Have you ever sat in a church service on a Sunday morning expecting to hear the Word of God expounded to you in all the vigor and clarity in the manner of Charles Spurgeon, or Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, or John Piper, or Sinclair Ferguson, or Matt Chandler, or Kevin DeYoung, or (one of my favorites) Adam Barr, or Peter Marshall? Have you had these expectations? Then they have most likely been shattered when you realize the pastor who stands before you every Sunday seems more like a freshman college student in his Introduction to Public Speaking course.
I would consider myself lumped into the latter group, after all, I am new at this. My conviction is that the better I become at preaching, the more glory will be brought to God. This is why I spend much time in my sermon preparation, why I read books on preaching, listen to those great preachers just mentioned, and why I ask a few trusted individuals in the church to honestly critique my sermon. But this post is not about me, it is about all of us.
What do we do when we realize that the sermon set before us is a bad sermon? Well, we have to figure out what we mean by “bad”. There are two ways we can take this. The first would be in the area of doctrine, and I will say upfront that if your pastor is abusing Scripture, debases the miracles within Scripture, or uses Scripture for his own ends rather than the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, flee! Flee to a new church and leave that old place behind. The second way in which a sermon can be bad is in its presentation, and I pray that this is where I land if I must land in either of these two areas.
I want to talk about those stuck in the second area. What if your pastor’s preaching voice comes from his nose rather than the depths of his lungs? What if his mannerisms in the pulpit are more like uncontrolled twitches? What if his sermon is too short or too long? What if the application did not follow what he spent 30 minutes building up? What if from week to week there is no cohesion, no over arching theme? What if he uses PowerPoint? What if he doesn’t? What if he never preaches from the Old Testament? What if he never preaches from the New? What if…well you get the idea.
I have a few suggestions.
If this is a consistent bother, humbly come before the Lord and pray on behalf of your pastor. Thank the Lord that He has given you such a man that loves His Word. Thank the Lord that the church has a pastor that honors Christ and speaks the truth of the Gospel. Pray for your shepherd. Believe me, a poorly delivered sermon is vastly different than a biblically aberrant sermon. I would rather have someone give me the truth in a poorly delivered sermon than someone who merely talks about himself in a glamorous way.
From Sunday to Sunday, prepare your heart through prayer and the study of the Word for the receiving of the sermon. Have you ever heard someone after a church service say, “Eh, it was okay. I didn’t get much out of it.” Then the blame usually falls on the Worship Director for choosing the wrong songs, or the Pastor for not preaching in a mode that the Complainer prefers. But pay attention to what the person said, “I didn’t get much out of it” or put another way, “It didn’t do much for me.” Where is the emphasis? The Complainer. There is no mention of the glory of God from the revelation of His Word.
Perhaps the reason someone does not “get” much out of a church service is because they are not putting much of themselves in it. The church is not a consumer-based enterprise. We are servants of the King expounding the truths of his Word. It is what it is, and it is powerful on its own. Another way to think about the Complainer is that they fail to realize how much a pastor does put in. This is why we must pray for our pastors. Pastors need the prayers of the saints. You want a “better” pastor, pray for and encourage your pastor.
Another suggestion would be to stop complaining. What does complaining do? If you are married you know the answer to this. Complaining does two things: 1) nothing positive and 2) everything negative. Complaining often turns to gossip, which often turns to bitterness, which often turns to resentment, which often turns to hatred, and then you are in a pit so deep, surrounded by your own illusions of what you think is wrong you may stop attending the church altogether cutting yourself off from the body of Christ.
Joel Beeke, in his wonderful little book The Family at Church (the following comes from pages 15-23), offers some more wisdom when it comes to listening to sermons. Beeke offers four nuggets of wisdom. 1) Listen with an understanding, and tender conscience. Beeke then expounds on the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-23 in which he exhorts his readers to be good soil ready to receive the sown Word.
2) Listen attentively to the preached Word. In other words, the pastor should not be the only one working during a sermon. Listening well is hard work, so work at it. Put the bulletin down until you get home. Put your phone away. Don’t let your children play handheld games in the service. Quit counting the ceiling tiles. The preached Word of God is a matter of life and death and it should be treated as such, see Deuteronomy 32:47.
3) Listen with a submissive faith. This piece of wisdom comes from James 1:21, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” A Christian heart should be willing to receive the counsel and rebuke of the Word of God, no matter how well the presentation is put together.
4) Listen with humility and self-examination. Isaiah 66:2 reads, “…But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Are you aware of your own depravity and inability to save yourself? Are you aware of your deadness apart from Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit? Are you aware of the Word’s ability, as a means of grace, to transform your life? Are you aware that God has brought your pastor before you, in all of his weaknesses and in all of his foibles to present to you the saving power of His mercy?
We have not even touched on the issue of God’s providence, that is, His fatherly hand bringing you exactly what He thinks you need, which includes the pastor before you. What does the Complainer think of the gifts received from God’s fatherly hand? Pray for your pastor.