The Apostle James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Christians know this verse well or have at least heard a sermon on the text. However, I want to focus on the middle part of the verse – “not only hearers.” The word hearers (ἀκροατής) refers to someone who listens. The same concept is found in Romans 2:13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” The idea of listening is important. When you go to church, you listen to a sermon and possibly take notes. So, it is important because you can’t live out the truth being taught in a sermon if you’re not listening. And that’s exactly what I want to discuss in this three-part article. When you go to church, what should you be listening for in a sermon? I am going to present the top 12 things you should listen for when the pastor is preaching. The list could be greatly expanded, but for brevity, I will keep it short. Having preached for nearly 3o years, I personally believe that if a couple of these are violated, you should look for another church.
1. Does the Pastor read Scripture? Yeah, this should be obvious but it’s not always the case. When I was in seminary at Midwestern Theological Seminary, I visited a local Southern Baptist Church one Sunday morning. The pastor got up in the pulpit and proclaimed, “Today, I will not be using scripture, but will be preaching from this book.” Yes, brothers and sisters, a Southern Baptist Church. So, it’s not automatic that Scripture will be read. The Apostle Paul writes, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). So, the reading of the biblical text is vital to the life of the church and those who sit under the exhortation and teaching. The word exhortation (παράκλησις) means to be encouraged, encouragement or to console. The word teaching (διδασκαλία) means to provide instruction either in a formal setting such as worship or in an informal setting such as small groups or individual training. Therefore, the reading of Scripture in a worship setting is not only biblical, it is commanded for the purpose of encouraging the church and teaching God’s people how to live for him in this world! If God’s Word is not read, get out!
2. Does the Pastor respect the pulpit? I think this is just as important as reading the biblical text. So, what do I mean by asking this question? The pulpit is not the place to vent or push a personal vendetta or play games. I’ve heard pastors preach out of anger and that is not preaching. I recently witnessed a pastor, Steven Furtick, using a water pistol to squirt people in the congregation which is paramount to stupidity and he was extremely disrespectful of the pulpit. The pastor should be confident, but not cocky. He should approach the pulpit the same way he approaches God in prayer – respect! God has given the pastor a charge to care for His sheep. The Apostle Luke teaches, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The issue here is what does the pastor do while he is in the pulpit. Is he flippant in his preaching, is he angry, is he sarcastic or do you sense a God-calm control in his preaching? Although pastors will raise their voices at times during the sermon; there should be a sense of respect and honor for the preaching of the Word. If the pastor gives the appearance that he doesn’t respect the pulpit, that should be a red flag.
3. Does the Pastor stay with the biblical text? By this I mean, does the pastor read the text and draw the main points from the text? There is a lot of rabbit preaching going on out there. The pastor may read the text but then launch into all sorts of issues and thoughts. I call this rabbit chasing, but one thing about rabbits is they are hard to catch. No, the pastor should draw his main points from the text and develop the sermons sub-points from within the text he is preaching. Paul instructs young Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The words rightly dividing (ὀρθοτομέω) refer to teaching correctly but also to cut in a straight line. Therefore, the pastor must dissect the passage and teach what is in accordance with the right biblical instruction. I can listen to a preacher within the first five minutes and tell if he knows what he is doing or not. Rabbit preachers will read their text, then springboard into numerous issues and ideas, but never ground it in the text just they read. One of my favorite television shows is Survivorman. Les Stroud, an outdoor survival expert, talked once about rabbit starvation. He teaches that if you eat only rabbits in the wilderness, though you are consuming food, you will eventually starve to death because of lack of nutrients. So, if your pastor is chasing rabbits every Sunday, you better look for another church before you starve yourself spiritually.
More next week.
In Christ, Pastor Mike