Saturday, January 23, 2010
What's a Preacher's Job?
I receive the daily news summary email from the Christian Post called CP Today, and in today’s email there was a link to an article by Christian Today reporter Charles Boyd entitled: Survey: Sermons Fail to Inspire Change in Believers (see below for a link to the article). In that article he writes about a survey of 193 Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists and Baptists commissioned by the College of Preachers to commemorate its 50th anniversary. (The survey was conducted by the CODEC research center at St. John’s College in the U.K. so I assume it was not taken in America, but I don’t know that for sure.)
According to the survey, “Sixty-two percent of those questioned said sermons frequently gave them a sense of God’s love and helped them to understand Jesus; two thirds said they ‘frequently’ looked forward to the sermon; and 84 percent said the sermons should be rooted in the Bible.” But, and this seemed to be the main thrust of the article, the survey also found that of those surveyed, “. . . only 17 percent said sermons frequently changed their attitudes towards others or helped them look afresh at controversial or topical issues.” In fact, the article begins, “Congregations may look forward to the pastor’s sermon, but when it comes to bringing about a change in their attitudes or lifestyle, preaching appears to have little impact.” According to the research team, people want sermons that are biblical and relevant to contemporary life/issues, and over one quarter of the respondents indicated they wanted them to be entertaining, too.
If you know me at all you probably know that, if anything, I am too introspective—I spend a lot of time examining myself, what I am doing, what I am supposed to be doing, what it is all about, etc. So, it is fair to say, I am very willing to look at what a pastor/preacher is supposed to be. In fact, I do not want my job description to be formed by cultural expectations or traditions, but rather solely by what God has ordained it to be.
So, comes the natural question—what is a pastor’s job from the pulpit? Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” and Ephesians 4:11–12 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” So, there is a Biblical role for “stirring up” others to action, and for equipping and building up the body of Christ.
But, I wonder, where does the ultimate responsibility for change in a person come from? I really wonder, in this day and age, if we are too dependent on preachers and teachers to entertain and grow us, when we are the ones who should be diligently studying God’s Word and investing in our relationship with God all week long. I have met many, many Christians who can, without a problem, spend hours watching a movie or sports and think nothing of it—but who will complain or question when the sermon goes 45 minutes—and who would never go to a mid-week study. I wonder, where does the true responsibility/problem lie in that equation when we can acknowledge a Creator who gave us life and sent His Son to die for us, but we resent having to listen to His Word being taught for an hour and yet we can watch a movie or TV for 3–4 hours without thinking twice?
As a pastor, yes, I want to inspire people to change. And, yes, as a human loving other’s approval, I’d love to be thought of as a “good” preacher. But, too often, it seems “good” really means entertaining or evoking emotion, and I believe that the real, deep change will not come from a sermon that fires up the emotions but from the repentant, deep meeting with God that comes in our quiet place. The College of Preachers concluded from the survey that sermons, as they stand now, “are better at helping people to reflect than challenging them to act.” I wonder, is that all bad?
I think, if I am honest, while it is exciting to see someone catch a fire during a sermon, that I would prefer, as a whole, to have people quietly leaving having been brought to that place of reflection where they can, in the coming days, meet at a deep level with God and transact a deep, true change that is fueled by love and relationship and not an emotional moment. I have, in countless trips with youth, seen the quickly fading effects of emotional decisions—even decisions accompanied by genuine tears and sorrow. Those decisions rarely have endurance. But, I have also seen the tremendous fruit of someone who has wrestled and struggled and fought their way in to a sacrificial decision to embrace God and live with Him as Lord. And while those decisions are rarely quick in happening, they usually carry with them great endurance.
So, in conclusion, yes I want to inspire people. Yes, I want to motivate people to look at things differently and to live differently. Yes, I want to teach people and equip people. But, I also know that it is truly only in that deeply considered and strongly weighed transaction between and individual and God, fueled by the Holy Spirit, that true, enduring change will occur. When Jesus is lifted up it is He that draws people to Him, and even Jesus says we are to count the cost before following Him—and that usually doesn’t happen in 40 minutes, it usually happens in the weeks that follow the 40 minutes. At least that’s what I think, but I’d love to hear what you think if you’d care to comment.
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