2
Aug
2017

When the Preaching is Bad

What are we to do when we find the preaching to be deficient in the local church to which we belong? For some church members, that is a relatively easy question to answer–just leave! After all, many people will leave churches for all sorts of other illegitimate reasons: musical preference, children’s ministry, social expectations, etc. For others, this is an exceedingly difficult question to answer. There are godly men and women who find themselves torn over whether or not they should leave a church–even when they know that they are not being adequately fed by the ministry of the word. Add to this the fact that many will leave their spouses, change jobs and move to another country before leaving a church that they have belonged to for several decades. Affinity and investment often clouds objectivity. The difficultly of determining when to leave a church can also be due to the fact that the Scriptures do not seem to give us much by way of a clear answer to this question. After all, Jesus rebuked almost all of the seven churches in the book of Revelation for serious spiritual–and, at times, even doctrinal–errors, without telling the members of those particular local churches to leave them at that precise moment. These factors make it quite difficult for someone to give another person a definite and objective answer to the question. So, we are left to ask, “Are there any guiding principles to help someone in a situation in which he or she knows that the preaching at their church is deficient?”

In his book, Be Careful How You Listen, Jay Adams gives us one of the most helpful treatments of this subject. Adams gives several categories by which believers can assess what is deficient in the preaching. For instance, we must first seek to distinguish between “seeming heresy” and “heresy” in the preaching. In order to do this, Adams suggests that concerned individuals go to the pastor and say something along the following lines:

“Pastor, we may have misunderstood, but here is what we think you have been saying. Please tell us if we are wrong; we are deeply concerned about this. We have come to you first; we haven’t made our concerns known to anyone else in the congregation.”

When individuals take this first course of action, the minister has an opportunity to respond. He might respond by “commending them for their honesty and prudence and will listen carefully to them.” This might be all that was needed for the minister to “make an effort to be clearer in his preaching.” If we fail to take this first course of action “none of these good things would happen.” When we fail to do things in this proper way, we take away an opportunity for clarity and growth.

However, if someone has gone through this first step and is ignored by the pastor–or comes to realize that the minister is truly preaching heretical doctrine (we have to know how to properly identify heresy if we are going to draw such a serious conclusion)–he or she should not immediately leave the church. Such individuals have a responsibility to go through the proper channels of accountability in order to bring about change. “They must,” Jay insists, “speak to the elders (or other board members, depending on the kind of church it may be) about the problem. They have a responsibility to the congregation and to the Lord that they cannot discharge by leaving the church.”

If a church member has followed the first two steps, and finds himself or herself getting nowhere, one final course of action may be taken:

“If the church belongs to a denomination, it may be possible to appeal to a high body (a Presbytery, convention, etc.). This may take time and it will require patience…but they are responsible to take every action possible to restore the ministry of this church…If the church is independent, they must attempt to rally as many of the members as possible to bring about a change in the situation…They will be vilified all along the way by some; but if they persist in a proper, humble, helpful manner–not returning evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21)–keeping Christ’s honor and His Church’s welfare always uppermost in their minds, they will proceed rightly.”

If these courses of action are followed in love, humility and patience, and no change occurs in the doctrine that is promulgated from the pulpit, such individuals “must finally leave the church and…unite with a church in which the Gospel is preached and the Lord’s word is held inerrant.”

However, what are men and women to do when “the preaching is neither suspect nor heretical, just poor?” Jay gives eight points of spiritual advice upon which men and women may provisionally act:

    1. Pray for the pastor. We often underestimate what God has promised to do if we would call on Him and cast our cares on him. James reminds us that the “effectual fervent prayer of the righteous avails much.” Preaching is certainly not outside of the sphere of God’s authority and power.
    2. Look for main points in the message–or points suggested by the message. Jot down questions, observations, illustrations, and key passages that might relate to these main points.
    3. Ask yourself, “How would I approach this passage?” When you do that sincerely desirous to learn and grow, “you will find that you are working all the harder because the pastor isn’t (or doesn’t know how to) work that hard to understand the Scriptures or communicate his understanding to others.”
    4. Take more notes than you would otherwise. “Takes notes on all that comes into your mind” from related places in Scripture. “Meditate, and take notes on it.”
    5. Think of your life in relation to the sermon (or your [biblically sound] reconstruction of the sermon). “Try to discover why the Holy Spirit put the passage in the Bible…Reflect on this specifically in relation to your own life and determine at least three ways you can implement the Holy Spirit’s purpose during the coming week.
    6. On an especially bad day, forget about the sermon and focus on a hymn, the Scripture reading, or something in the prayer.
    7. Learn from the sermon by contrast. When error is preached, ask, “What does the Bible really say?” Pursue that line until you are sure of the biblical truth. You will especially be sharpened if you read solid books that will help keep you straight.
    8. Remember what it must have been like for Jesus to sit under the atrocious preaching in the synagogue for thirty years.

“What all this amounts to,” writes Jay, “is taking seriously the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, for which the Reformers fought. They asserted not only the right but also the responsibility of the believer to come directly to God in prayer and to study the Bible on their own…Spurgeon could not have been too far from the truth when he said, ‘I have listened to many sermons from preachers called poor, in all corners of the country, and I have never heard one that did not teach me something, if I was in the spirit to profit from it.'”

None of this is to say that believers must stay in a church that does not preach God’s word in truth. Of course, believers should commit to being under the most sound preaching of God’s word that they can find in a reasonable proximity to their home. But, it is to stress the obligation that we have to the people of God and to the Lord to make every effort to see faithful ministry occurring in the church in which we have bound ourselves.

13 Responses

  1. Pingback : Selected News Stories from Around the World* — Thursday, Aug. 3 | The BibleMesh Blog

  2. Matthew

    I have one question about this. Actually, I guess it’s more of a request for guidance.

    The church I attend, and where I teach the youth, has a pastor that is okay at preaching. I’ve never felt the need to leave because he isn’t Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, etc.

    One thing that has cropped up more and more in recent years is his affinity for less than orthodox teachers (some would even be considered downright heretical). To wit, I don’t throw that term around lightly.

    These folks occasionally pop up in sermons and even the adult studies (and of course the Hillsong industrial complex in our music). I’ve talked to the pastor many times about my concerns and have never talked to others (outside my elder) so as not to cause division.

    My question is this; I have very deep concerns about the direction of the preaching and have no recourse at this point. I do have influence over the teens and can teach them sound doctrine. I feel it would be more destructive to leave and let the teens hang, but I also know I need to have Biblically sound preaching. What would you suggest?

    This is what happens when you don’t have creeds as guardrails for Biblical orthodoxy.

    1. Youth Pastor

      Matthew, if you feel comfortable, please call me. I think we may be able to, at the least, be a listening ear for each other. 864-245-0679

      1. Matthew

        I will do that. I’ll send a text so you know my number and we can find a time to chat that works for both of us.

        There’s a bit more detail to the situation, but I had prattled on enough up there!

  3. Prayer is certainly the place to begin, and the other suggestions are excellent. I think there are also a few other alternatives.
    1. You can try to make it possible for your preacher to get more training in preaching.
    2. If appropriate, you can volunteer to do some preaching yourself–while making it very clear that your goal is not to undermine your current pastor.
    3. You can attend a different church at a different hour of the week, at least some of the time, in order to receive sermons.
    4. You can advocate for the idea of a plurality of teachers / preachers and can see whether you can team with your pastor / preacher in praying that the Lord will raise them up within your group.
    5. You can volunteer to help do research for your pastor’s preaching.
    6. You can get some of your spiritual nourishment online, but beware of thinking that it’s a complete substitute for the church. It isn’t.

    1. r

      “If appropriate, you can volunteer to do some preaching yourself–while making it very clear that your goal is not to undermine your current pastor.”

      Well put, and in theory I agree 100% with everything you listed and highly support them.

      However, theory is different than practice. My experience with churches from coast to coast and most places in between suggests that it would be very rare for this idea to be successful. You would think that with all the pressures of ministry that if a pastor has someone come to him and volunteer to help shoulder the burden, that would be welcomed with open arms. You would like to think that, particularly when that’s in the very job description of being a pastor (2 Tim. 2:2, Heb. 5:12, 1 Pet. 5:3).

      Not so in today’s elitist clergy class. There is too much of John 11:48 to overcome, and so what you suggest usually gets automatically marked down as a “threat” to be dealt with rather than a blessing from the Lord.

  4. r

    Three comments:

    1) “If the church is independent, they must attempt to rally as many of the members as possible to bring about a change in the situation…They will be vilified all along the way by some; but if they persist in a proper, humble, helpful manner–not returning evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21)–keeping Christ’s honor and His Church’s welfare always uppermost in their minds, they will proceed rightly.”

    We’ve had to do this, and believe me, it’s not pleasant. With the American “Church-ianity” scene in full swing, there is a dearth of concern for God’s Truth being swept under the rug for a kind of faux “unity”. As a result, when the need for a Phinehas (Numbers 25) arises, you can expect not a commendation, but the standard church politic to kick into high gear, including backstabbing, villifying, lying, gossip, slander, and ostracization and stigmatization.

    2) “Learn from the sermon by contrast. When error is preached, ask, “What does the Bible really say?” Pursue that line until you are sure of the biblical truth. You will especially be sharpened if you read solid books that will help keep you straight.”

    True to a point, but I would counter by saying that if this is the pattern for your church or even a regular occurrence rather than the rare exception, then you have a problem that you must address using the Biblical steps in this article. The reason it is so important to address this is because the primary way God commands us to grow is through a plurality of elders shepherding the flock, and the way that primarily occurs is through the faithful preaching of God’s Word.

    If it is a normal occurrence where there is bad, unfaithful preaching, then it is actually a sin and a detriment to your AND your family’s spiritual growth to allow that to fester and continue. If you do nothing, it will only get worse over time, and then you will have to give an account for your lack of action and your lapse into spiritual atrophy.

    3) IF you have followed these steps, addressed things Biblically, and God does not grant repentance, AND you find yourself in an area where there is no other viable, Biblically faithful options for a God-fearing church, then you must consider extreme measures, even to the point of moving to a different location/town/city/state/country in order to seek out and commit yourself to a local congregation. In other words, if all you do is give up and pack it in, then that shows that you don’t understand how serious this type of situation is and you are no better off than those who twist or neuter God’s Word from the pulpit, and it makes your discernment in leaving suspect in the first place. We are in the midst of this now, where we are making plans to uproot ourselves to another state for the express purpose of committing ourselves to a local church. That means uprooting our family, leaving a good job and home, and basically starting over, all for the sake of being able to obey Christ in church membership.

    It’s worth it.

    1. Matthew

      So, following up with all these great points, should I talk to select others that I trust in the church about what I’m seeing?

      I don’t want to cause division, but I am very concerned and feel that I should probably discuss/warn others, maybe.

      1. r

        There’s a difference between causing division and standing for truth. The former is (usually) sinful. Not doing the latter is (always) sinful. Read about Phinehas in Numbers 25 (he skewered two participants that were sinning in front of the whole congregation and he was commended by God for it). Read about how critical God thinks a faithful eldership is in Ezekiel 9 and how He commends those sheep who are concerned for the truth. Read about how to address issues like this in Matthew 18. Given that you’ve indicated numerous previous one-on-one discussions with the pastor involved, go to him again with “1 or 2 others” for the purpose of bringing your brother back. If that is unfruitful, be prepared to do what Nicholas wrote in this article:

        “If the church belongs to a denomination, it may be possible to appeal to a high body (a Presbytery, convention, etc.). This may take time and it will require patience…but they are responsible to take every action possible to restore the ministry of this church…If the church is independent, they must attempt to rally as many of the members as possible to bring about a change in the situation…They will be vilified all along the way by some; but if they persist in a proper, humble, helpful manner–not returning evil for evil, but overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21)–keeping Christ’s honor and His Church’s welfare always uppermost in their minds, they will proceed rightly.”

  5. Pingback : When the Preaching is Bad...what are we to do? - Hope in Christ Church

  6. TJ

    Appreciate the post. What if the preaching is orthodox and doctrinal… but overly-simplistic, disengaged from real life, and lack practicality/application (not to mention boring)? Compared to heresy, I know this issue sounds almost like a non-issue… but people are beginning to leave, discouraged. Members are finding it difficult to sit through Sunday after Sunday, being fed platitudes and weak heremenuetics. It’s been addressed to the pastor for over 3 years, but hardly any improvement.

  7. Love #8. So many leave Churches for their own betterment. Okay I’ve been there. I was them. Age and good teaching has given me the understanding that I owe to my fellowship the obligation to stand with them in thick or thin. Use the bad preaching as a way to be good Bereans. I have found the times when I went to the Pastor for clarification to have been some of my most edifying experiences. The Ruling Elder/Teaching Elder parity and plurality of the Presbyterian system should help with this problem as well. Use the Ruling Elder as a sounding board if need be.

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