Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fire Boring Preachers?

An August 8th post by Eryn Sun in The Christian Post naturally, as a pastor/teacher, caught my eye. It was called, "Why 'Boring' Preachers Should Be Fired." It talks about Christian theologian Carl Trueman and credits him with writing about how, "good preachers preaching on doctrine or 'the description of who God is and how he has acted' should never leave audiences feeling cold and indifferent" (and how elders should fire ones who consistently do). You would need to read the whole article to get all of what he is said to have said, and to be truly fair to the full picture he presents, but a few comments the author of this post attributes to him include:

1.  "The relationship between doctrine and worship in the structure of Paul’s letters allows us to infer that doctrine which does not lead to praise is not really true in the richest sense of the word" . . . "Doctrine which does not culminate in praise is not true doctrine" . . . "Teaching of doctrine and appropriate response to the same are inextricably tied together such that the former should really terminate in the latter."

2. “I was talking to a friend recently who told me of a Sunday school class on providence which he had attended. The presentation, while precise and correct at the level of formulation, left my friend cold. Nothing of the glory or the grace or the mercy or the patience of God had been conveyed in the presentation. There was nothing to call forth a response of praise and adoration.” The article also states that, "He clarified that this did not mean people should be swayed 'by aesthetics' or 'reader response' however. He just questioned a man who took 'the deep, mysterious and glorious things of God' and consistently turned them into a 'bland medium.' "

Naturally, this subject is something I reflected on, and I have a few thoughts about it. My thoughts are not all directly tied in to Mr. Trueman, but rather spawned by his. I have not read his original article, only the article about it, and I am not criticizing him at all, only sharing my reflections that the article birthed.

I wonder—what is the responsibility of a teacher? What is he accountable for? I would think that it would be an accurate presentation and exposition of the Word of God or subject that the Spirit of God led him to. If he picked a message from his own "good ideas" or because a denomination told him to then there is a strong chance that the Spirit is not leading it or anointing it. But, if he has prayed and sought the Lord and obeyed, then the Spirit will anoint it and he has done what he was called to do.

I wonder how Jesus would measure up to the standard of true doctrine being that which elicits praise in the audience? I, honestly, don't see a lot of that response coming from his words. We could say his audience was pre-Pentecost, but then Acts tells us a lot about the apostles being driven from cities for preaching (not praise coming). Of course, if this only refers to an audience of true, Spirit-filled believers then does the criticism find merit that true teaching should evoke praise? I am still unsure on this. What is the responsibility of the listener to be prepared for the teaching and to have his or her heart ready and his conscience cleansed. If the Spirit is grieved or quenched by him or her will a teaching cause praise to rise up?

I think that there is a danger (and a truth) in what Mr. Trueman brings up. Obviously, if a man is consistently unmoved by the glory of God and transmits that lack of emotion then there is a chance it will have an effect on the listener . . . but what a danger there is in putting the response of the listener on the back of the teacher as well. Might this not led to a pastor-centered church instead of a Christ-centered church? Might this bring about the situation where we follow a teacher and not the one the teacher points to? Might this standard subtly pull us into the realm of seeking out teachers who give our itching ears what they want to hear?

I think a key is that the Spirit alone can awaken a heart. If it is awakened or moved by the delivery of a man it is not going to be true. I have read that Jonathan Edwards delivered "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in a monotone and people clutched the pews in fear. Other preachers can preach in a great oratory and evoke an emotion of praise that doesn't last past the first person that cuts them off on the way home. And, what about the mix in the congregation? I can't tell you how many times the same teaching I have delivered has caused one to two people to nod off and had multiple people come up after and tell me how much it moved and affected them. I have had, in the same week, the criticism that the church was too "Pentecostal" (I don't know what that means) and that it wasn't Spirit-filled enough—same week! I have had people complain I go to long and others wish I went longer. I have had our church condemned, and praised, because we long to see those come to it who are broken, addicted, outcast, and rejected. So, what becomes the standard in these cases?

I think the answer has to lie in the simple question, "Did the teacher do what God asked them to do?" That is all they are responsible for, I believe. But, it is an interesting question and line of thought and I'd love to hear your comments. Obviously, as a pastor, I'm a little pre-biased. What do you think? What do you believe God's Word says a teacher's responsibility is? What would cause you to fire a preacher, and what wouldn't?


  1. Erick, great article. I agree with you that obedience is what God requires of preachers. We are not charged with the outcome nor the response in the heart of the people who hear. We are told to "preach the Word." I believe the current problem with much of the church has to do with preachers who take on the responsibility for manipulating the perceived result of their preaching.

    That doesn't mean we should avoid using God-given talents. I like your example of Edwards. Moses is another example. Was Jesus a great orator? The only thing I find is that the people were "astonished at His doctrine." In an age of manufactured revivals and self-appointed leaders, God is still looking for a few faithful preachers who will simply proclaim Him - letting the Spirit lead - letting God be God. Nice job again!

  2. Hi Glen!
    Thanks for stopping in again. Good to "see" ya! Thanks for your thoughts. I value your contributions here. Jesus' teachings sure didn't move many of the listeners to praise! I wonder if a teacher who was "crucified" by his audience today would be considered great? Like you, I think we worry to much about the audience of many and not the audience One. I just read a quote today:
    “I hear it said,” Churchill remarked in a speech in the House of Commons on September 30, 1941, that “leaders should keep their ears to the ground. All I can say is that the British nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are detected in that somewhat ungainly posture.”
    May we always serve those we are called to serve, but follow only the One, and let His approval alone be the litmus test of our success. God bless you, brother.


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