We need to talk about your sermons.
Please understand, you don’t know me, and I barely know you, but I want to say that it is with a warm smile and a gentle squeeze of your hand that I write these words to you. I’ve known and been friends with enough pastors in my life to know that pastoring is grueling, draining work. Rewarding and fulfilling, too, I’m sure in many ways. But it’s also very difficult. And the sermons, well, they are only a small slice of the life surrendered to ministry, right?
So back to the sermons.
And how we need to talk.
I visited your church recently and it took all of my might to stay focused on the sermon. Of course I was using my YouVersion Bible app and the temptation to wander over to Facebook while you preached, I confess it, dear Pastor, it was strong. It wasn’t your delivery – that was fiery and heartfelt. It wasn’t your apparel – count me in the camp that could not care less if a preacher wears a suit or a Z Z Top concert t-shirt in the pulpit. I’m afraid, dear Pastor, the problem was the content.
It was about sin.
Now, wait a minute. Here me out. I know what you’re going to say, and listen, I’m not a huge fan of Olsteen, either. It’s just … here’s the thing. I’ve been following after Jesus for lo these thirty years, and I just can’t with the sin management sermons. I can’t do it anymore. And no, I’m not living a lifestyle saturated with sin. It’s not that the Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God makes me uncomfortable because of all the unconfessed sin I’m toting around with me. There’s much more to it than that.
I just feel like you should know … all that sin management stuff?
It’s not effective.
And here’s why:
After hearing (another) sermon from you on sin of every shape and color, I may very well feel that sting of conviction. My shoulders might slump as I pick up my children from their classes and my mind might whirl on your words as I turn the key in the ignition of my car. But a delicious lunch and a long Sunday nap later, and I’ve forgotten about the sermon and that sting of conviction has faded into memory.
Contrast that, if you will, dear Pastor, with the conviction that comes from the work of the Spirit in my life. When the Holy Spirit of a Holy God gets a hold of me about a sin issue in my life, there is no escape. He is relentless, this Lover of my Soul, this jealous God who won’t share His child with the greedy clutches of sin. He pursues me and finds me and calls me on the carpet. I find the more I get to know Him, the less He lets me get away with.
The sting of an external reproof is quickly forgotten, dear Pastor, but the misery of the Spirit grieved within is the reproof that cannot be shaken.
And so when I hear sermon after sermon after sermon on sin – hidden sin, blatant sin, sins of commission and sins of omission, well, I can’t help but to think, dear Pastor, that
you don’t trust the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.
And so please forgive me, I don’t mean to offend, but I need for you to know that the most lasting changes in my life were fueled not by well-intentioned words from the pulpit but by cuts-to-the-marrow words spoken by my Creator into my soul.
And so now you are saying to me that your congregation is filled with people who confess Christ and yet remain unrepentant of their many sins. Oh, yes. I can see how this would create quite a conundrum for you, dear Pastor. I really do. A true follower of Christ, you tell me, would not behave this way.
Would I be out of line to suggest that you stop preaching to the lowest common denominator?
For even in the circle of twelve, dear Pastor, there was Judas who followed after Christ Himself for three years and yet his heart was hardened by sin. But the other disciples – the true disciples – were changed from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit and they set the world afire with the brilliant flame of the Gospel.
I know you’re busy, I’ll wrap this up.
I just wonder if perhaps your congregation is actually full of people who long to know that they are more than sinners saved by grace, who long to hear that in Christ, they are saints who sometimes sin. I wonder what would happen if from the pulpit there were messages that energized them to learn what it means to live as a saint, fully loved and wholly redeemed. I wonder if the people under your care would be so inspired and intrigued by this New Creation Life you spoke of week after week, that they would be compelled, day after day, in the quiet of their own homes and hearts, to fall more in love with our Risen Lord.
Because as any true disciple will tell you, more of Jesus means less of sin. Ain’t nobody that needs a degree in theology to testify to that truth.
You are loved, dear Pastor, and you are needed. I am grateful for the work that you do. It’s just something to think about.
Less sin management, more disciple-building.
Give it a whirl.
Grace and peace to you,
photo by Joelk75