Monday was a great day to leave Chicago. The wind-chill was thirty degrees below zero and the Bears had just lost the Super Bowl. This week I'm in sunny San Diego for the National Pastors Convention. Although the main sessions don't start until later today, on Tuesday I attended a five hour "Critical Concerns" course on preaching.
John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, CA, and the author of numerous books with really long titles, presented about preparing the soul to preach. His focus was not simply getting spiritually juiced for Sunday morning, but rather becoming the kind of person that preaching flows out of that pleases God. It was really about character formation.
Part of Ortberg's discussion included a list of the ten deadly sins of preaching. (John said he originally intended to create a list of seven deadly sins, but preaching offered so many temptations that he had to expand the list.)
1. The temptation to be inauthentic
We want to present an image to others that makes us appear more holy, intelligent, or godly than we actually are. In the end this is a foolish pursuit because the truth of who we are will always leak out.
2. The temptation to live for recognition
After finishing a sermon the question that runs through most of our minds is, did they like it? But we need to learn to root our identity in something other than applause. Ortberg cited Dallas Willard's ability to present his material and give no thought to people's reactions. He's like a child who releases a helium balloon. He says what God's given him to say, and simply lets it go.
3. The temptation to live in fear
What if I fail? That question plagues many pastors. But there is a difference between failing at something and being a failure. You are not a failure. Again, our identity must been hidden in Christ and not our accomplishments.
4. The temptation to compare
With the radio, television, and the internet our generation faces this temptation more than any previous generation. Our culture of celebrity pastors causes us to compare ourselves to others. This does nothing good for the soul.
5. The temptation to exaggerate
This seems closely linked to temptation number one. Overstating facts is how we often try to manage our image and appear better than we are. John also linked this to plagiarism - passing someone else's story, sermon, or idea off as our own to win approval.
6. The temptation to feel chronically inadequate
(I couldn't write fast enough to take notes on this point. Does that make me an inadequate blogger?)
7. The temptation of pride
Having people listen to you give a monologue every week can make you prideful. The antidote? A wife. (Ortberg's joke, not mine.)
8. The temptation to manipulate
Having a pulpit and speaking the words of God might give some a power rush. We mustn't use our position to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do.
9. The temptation of envy
This seems related to number four, the temptation to compare. But envy carries the nuance of desire and ambition. We not only compare ourselves to another preacher, but we seek to achieve what they have. Such selfish motivations will undermine our spiritual health.
10. The temptation of anger
John read this quote from Henri Nouwen that says it all:
Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who make them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.
An article based on John Ortberg's presentation will be published in a future issue of Leadership. And more reflections from NPC will be coming later this week on Out of Ur.