A few tips from a pew-sitter for ministers, pastors, preachers and teachers in Christian churches that take the Bible seriously.
I have been sitting in the pews for quite a few years and I have heard quite a few wonderful sermons, and sung quite a few wonderful hymns and songs. But right now I'd like to share a few things I have heard from the pulpit that bother me. I hope you don't do these things.
1. Not treating the Bible with respect
This is the worst. I remember a speaker reading a passage about horses, from Isaiah, I think it was. The speaker made some passing comment that we should "run like horses," or something like that, then took off on a message that had absolutely nothing to do with the passage. He used the Bible as nothing more than a jumping off point for his own ideas. Please treat the Bible - and your congregation - with more respect.
2. Lack of preparation
I have heard any number of meandering sermons that started nowhere and spent all their time lost in the dark. This is abysmal stewardship of the trust that God has given to a minister and it is incredibly rude to the congregation as well. It says, "I didn't care enough to bother preparing."
3. Ignoring verses that don't support your claims
On occasion ministers have made claims about what the Bible teaches that instantly cause to come to my mind some obvious verses that seem to contradict his view. If at that point the minister addresses these verses and shows how they fit in with what he is saying, I am very impressed. But if he makes no effort to address them then I doubt the rest of the sermon. Please, if you're going to make claims like this, you need to show how those other verses fit in. If you don't, I won't believe you.
The Bible touches both on our relationship with God and our relationships with other people, so it makes sense that in the long run sermons should cover both these topics. So please don't focus on one to the exclusion of the other. I have been to churches where very little was said about our relationship with God. It was all about how people should get along. Although what was said was true, I left feeling thirsty for God. And while that has been my experience, I can imagine the opposite as well, of teaching that does not show us how to apply spiritual truth to our daily lives.
5. Skipping inconvenient verses
If you are preaching through a passage or a book, don't skip the tough verses. Most of what you're saying I can understand by reading the passage for myself. It is the difficult passages that I really would like help with. When you give me a coherent explanation of these verses, I'm impressed, and it deepens my faith and understanding.
After listening to a minister for a while, most people - except the minister - know that he overuses certain words or phrases. One minister (who has since corrected this tendency) was forever saying "opportunity." He even suggested that people might be afraid of "terrorist opportunities." Terrorist threats or attacks I may be afraid of, but "terrorist opportunities?" Ask someone you can confide in if you are overusing some phrases. This is not a big problem, but it does begin to make you sound silly after a while.
I do not have a problem with psychology, and I don't mind an occasional sermon reference to what we've learned from it, but I do mind hearing every sermon on interpersonal relationships backed up by references to what psychologists say on the topic. If the main thing I hear is that a passage of scripture is backed up by what psychologists say, then I begin to think that your real authority is not the scriptures, but psychologists. Hooray for psychologists! but I don't come to church to hear what they have to say. I come to church to hear what God has to say.
8. Switching versions
I have qualms about ministers who frequently use multiple versions of the Bible. I know different versions can bring out various nuances in a verse, but I think basically you should stick to one reliable version. When I hear a minister quote each verse in a different version with no explanation of why he is switching around - especially if he includes paraphrases such as The Message or The Living Bible - I think perhaps he is just shopping for a version that comes closest to what he's trying to say. Unfair of me, perhaps, but the thought crosses my mind.
Okay, I've mentioned what I don't want, so let me now say what I do want. Fortunately, it is very simple.
I come to church to worship God. So bring me to God and then bring me to my responsibilities. Remind me how loving Jesus is, then tell me how to serve him.
God gave me both mind and emotions, and I suspect they are both doorways to my soul. So feed my mind by faithfully explaining to me the scriptures. Feed my emotions through song and worship and prayer and praise to our ever-loving God.
I'll do my best to be the good employee, husband, father, neighbor or citizen God wants me to be. But first, bring me to Jesus.