Why Pastors Need to Stop Preaching What People Want to Hear
“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.
On and on, ad infinitum. People want what they want. And with the availability of churches of all stripes and colors–varieties of sizes, architecture, programs, music, preaching, doctrine–no one need stay where they are unhappy. So, they keep moving.
And so pastors keep studying “what people want in a church.” And lay leadership keeps polling the congregation: “What you want in a pastor.”
God help us.
In the Peanuts comic strip, the children were writing an assignment about their summer vacation. Linus was hard at work. He wrote something like, “Even though I had a lot of fun this summer–at the beach, going to movies, playing ball, and vacationing with my family–I could not wait to return to the hallowed halls of learning. I missed my amazing school, my wonderful books, and my outstanding teacher. I’m so happy to be back.”
He handed in the paper, then stood there while the teacher read it. He says, “An A-plus? Thank you very much, ma’am.” As he leaves the room, he remarks to another child, “As the years come and go, one learns what sells.”
Many a pastor has figured out what sells and has determined to offer a steady menu of that to their congregations.
This is powered by a lot of things: personal ambition, job security, drawing crowds, increasing the budget, and getting noticed.
The flesh craves what it wants. The Gospel of Eartickling says pastors should speak nice words, never rock the boat, and choose only those doctrines that the locals agree on. Or even better, avoid doctrine altogether and stay with topics sure to draw in a crowd. “How to be a winner in a losing world.” “How to overcome your low self-esteem.” “How to be popular and still please God.” “How to romance your spouse.” “How to have perfect children.”
Sometimes the Message We Preach is Unpleasant
In his final warning to the church–specifically to young Pastor Timothy, but through him to us–Paul implies that sound doctrine may be unpleasant to the ear. The truth of God preached by a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus does a lot of things…
–It rebukes our self-centeredness.
–It holds us to a higher standard.
–It is like surgery or medicine in that for the short term it can be painful, but the result of which is health.
This is why only courageous leaders should be chosen by churches. They understand these things and are willing to pay the price. Others are not.
“Master,” the disciples said, “are you aware that the Pharisees were offended by what You said?” (Matthew 15) “Let them alone,” said the Lord. “They are blind leaders of the blind.”
Courageous Leaders are Essential
It goes without saying that pastors and other ministers must be men and women of courage. But likewise, the lay leaders must be people of strength and firmness.
–Such leaders will encourage the pastor to preach the truth even if it hurts.
–Such leaders will support the pastor when he does preach the unvarnished truth and is receiving criticism. They should remind God’s people that “No chastening for the present time seems pleasant…but afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).
–Such leaders will speak to members of the congregation who are stirring up strife over what the pastor is preaching. If God’s man is telling the truth and being faithful, the lay leadership should have the courage to stand with him.
–Such leaders will even allow a few unhappy church members to leave when they cannot get their way. They will not blame the pastor for running them away. Anyone who does even a quick reading of the Gospels will see our Lord let people leave Him because they could not take His truth. And He did not blame Himself or second-guess the message He was preaching.
Pray for your leaders, friend. And stand by them, particularly when they are being criticized. If they are faithful, then you be faithful.
God, bless your church. Please.
Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.