Our country is becoming increasingly areligious. As the years go by, church attendance and religious affiliation is dropping. There are a number of factors that contribute to the decline of spirituality in America, today I’d like to turn my attention to those that stand in the pulpits.
For those who are visiting church services, the preacher is often the “face” of the congregation. It’s the preacher that is one of the first to meet them when they walk through the front door and it’s the preacher that they listen to for 30 minutes or more Sunday morning. Song leaders change and different people get up to pray, but the one who preaches is a constant presence week after week, month after month, year after year. This recognition and influence puts an exciting, yet terrifying, responsibility before those of us who work in full-time ministry.
I do not believe preachers are the only, or main, reason for the steady drop of church attendance and growth, but I do believe the role ministers play in church growth is large. I also believe that, while there are great preachers out there, there are a lot of mediocre ones that are ultimately doing the church a lot more harm than good.
The following article is a lot of opinion on what I believe makes a preacher mediocre. I write this not to shame ministers, but to push us to be better than we are right now. I pray that the words written here are received with that intention in mind.
Mediocre Preachers Can’t See Past Next Sunday
Sunday comes the same time every week and that fact alone can cause ministry to be daunting. The weekly grind of the sermon-writing process can be mentally taxing, sometimes just deciding on what subject to talk about wears down even the hardest working and most creative among us. Sermon development is a struggle for two reasons: failure to plan and failure to observe. We’ll cover the latter here as the former will be covered in our next point.
For one of my classes in school we were assigned the task of listing out a year’s worth of sermon titles with a sentence description of the subject matter. The purpose? To strengthen the balance in our preaching.
Planning allowed us to see what subjects we overemphasized and which ones we didn’t emphasize enough.
Planning gave us direction on where we wanted to take the congregation throughout the year.
Planning relieved the stress of trying to figure out what we were going to preach about this week.
I’m not advocating that all ministers need to have a year’s worth of sermons planned out at all times. I am concerned though that many ministers minister without a plan. When we don’t plan it’s hard to know where we’re going, and yet we still have to stand and lead the people in our congregations somewhere. When we ourselves fail to see past the next Sunday, we shouldn’t be surprised when our congregants fail to as well and leave. Preachers develop a plan, know where you want to go, and encourage others to be a part of that journey.
Mediocre Preachers Don’t Pay Attention to What Is Happening in the World
Along with failing to plan, many of us fail to observe. We are living in chaos. Politics, scandals, race relations, and sexual orientation are dividing people every single day. Many Christians desperately want to know how they can navigate the tumultuous waters of our society, but instead of getting a lesson on how we can actively respond to racism or our homosexual neighbors we get another lesson on the necessity of baptism. Instead of guiding the church through rough waters, we’re pretending like the water isn’t even there. Meanwhile, the people around us are drowning. We have the very words people need to hear in our hands every week and we ignore them to preach something that will get us, as one writer put it, “cheap amens.”
Mediocre preachers ignore the culture we’re living in instead of facing it head on. We’re giving answers to questions that our church doesn’t have, ignoring the questions they do have, and wonder why people leave. You want to know why people are becoming more skeptical of the relevance of the Bible? It’s because we haven’t proved to them that it is. If we truly believe we have a message that the world needs, we have to be on the front lines and give God’s answers to today’s problems.
There may be more concerning mediocrity in ministry that I’m neglecting to see or comment on, but it’s these two issues, the failure to plan and failure to observe, that I believe are causing ministers to not be who they are expected to be. We hold in our hands “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16), with that responsibility there is no room for mediocrity.