I’ve been out of local ministry for a month now, and needless to say, church services seem a bit different. I won’t go into all the ways how, but one thing that HASN’T changed is my attitude towards the sermon and the preaching. In the past, I was either in the pulpit myself or counted myself as a co-worker of the man who was. Either way, a “team spirit” prompted me always to find good in the sermon—truths that could be applied to my life.
Once I became a regular member, however, I thought my attitude would change. Being the grammar nazi that I am, I thought I’d focus more on mispronounced words, incorrect syntax, etc. I thought I might find myself annoyed by misquoted Scriptures and the like. As a garden-variety Christian, I thought I would begin judging the sermon for its theological depth and ability to hold my attention. So far, none of that has happened…yet. And I hope it doesn’t, and here’s why:
Whether you and I want to admit it or not, none of us are ever charged by God with the responsibility of grading the preacher on his grammar, his ability to hold our attention, the theological depth of a single sermon, or the like. And I’d like to think God would also have us be a little gracious when a Scripture is misquoted here and there. Sure, like the Bereans, we need to search our Bibles to make sure the things spoken are so.
But when it comes to being critical of the sermon, some of us need to chill out. Or else our souls will be at stake.
When you or I become so hypercritical that we listen to sermons to point out things we don’t like or agree with, we have entered the final phase of spiritual hard-heartedness. Yes, that’s right, listening to the sermon in order to discover things that don’t set right with us is hazardous to our spiritual health. What we should be doing instead is listening with our attention on our own hearts and how the spoken Word of God needs to reshape what is amiss in our spiritual lives.
I don’t care who you are: a deacon, a Bible class teacher, a person who has been a Christian for sixty years, a charter member of the congregation, the wife of the preacher, or even an elder.
Yes, that’s right. I don’t think shepherds should be grading the preacher’s sermon. While it is the case that you should be aware of what the flock is being fed, I would remind you with all respect that you need feeding yourself. And do not for a moment consider yourself personally responsible for the preacher’s homiletical improvement. He doesn’t work for you; he works for the eldership as a whole (a crucial distinction). In other words, all of you as a collective are responsible. And the eldership is only as strong as its weakest elder. And to keep yourself spiritually fit, you need to be listening to your preacher so that you can improve yourself spiritually long before you think about improving him homiletically.
Every Sunday I’m at Keller, I’m blessed to sit at the feet of Cory Collins. He has much to teach me. I hope I never reach the point where I’m judging his sermons and comparing him to myself or some other favorite preacher. If I do, shame on me. Shame, shame, shame on me.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” — 1 Peter 1:22–2:3