Please, pardon my title. It is an attempt to capture the shallow thinking of our time when it comes to weekly worship gatherings. “How was that sermon?” “Oh, it was great! Our pastor can really bring down the house! He’s such a good speaker!” “The worship was so good today. Those songs are such a blessing to me! Our praise band just knows how to minister to us, don’t they?” I wonder what would happen if the Apostle Paul came to preach in one of our churches next week? I fear he’d be ashamed of much of what he would see and his approach to preaching might not fly. I feel many would leave thinking he was not too impressive. Many in Corinth thought the same thing of him: “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.’” (2 Cor. 10:10) Why would some say such things? Paul had some of the same problems we have today, with fickle people demanding to be entertained and blessed and seem unmoved by a simple presentation of the Gospel which brings no glory to the preacher, no outpouring of emotion from those who don’t believe, and relies on no fleshly technique for its success.
1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
We have lost our faith in the power of the Gospel. So, what have we done? We have taken many different approaches to dress it up, to make it more palatable to our audience, to remove the offense, or to make it more exciting and emotional for lost men. What is the modern approach?
- We need a young, socially relevant pastor with a charismatic personality.
- Dress the pastor in jeans and an un-tucked shirt to put the crowd at ease.
- Get the crowd juiced with adrenaline and emotion with driving music, then bring the mood down just before the message to get the “spirit” ready to work.
- Somebody say “this sermon has so little truth, I have to use techniques to keep you engaged.”
- Turn to the person on your left and say, “I’m obviously too dumb to understand deep truths, so I have to act like a parrot in order to remain engaged.”
- Are you with me? Are you listening? Can I get an “amen”? Am I alone in here? Hello? (please affirm me and love me!)
- They tell me to vary the pitch of my voice to be more interesting.
- Let me read you 3 verses and tell you 5 stories (4 to make you laugh, 1 to make you cry)
- Let’s play some soft music because the Holy Spirit apparently can’t work without it, especially during the invitation. Perhaps we can even play music the entire sermon if we need a little extra spirit.
- Dim the lights in the audience, Brighten lights on the stage, make it feel like a concert. (I’m the star!)
- Video is more engaging for a modern audience, so we must use video in every service.
- Let’s get the sound just right. The sound enhances God’s ability to work.
- We’ll never get younger people in here if we don’t change the music and use a full band.
- I always like to begin all my sermons with some humor- it puts people at ease. The more I get you laughing, the more happy you’ll be. (maybe you’ll give more, too- relaxed and happy people open their wallets)
- Let’s focus on love, joy, happiness, blessings, prosperity, grace, mercy, healing, heaven, and victory and leave out sin, death, depravity, hell, suffering, justice, guilt, wrath, and judgment.
Now, I will admit this to you. Not all of these things are sinful or wrong in and of themselves, but the trouble is with our thinking in using them. I’m convinced these are often the techniques churches use to manufacture “the presence of God” or “a move of God” in the absence of God’s working. If you look closely at that list of “techniques” people use, you’ll find that all of them are designed to appeal to the flesh of man. They are all intended to appeal to the senses. None of them is done in faith, trusting God to work. The truth is, we are attempting to make our message more appealing to a lost person and to the tares among the wheat. Is it any wonder many churches are filled with lost people? We hear things like “Well, if the church doesn’t become more relevant, it will never reach the people.” We use this as a justification to try just about anything during our services to make them more memorable, exciting, and relevant.
There are multiple problems in taking this approach. First, it is a slippery slope. If I’ve got to use various techniques to keep people interested, where will it end? If we have sold our souls to this thing and the people who are coming are there because of our exciting techniques, these things must become bigger, better, more exciting, more creative, and etc. This never ends. Soon we’re spending more time working on the packaging of our worship services than we do on the content of them. Related to this is the fickle nature of people. Churches which build themselves upon the latest fad usually attract disgruntled church goers from around their area, who are looking for the next big thing. There is usually a reason folks are disgruntled and rarely does the fault lie solely with the church they left. How long before your mass of disgruntled members have a relapse? A third issue here is this: as pastors, teachers, and leaders in the local church, we are called to equip the Saints. We are called to Feed His Sheep, not to herd the goats. If we spend all our time appealing to the goats and the tares, the sheep will starve or be forced to go elsewhere for nourishment. But most of all, our weekly worship gatherings are to be designed for an audience of One. All glory to God! We are to be pleasing Him with the design and the content of our worship services, not man. Our praise is to be directed to Him. So, what is most important here and what should our approach be? Look again with me at this text from 1 Corinthians 2…
I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom
Of this phrase, Matthew Henry writes, “He did not affect to appear a fine orator or a deep philosopher; nor did he insinuate himself into their minds, by a flourish of words, or a pompous show of deep reason and extraordinary science and skill. He did not set himself to captivate the ear by fine turns and eloquent expressions, nor to please and entertain the fancy with lofty flights of sublime notions. Neither his speech, nor the wisdom he taught, savoured of human skill.”
I would submit to you that many well-known preachers today take the exact opposite of Paul’s approach to preaching the message of the Gospel. They do come attempting to sound like great orators. They do attempt to bring a message of deep philosophy or some new revelation. They do attempt to insinuate themselves into the minds of their hearers, so as to impress them or draw them in. They make for their hearers an impressive show, as it were, a pleasing and entertaining message. This is not of God, friends. Many are fooled by it because the world takes a similar approach, but it does not honor God.
But what was Paul’s approach?
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling…
Paul’s focus was the Gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. He himself came to them in weakness, fear, and trembling, not in human confidence or to assert the authority of his position upon them. He could have come saying, “I am an Apostle of Jesus Christ, you should listen to me!” Instead, his message was simple. It was straight forward. It was of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and nothing more. His desire was not to impress them or to make them followers of Paul, but that they might hear the Gospel, the very Word of God, and that by it they would be transformed. Many were transformed, but others were left unimpressed, as I quoted from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians above.
This begs the question my friends- what more is needed? Indeed, what more is needed even today? Do we believe today in the power of the Gospel? It seems clear from that list above that we don’t. Somehow we have come to the conclusion that we must dress up the message and prop up the cross in order to have a successful meeting or worship service.
Paul continues…and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
This is what is missing today, my friends. It is missing from so many worship gatherings and messages, and this is what has driven us to our techniques. We need a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. We need God to change the hearts and lives of people from within, not our puny manipulations which end the moment our congregants walk out the door. The sad thing is, though we’re aware there is an issue (which is a good thing), we’ve gone looking in the wrong place for answers. We’ve looked to the world, for psychological techniques, like lighting, color schemes, visual aids, music, humor, drawing out emotion, vocal techniques, and etc. But what is the answer? The answer is found in the same place it was found in Paul’s day- in the power of God working through His chosen message, the Gospel of His blessed Son Jesus Christ in the power of His Spirit, presented in faith in the One who raises the dead. This is the answer, my friends. The Apostle Paul didn’t have video projectors, microphones, power point, air conditioning, and padded seats. How would he make it in 2013 without those things? How could a person sit in a hot room and sweat while listening to a lecture without being bored to tears? The answer is the power of God through the Truth of the Gospel. Now listen, I’m not saying we need to move our services to the parking lot or that all modern conveniences are evil. I’m saying that the power from our message MUST be found in the Truth of the Gospel, not in any technique we might use. Our faith is found in Jesus Christ and His message, not in our ability to present it effectively. He makes it effective or it is nothing.
I have come to believe this regarding many modern religious people. They think they’ve heard a great sermon or been a part of a great worship service if they’ve felt some emotions or been stirred in some way from a fleshly standpoint. “I felt the chills, the Spirit was there!” “Brother, you got me all fired up! The Holy Spirit was truly in this place!” “I loved the worship today- those are some of my favorite songs!” “Wow, that was a great service! I laughed, I cried, and then I wanted to shout!” Many are greatly impressed with the kinds of shows the Apostle Paul denounced in the text we just read. Let’s face it- Americans love a good show! You can fill a church building for 3 services if you use these techniques. So, in an effort to survive as local churches, we have turned to Hollywood for answers. They say, “You’ve got to get more people in here or you’ll die. You need excitement, fun, food, games, activities for kids, free stuff, and your services need to be more relevant, more sensational!” So, we’ve bought in, or should I say, “we’ve sold out!”
The answer to our problem is the same as it has always been. We need the power of God working in our midst. But He will not work where He is not honored. We must abandon our methods and techniques to God alone. We must focus on the Gospel in everything, in our speaking, in our singing, in our praying, and in all that we do. We must be determined not to glorify man, but God. Soli Deo Gloria! We must preach the depths of the Truth of the Gospel as the Apostles did, from Old Testament texts to New Testament letters. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a deep fountain of rich meaning, the truths of which are found throughout the Scriptures. God’s Truth must be central. We must cry out to Him. We must not settle for man-made techniques designed to fabricate that which only God can genuinely accomplish in the lives of His people.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.