A nagging judgmental sermon will please a proportion of the congregation. The idea is that if once a week you can make people feel really bad about their sins, they might improve a bit. One woman used to say "That was a good sermon. I like to be made to feel guilty and then assured of my forgiveness." But guilt never produced a loving heart. It is not a good way to motivate people. Paul said "Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3). That is what good preaching is about, and it should emerge from taking the biblical text seriously.
But tastes differ. What if we find the preacher's style totally unacceptable? It is a pity to give up too quickly. Occasionally preachers can improve. The art is to say little, pray a lot, and commend any good aspect of a presentation. "That parable really came alive for me." "I never realized Christians could be priests for the world."
If there seems no prospect of improvement, and sermons are a pain to one's children and friends and one's own sanity, a solution is to go most Sundays to where the sermon feeds and challenges us. . If we are accused of disloyalty, we can explain lovingly why we enjoy another style of sermon.
The Bible encourages us to meet regularly with other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25), but it does not require us to listen to preaching that gives us an ulcer.
What if a minister turns out to be immoral or dishonest? That could result in us refusing to support the gathering he or she controls. But that is no reason to quit church going altogether. Jesus himself had twelve apostles, and one of them was a disaster. Even Simon Peter had faults (Matthew 26:69-75, Galatians 2:11-14), and none of us is perfect.
In spite of the failings of their preachers, there are large numbers of regular church goers who decide to stick it out till the situation improves. "This is my congregation, these are my friends, and this is where God has planted me." Some give themselves to teaching in the Sunday School, or a young people's group, or a gathering in their home. Others get their spiritual food by going away to conferences, attending courses, joining in an interdenominational Bible Study group or teaching provided by another denomination.
When there is an opportunity to invite a good preacher, he or she may lack visiting and motivating skills. Ministers with a panoply of all the needed skills are rare, and they may not choose to batter their head against a wall. And if they do, they may find within a few months that people are saying "we called you to fill our church with young people, and you are beginning to upset everything." We will discuss the possibility of an ideal membership where all contribute the gifts that are needed in chapter 6.
But there are also millions who say "When I want a good preacher, I can get all I need from Robert Schuller on Sunday morning television. Radio and television programs explore the questions that concern me without the tiresome business of church going. And on a winter's morning curling up with a good book by the fire is for me a much more rewarding experience than turning up to hear a badly prepared sermon that says nothing I don't know already."
We have to admit the truth of that objection. But we can also wonder what is lost by quitting church to watch or read or listen alone? A simple answer is that the sermon is only one third of a typical Sunday morning service. So we need to explore the ingredients of a balanced Christian diet.
Chapter 4 .....