in its EQ (entertainment quotient) is a culture fostered by a pastor who fancies himself chief entertainer.
3. Don’t make too much of preaching and preachers.
This is common misstep that often leads to the preacher and his preaching being all-powerful. I recently visited a church where the pastor was introducing the guest preacher and the pastor spent 20 minutes extolling the virtues of the guest preacher and how great a preacher he was, having had conferred on him many degrees and awards for his preaching. Needless to the say, after that excessive introduction the sermon was a huge let down. When it comes to the pulpit, we are not to make much of ourselves. We are not to make much of others. The pulpit is a place where in humility the preacher is exalting God and pointing people to Christ. The preacher must always remember that he can’t be big and God be big also (Jn. 3:30). The faithful preacher is calling people to know God better, not himself.
The culture of any church is shaped by the preponderance of messages emanating from its preachers. Unfortunately, worldliness too often emanates from the pulpit because worldliness is too often the preacher’s daily consumption. A biblically faithful church, however, will endeavor to have a culture not easily identifiable by the world because its message is the message of the Christ and him crucified (1Cor. 1:18). Instead of a political agenda, we preach the message of faith and repentance in Christ. It won’t win votes or gain favors from politicians, but it will please the King of Kings.
Furthermore, instead of performing and seeking to entertain the masses, let us as preachers open the Bible and let God’s Word speak for itself. Let us be bold and confident enough to believe that those whom God is calling will find satisfaction in the pure milk of the word preached (1 Pet. 2:2) and consequently be forced to look for entertainment elsewhere.
And lastly, instead of making much of preachers and preaching, let’s make much of the One preached (2 Cor. 4:5). People knowing my credentials is not as important as them hearing the message of the cross. Hopefully in my preaching they will think less of me but more of Christ. Hopefully, my credentials fade to black as Christ is raised up and all are drawn to Him, including the preacher (Jn. 12:32).