Should I Rock the House or Preach the Word?

Ben Folds' song "Rock Star" includes these lyrics:

You need their approval

To tell you you're cool

Hey, but look how you pay for it

Give the people what they want

You've got to give the people what they want

Got to give the people what they want

Rock star

I'm a pastor and not a rock star (despite the blurring of those roles in recent years). Still, every time I retreat to the bookstore coffee shop to write another sermon I face the subtle temptation to tickle ears, to preach for approval, to be cool, and give the people what they want.

Next Sunday I have the responsibility to preach on one of the most challenging and disturbing texts in the New Testament. Matthew 7:21-23 has nothing to do with how to have a better marriage, discipline your kids, or any other felt-need people want scratched. It is a bold warning about the "many" who will be turned away from God's kingdom.

My struggle in preparing this message has not come from interpreting the text, or wrestling with theology and doctrine. My struggle comes from seminary instructors, church consultants, ministry books, and other pastors who have told me, explicitly and implicitly, to "always preach positive!" Decades of market research have shown that people don't like being told "thou shall not commit adultery," but rather "marriage is a blessing from God." They are put off by God's "commandments" and would rather ponder his "instructions."

It may be popular to keep things positive, but is it right? Are we handicapped in the pulpit by limiting the breadth of scripture's emotions to the uplifting and happy? A famous English sociologist/nanny taught us that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But are we in danger of focusing so much on sugar in the American church that we neglect to add the medicine?

In the end I find myself fleeing from the temptation to people-please with the aid of two convictions. First, I am not ultimately accountable to the people I teach, but to the One in whose name I teach. And secondly, God has not only inspired the content of Scripture, but also the form it takes. Matthew 7:21-23 is a sober warning from Jesus about the danger of missing his kingdom. The form of this passage should also direct the manner in which I teach it. After all, I'm a pastor and not a rock star.

October 13, 2005

Displaying 1–10 of 24 comments

Pastor John Atkinson

November 09, 2005  8:58am

I think it's possible to both teach on a tough issue like that and then talk about the positive side of God's love in dealing with it. I think the experts are right. People will not respond to a negative message all the time, but let's be honest, sometimes we need to talk about the tough issues because there in the Bible. I just think the way to deal with any issue is in a positive way and the two, I believe, can happen at the same time. Like you we struggle to find the right balance and it's not an easy to do. Thanks for your transparency and honesty.

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October 27, 2005  4:41pm

This is the first time I've come to this site and I have been thrilled at the things you can learn talking with Christians who are seeking the same thing: glorifying God in everything we do. I hope to read more comments on other postings in the future. Skye, here's your message:

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October 27, 2005  7:48am

While I was directly referring to the original blog, Thomas, you are correct in saying this: "It is my opinion that truth can not be simply stated in the context of teaching to an audience filled with believers and non-believers." My understanding of biblical communication is knowing the original intent of the original author to his original audience. But sometimes those cultural-bound explanations don't directly translate (such as "do not move a neighbours boundary markers"). The same work we do in the Bible (called exegesis) needs to be done to the immediate culture of a congregation in order to communicate that same biblical truth to a new context (called homiletics). And that is the joy and agony of preaching. How can you directly translate this big idea that hits as many people as possible in your congregation? Fun stuff!

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October 26, 2005  11:04am

Thomas and Pastor Skye good thought provoking posts. I don't think we need to preach through the Bible just to preach through the Bible. I think we should "redeem the time" and make the most of the preaching moment. That said, I doubt most churchgoers would put learning to live under the rule and reign of God at the top of a list of topics they want to hear sermons about. Yet as Pastor Skye points out Jesus made the kingdom a top priority in his teaching and that understanding more about the kingdom would help us in all areas of life. Good discussion. Look forward to more postings by Pastor Skye

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Skye Jethani

October 26, 2005  9:47am

For those who are curious how things went on Sunday–it all went well. Feedback has been really encouraging, and many people felt very challenged. Of course, my experience has been that those who take issue with something I preach rarely come to me with their concerns. I tend to hear it through the grapevine. That kind of feedback takes some time. I titled the sermon, "A Message No One Wants to Hear." After the first service the sound tech told me I've got to rename the message due to the number of CD requests he'd gotten. Thanks again for all of the encouraging remarks. And for those who wanted to know if the message is posted online, it is. I'm sure with a little poking around you'll be able to find it. Skye

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George Warren

October 25, 2005  2:25pm

Preach on, brother! My favorite definition of ministry is "To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable". If they know you love them, they will receive it as a gift not a sting. Some of my most appreciative comments after sermons were my more confrontative and challenging messages. Of course, my response is always, "Well, I was talking to me, because I know that I need this word. If you overheard something that was helpful, I'm glad."

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Sharon Lee-Auyang

October 24, 2005  10:20pm

Dear Pst Skye, I believe this is an excellent Scriptures to preach. Go ahead and preach God's truth, nothing but the truth. I believe these Scriptures are for the Christians who have the privilege in the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, performing signs, wonders and miracles in the Name of Jesus. But yet in their lifestyles they are practising "lawlessness", not living in obedience to God's law. Please do preach the context of these Scriptures from Matt 7:13-27. And as in verses 28 & 29, do preach as one having authority in Christ and walking in His Word. There is no sermon that will cater for every or most of the listerners (congregation). Do your part to preach His truth and let God do the rest. His Spirit will use the sermon and touch individual lives and transform them for His glory. You as the shepherd of the sheep, the flock is entrusted to you, you are accountable for what you taught and what you did not teach. I pray for you, Pst Skye that God's fresh anointing be upon you that utterance may be given to you, that you may open your mouth boldly (as you ought to speak)to make known the mystery of the gospel with wisdom, knowledge, conviction, power and love. Amen! May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. With His love, Sharon Lee-Auyang

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October 21, 2005  3:07pm

Thank you for this topic Skye. I pray your church comes to understand what Jesus says about his kingdom. May His kingdon continue to spread here on earth!

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Skye Jethani

October 21, 2005  1:35pm

I agree. A pastor should have a pulse on their congregation and know what is needed. We chose to do a series on the kingdom of God for a few reasons. First, it is the core of much of Jesus' own teaching. He speaks of the kingdom over 100 times in the gospels. (A whole lot more than he talks about marriage, money, sex, or parenting–as worthy as those subjects are). If it was that central to his message perhaps we ought to pay attention to it. (I recommend Dallas Willard's discussion of the absence of kingdom teaching in churches from his book, The Divine Conspiracy). Secondly, most people are fairly ignorant about what Jesus said or meant by the kingdom of God/heaven. We felt this would be an opportunity fill a major gap in most people's understanding of Christ and their faith. Third, we think that a solid understanding of the kingdom will have a ripple effect into other areas of one's life (including problamatic areas). Sometime wisdom tells us to address the source of a problem (a heart unsubmissive to Christ's loving rule) rather than the symptom (a marriage, career, or desire out of control). I've really appreciated everyone's feedback on the blog. I'll be sure to let you know how it all goes on Sunday. Peace, Skye

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October 21, 2005  12:55pm

I would like to start off by saying I am young, inexperienced, and open. I do not mean to come off like I have the answers, but sincerely seek the best way for the church to fulfill the great commission. I do not think it is difficult to know the pulse of your congregation. In fact, I would say that most of our congregations deal with the same issues (with a few exceptions of course). Some examples: relationships, work, money, sharing our faith, etc. Fortunately, God's principles are abundant in Scripture and they address all of these issues. I do not think it would be wise or good stewardship to use the short amount of time you have on Sunday morning to pick Scripture to talk about that you hope finds the target. Of course all Scripture is inspired and should be studied, but should you talk about all of it on Sunday morning? Just like Paul's epistles specifically address the needs of his target audience, I think pastors should address the needs of their target audience.

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