“The primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.”
― D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers
I was taught that the church pulpit is reserved for the teaching of the Word of the Lord. The logic was drummed into my head and heart as I learned what it meant to be a pastor. It seems that most ministers think our job is to prepare and preach one sermon a week and a small smattering of bible studies for Wednesday and Sunday nights. It is this logic that leads most of us to prize our pulpit on Sunday morning as our chief medium for teaching people, dealing with issues, and engaging the world in general. As a result, many pastors use the Sunday morning pulpit to deal with issues they think are important.
The process frequently goes something like this:
- What are my people dealing with? (a good honest question bathed in prayer)
- Where does the Bible talk about that? (or where can I make a case for it in the Bible?)
- How can I shape this to best suit and address the needs I see in my people?
- Craft a sermon around the perceived needs of my people using the Bible for proof text.
- Deliver sermon with passion and try to say things people will remember and apply.
The trouble began with the initial question. If the Pulpit is reserved for the teaching of the Word of God, then we must begin with “what does this passage say.” To start with the perceived troubles of our people places higher value on our plan for insight into the people. To begin by asking about the condition of the congregation is to center your message on your perception of the needs of the people. The pulpit is supposed to be for the Word of God, not the word of pastor. So I propose a new opening question: “What does the Bible say.” Note the period. Find a passage in Scripture to teach, then teach what that passage says. This will change your entire outlook for Sunday morning services. You’ll teach with more clarity and passion and you’ll find great joy in walking closer to Jesus.
When we insist on focusing our messages around the congregation we will inevitably find ourselves using the pulpit for our own pet opinions. When we feel like people drink too much we will preach a sermon against alcohol. When we feel like there is gossip in the church, we will preach against gossip. When we feel like people are mistreating each other we will preach on unity. When we feel… When WE feel… when WE feel. Do you see the issue? What if you don’t know the trouble? What if God wants to say something beyond what you are capable of intuitively feeling? When we spend our energies “feeling” out what we are supposed to say, we truncate the benefit of teaching the Word of God. The Scripture is transcendent! God can use it even if you aren’t feeling a text.
Further, if we focus our message on the perceived needs, we will miss out on the supernatural power of the Word. God’s word tends to expose truths and flaws within our souls that we often do not realize exist. The one delivering the message must be prepared for God to move his heart as well. The pulpit is for the Word of the Lord, so let the Bible be the scalpel and the Holy Spirit be the surgeon… you merely serve as the table for the operation.
Finally, after some time of using the Pulpit to our own ends, people will eventually turn us off and our pulpit will lose its value. The longer we go on wasting our energies preaching to perceived felt needs, the quicker people will begin to reject the messages. In my own experience I have seen people reject and turn against my preaching when I have attempted to use the pulpit to “deal with issues.” You will loose them. Maybe not right away, but you will. However, when you teach the Word of The Lord directly and show people what He says, they will grow.
Sunday morning was not intended for us to deal with issues we think we see. The Bible is clear, those are supposed to be dealt with one on one and in small groups by speaking in love to one another. Congregational worship is intended to be a celebration of who Jesus is and should be treated as such!