Don’t Bypass “Real Needs” for “Felt Needs” When Preaching

Joe Needy comes to Capital City Church with a life full of issues he dealt with on a daily basis. After exploring a number of other therapeutic options and remedies, he decides to come and try Capital City. He comes in wanting help with a number of issues, such as:

  • Finances. “I am in financial trouble. My credit card debts are through the roof, my kids are teenagers who will be going to college soon, my retirement account may be too low — plus we may need a bigger house. Can the Bible help me pull my finances together?”
  • Marriage: “My wife and I have a good marriage. We take care of the children’s needs, but we need a stronger marriage. We’ve been arguing a lot lately over… you guessed it … finances. I need help with my marriage. Can this church help me with my marriage?”
  • Meaning and purpose: “Where is my life going? That question has been nagging me for months now. I have a wife, two great kids, a house, a decent job — but for what? Can the Bible help me understand what it all means?”

Joe Needy has listed off a number of ‘felt needs’ he has. He feels the pinch of his finances. He feels the need to have a good marriage so their home can be a home of peace. He feels that his life may be going down a dead end street. Yet we are all fallen creatures, tainted by sin and self. What Joe may feel are his needs (and he may feel he will know what the solution is when he sees and hears it) may not be exactly what his true needs are.

Expository preaching aims to make the theme of the passage presented and make it the theme of the sermon. Impository preaching is preaching which seeks to take a theme for the sermon and impose it on the text. Here is where many preachers and congregations get in trouble.

Say I knew that the majority of my people would appreciate a sermon on how to handle your finances. They would come saying, “OK, this guy is going to help me blossom my portfolio, get out of debt, and make me financially stable.” Yet, as he is going through the Scriptures verse-by-verse, a principle arises addressing one’s greed. While Joe Needy may have his list of needs, God is speaking to the fact that greed and idolatry may be the problem with his finances. God may be speaking to the issue of how Joe may be “robbing” God with his neglect of the giving of “tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:6-10).

Same with the marriage: you may wonder why your marriage may not be as you desire. Yet, the pastor preaches on Ephesians 5:3 about running away from sexual immorality in all its forms in word, thought, and action. You may not have connected the fact that watching Sex and the CityDesperate Housewives or Friends may be subtly warping your view of relationships with their brazen activity. Thus, your marriage would improve if you began preaching the Gospel to yourself in every area of life and remove yourself from certain situations that plant disobedient and lustful seeds in your mind and heart.

Again, this is taking us from what we deem ‘felt needs’ to ‘real needs’ which expository preaching can expose. Preachers are not simply there to expose the meaning of the text, but through the Spirit and his use of preaching the Word expose the sin that resides in the heart of man.

Awake, O Sleeper: What Should Preachers Do With Sleepers in their Congregation?

Dear preachers of the gospel, take note: people will fall asleep at times during your sermon. 

There, now don’t you feel better?

But for many, even if this truth sinks in to one’s spirit, it still brings a number of different emotions to the preacher:  discouragement, offense, anger, revenge!  It’s easy, especially for the younger preacher, to think there is something wrong with his preaching (it may be) or that his listeners are turning pagan (they may be).  But there are some other factors!

Why do your listeners fall asleep or fight sleep?

  1. You could be boring.  Don’t be boring!  The Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and God uses it to accomplish all He desires (Isaiah 55:11-12). 
  2. They may be tired from working third shift!  So if this is the case, praise God they are at church!  And those padded pews can be awfully cozy. 
  3. They may be on medication:  I had one man apologize to me for falling asleep because of a new medication he’s on.  Don’t jump to conclusions.
  4. Your worship space may be too warm.  It should be on the cooler side at the beginning, allowing for those coming into the sanctuary to warm it up significantly, especially if you have a lot of singing. 
  5. You may be preaching over their heads or under their feet.  Both will lose people.  If you preach too basic, you’ve insulted them.  They will drift off, and possibly think, “I can sleep in my own bed more comfortably” or “I need to find a pastor and a church that won’t insult me with that pap.”  If you preach as if you are teaching a seminary classroom, they will feel discouraged (“If I were a better Christian, I’d understand this.  I’m a failure.”  That’s not good!) or roll their eyes at you (“See?  The preacher is showing off all he knows.”  That’s not good.)  Know your people.  Shepherds many times walk with their flock, not way ahead or behind. 

Why Just Any Book Won’t Do: Why We Preach from the Bible

God’s plan for pure churches comes from God’s written, holy, and inscripturated Word. This collection of books we have in this Bible is a library of truth. Sixty-six books, written over a span of approximately 1,500 years by forty different authors, comprise what we call the Bible, the Holy Bible, the Scriptures, and appropriately the Word of God. A.W. Pink was right when he began one of his books, “Christianity is the religion of a Book. Christianity is based upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. The starting point of all doctrinal discussion must be the Bible. Upon the foundation of the Divine inspiration of the Bible stands or falls the entire edifice of Christian truth.”[i]

However, some question whether these 66 books are truly authoritative. Why those books? Other books attributed to some of Jesus’ disciples were floating around. In Trinidad, I became acquainted with some Rastafarians. I read about them in preparation for helping a church in Trinidad plant a church, and noticed they held to some Christian roots. Yet, in reading Dennis Forsythe’s authoritative work on Rastafarianism, quotes a number of “Christian” scholars who claim that Christ was a mystic. [ii] Christ sought to reveal the spiritual mysteries of knowledge to just a select few—tipping his hand to a clear Gnostic tradition![iii]

Yet, God sought to reveal His truth to all who would hear and hear clearly, not through self-awareness as a starting point, but with God as a starting point making His Word clear to all who believe. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

11For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Cor 2:11-13)

B.B. Warfield noted:

Any book or body of books which were given to the Church by the apostles as law must always remain of divine authority in the Church. That the apostles thus gave the Church the whole Old Testament, which they had themselves received from their fathers as God’s word written, admits of no doubt, and is not doubted. That they gradually added to this body of old law an additional body of new law is equally patent. In part this is determined directly by their own extant testimony.[iv]

In Titus 1:2, we see an interesting phrase that Paul used in his opening to Titus: “. . . in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began. . .” The emphasized portion is translated from the word (apsuedes) which means, “free from falsehood, without lie.” Therefore, not only does God choose not to lie, he cannot lie. [v] Given that this is God’s nature, we trust that what He says from that nature will be truthful in every part. Paul sought to give Titus both general instructions, but also instruction that addressed issues in his specific context.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The word ‘breathed out’ is qeo,pneustoj(theopneustos)—God inspired/breathed out His Word. And as God stands, so does His Word stand. The word for this principal is ‘infallible,” which, as the root implies, means that the Word cannot fall. This truth fueled the Reformation, whose fire was lit by Martin Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God. Take note of the last stanza:

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.[vi]

At times, this truth is put to severe scrutiny. French atheist Voltaire (1694-1778) boasted, “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” Yet, not twenty years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society bought his house for printing the Bible, and later became the headquarters for the British and Foreign Bible Societies, which stored and distributed Bibles throughout Europe.[vii] Truly the Psalmist was correct when he wrote, “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89).

We must not forget Emperor Diocletian who in A.D. 300 ordered an edict seeking the removal of all Christians from every government position, and ordered the Christians’ houses of worship and their Bibles burned. Some Christians refused to turn over their copy of the Scriptures and were thus tortured and condemned to death.[viii] He declared extincto nomene Christianorum (Latin for “the name of Christians will be extinguished”). Yet, in A.D. 313, Emperor Constantine replaced the pagan symbols with the symbol of the cross, and as a result the Empire gave protected status to Christians. Even with the various viewpoints as to whether this ultimately helped or hurt Christianity, the point is clear: God would not permit his Word to be extinguished!

Paul also reminded Titus of God’s truthfulness for a very practical reason. In his specific ministry context, he struggled with false teachers infecting the church. In Titus 1:10-14, Paul warned Titus of the nature of the deceivers:

10For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.

We must see that his ministry context was on the isle of Crete, the very place whose inhabitant were described by one of their own prophets as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (v. 12). Paul described those coming into the church as “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party” (v. 10). Titus needed to understand the culture to whom he ministered, but he also needed to recognize how diametrically opposite God is to the unbelievers on Crete. Yes, they may lie, but God “never lies.” He His holy—deception is not in his nature. Christians can trust every word He breathes out!


[i]Arthur W. Pink, The Divine Inspiration of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1976), 5.

[ii]See Dennis Forsythe, Rastafari: Healing of the Nations (New York: One Drop Books, 1999), 11-43.

[iii]For more information on Gnosticism, see Matt Slick, Gnosticism, accessed 7 Jan 2010, available at http://www.carm.org/gnosticism [on-line]; Internet. Here is a small definition: “The word “gnosticism” comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge.”  There were many groups that were Gnostic and it isn’t possible to easily describe the nuances of each variant of Gnostic doctrines.  However, generally speaking, Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis).  This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.” Salvation starts with a personal self-knowledge, differing this from orthodox Christianity which stays that salvation begins with the Lord (Jonah 2:9; Eph 2:8-10) and that man does not have the equipment due to the fall to pursue God on their own (Romans 3:10-12).

[iv]B.B. Warfield, The Authority & Inspiration of the Scriptures, ed. Shane Rosenthal. Accessed on 6 January 2010; available at http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/bbwauthority.htm [on-line]; Internet.

[v]The Scripture reference is from the ESV as it is throughout, but it is the opinion of the author that this translation should be stronger. Other translations such as the KJV and the NAS translate this as “God who cannot lie.” While the end result is the same (God is and remains full of truth), the ESV’s translation implies that God never lies, but could if he wanted to. An example would be, “John never goes into the dirty movies.” Yet, that is a far cry from, “John cannot go into the movies.” One is about choice, the other deals with their moral and ethical nature. According to the Greek, not only did God choose not to lie, it is a moral impossibility for him.

[vi]Mar­tin Lut­her, A Mighty Fortress is our God, 1529; trans­lat­ed from Ger­man to Eng­lish by Fred­er­ic H. Hedge, 1853.

[vii]Michael C. Bere, Bible Doctrines for Today, ed. B. Horton(Pensacola, FL: A Beka, 1996), 23.

[viii]Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2001), 104.

Why Are Preachers So Exhausted After Preaching?

Preaching on Sunday morning is, for me, the most exhilarating part of my calling!  I cannot wait to step into the pulpit at my church and deliver that which has been simmering in me for the past week (and, in essence, for my entire Christian experience!).  The prayer, the study, the compilation—ultimately coming to fruition in prayerful delivery, aiming to be clear and to put the groceries on the bottom shelf.

Sunday afternoons, however, are more exhausting than at any other time of the week.  I’m not in bad shape, mind you.  I exercise, eat well, and have plenty of energy for the task to which Christ called me.  So why do I feel exhausted?

Turns out I’m not alone!   Faithful pastors all over feel this way after preaching on Sunday.  Some outsiders may say that there is something unspiritual about the pastor who endures this.  However, this is not so by and large.

So why do most pastors and preachers feel so exhausted after preaching?

It’s Work!  It’s a labor of love, to be sure—but it’s still labor.  Studies have shown that the energy used for preaching a 30 minute sermon is the equivalent of an 8-hour work day.  Hours are spent the week prior in prayer, study, and more prayer and more study!   The main priority of a pastor’s ministry is preaching—so much of our energy is put into this endeavor that an adrenaline builds up!  The Spirit begins to work in the preacher as the preacher works out the Spirit’s message!   While the Spirit at times just brings the message, He also intends to give us the ‘want-to’ to mine out what God’s Word has to say from a specific passage. 

Passion!  Preachers work their salt are those who are passionate about Christ, the gospel, His Word, His church and the lost.  Paul told the Corinthian church that “the love of Christ compels me’ (2 Corinthians 5:14).  Preachers do not simply inform, their goal is to persuade to transform!  While God is sovereign over all things, He uses His Word and the preachers as His instrument—His sovereign means to His sovereign ends. 

Unforeseen Issues.  When one goes to the drive-thru at the bank, there is a vacuum tube that carries the container from the bank to your car.  Some pastors wish this were the case:  a vacuum tube from their office to the pulpit and back again.  But pastors are not just preachers, they are shepherds over sheep.  And part of their task is not just to deliver the Word at the church’s appointed gatherings—it’s to minister to them outside of those times as well.  With that is the probability that right before the sermon, or even right after the sermon, someone will bring up an problem or an issue (neutral or otherwise) that they urgently believe needs to be addressed right them.  This takes steam out of the preacher if he’s not careful.  While church members should be sensitive to the nature of preaching, preachers should also be sensitive to the needs of his congregation. 

A Distrust in God’s Sovereignty in Preaching.  Preachers become exhausted when they believe that the preaching is all about them: their skills, their preparation, their ability to turn a phrase, to engender the proper emotion in order to elicit their desired response, etc.  Preaching is not all about you!  It’s about the Spirit shaping the minister as the Spirit uses that minister to shape His message.  Preachers who trust in themselves will lose sleep if they didn’t get that one illustration in, that one phrase turned, or didn’t get the desired response.  Paul said that they planted and watered the seeds,  but God causes the growth.  Minister is not about us—it’s about God-called men calling out God’s message to God’s people and to God’s world.  He is the one who foreknows, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies in order to shape them into the fashion of His Son (Romans 8:29-30)!  God uses imperfect vessels to do His perfect will!  Trust Him over your own methods and means.

Any other reasons, preachers, why you tend to feel exhausted after preaching?

Five Keys for Young Preachers to Remember

Young preachers have their work cut out for them.They sense a call to preach.  They may go to school or sit with their pastor to learn some basics about preaching.  Many scholars and pastors write books on the subject.But the only way to really learn how to preach is to, well, preach. Even so, young preachers would do well to have a paradigm from which they work to approach their sermons.  This will help not only them, but their listeners that they so want to see know and grow in Christ.

Intention.  Preaching needs a plan.  What is your intention with your sermon?  This involves much prayer and study of the text at hand.  If you preach expositionally, you will certain have the parameters of the text from which to proceed.  But given that the Spirit has inspired the Word, you must engage in persistent prayer and study of the passage.  Cull your sermon down to one main point or intention.  Even if you use multiple points, they should all feed the main intention.

Inform.  Yes, preaching is about information.  You are passing along propositional truths.  Grammatically, these are known as indicatives—truths and objective facts of what God has revealed in His Word.  “Christ has died, and has risen, and will come again” is an example.  This speaks to what has been done.

Be careful not to bring every last thing you’ve culled in your study.  You risk being a fire hose on your unsuspecting people.  They point is not to show how much information you know, but the goal is transformation by the Word and the Spirit (Romans 12:1-2).

Inspire.  This brings passion to the propositions!  This gives heat to the light of God’s Word.  To preach God’s Word without the corresponding passion will not inspire.  The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (NIV).  That inner drive, that inner compulsion, that inner desire to rally the troops!  This must be present—without it, it will land flat.  And there’s no reason this should ever happen.  It’s the Word!  Preach!!

Illustrate.  Preachers must connect biblical truth to present-day situations.  Illustrations aren’t selling out, as if the Word is not sufficient!  It is—and we must illustrate how the Word is brought to bear to the culture today.  Spurgeon brings his usual insight:

In addressing my students in the College long ago, I was urging upon them the duty and necessity of using plenty of illustrations in their preaching, that they might be both interesting and instructive. I reminded them that the Saviour had many likes in his discourses. He said, over and over again, “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE”; “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE.” “Without a parable spake he not unto them.” The common people heard him gladly, because he was full of emblem and simile. A sermon without illustrations is like a room without windows. One student remarked that the difficulty was to get illustrations in any great abundance. “Yes”, I said, “if you do not wake up, but go through the world asleep, you cannot see illustrations; but if your minds were thoroughly aroused, and yet you could see nothing else in the world but a single tallow candle, you might find enough illustrations in that luminary to last you for six months.”

Illustrations bring light onto the truth being preached.  You do not want to leave your people in the dark, do you?

Infuse.  I use this word as a way to infuse the power of the Word by the Spirit into the lives of the believers through application.  It’s the ‘so-what’ factor.  “OK, you’re telling me this today—so what?”  Again, this is not taking over for the Holy Spirit.  Whereas the ‘inform’ aspect is about the indicatives, the ‘infuse’ part deals with the ‘imperatives’—the commands.  “Walk worthy of the gospel.”  The Ten Commandments.  “Go, and do likewise.”  These commands are infused via the information and illustrations given.  You then inspire through the Spirit’s work in your heart concerning what God has revealed in Scripture.

Yes, young preachers have their work cut out for them—but if you have this paradigm before you, it will make the sermon easier on you—and your dear listeners.

Thoughts?  Do you remember your first sermon?  How have you changed from then until now?

 

Broadus Warns of the Danger of Sensationalistic Preaching


broadusRecently, I’ve grown fascinated with John Broadus, most know for being one of the founding members and later a president of my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  He’s also known for penning one of the greatest preaching manuals in our nation’s history, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (hardcover |Kindle ).

One of the warnings he gave his students was on the danger of sensationalistic preaching, that is, preaching that strictly appeals to the emotions of the listener rather than to the mind.  Beecher Johnson, contributor to John Broadus: A Living Legacy, defines this as

… using any means to gain the ear of, or have an effect on, the audience that does not honor the sacred nature of God and the things of God or ensure singular focus on the spiritual and theological message of God in the text (216).

In the mid to late 1800’s to even now, preaching that is rooted in emotion rather than revelation of Scripture fails to honor God and will fail to change lives in any substantial way.

In that same book, Steven Lawson gives a warning to churches today:

Pressure to produce bottom-line results has led many ministries to sacrifice the centrality of biblical preaching on the altar of man-centered pragmatism.  A new way of “doing” church is emerging.  In this radical paradigmatic shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics (Famine in the Land, p. 25, quoted in A Living Legacy, p. 213). 

Pray for preachers of the gospel, that they rely on the testimony of Scripture rather that the shifting sands of sensationalism.  That’s what the world and the church most needs.

Don’t Miss the Point of a Sermon

“The chief means of grace is the preached Word. A sermon is not only an exposition of God’s Word but is itself God’s Word. It is the Son of man preaching life into the valley of dead bones, wielding the two-edged sword that kills and makes alive. It is the Holy Spirit alone who is the effectual cause of the Word’s work, but it is administered through preaching. This is why, according to historical practice, sermons begin with the invocation, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and end with “Amen,” or its translation, “So be it.” The sermon is the Word of God addressed to God’s people.

Sometimes we see the sermon merely as an opportunity to make the Word effective. For some, it is an opportunity for mere reflection— data processing, to put it indelicately. For others, it is a chance to make a decision. Still others see it as a stimulation to emotional experience. But whether we make our intellect, our will, or our heart sovereign, we are exchanging the glory of God for that of the creature. As Scripture presents it, the Word itself— wielded by the heavenly agent (the Holy Spirit) and the earthly ambassador (the preacher)— does what it threatens in the law and promises in the gospel. The Word itself does this work, not because it provides an occasion for us to do something but simply by its being used by God according to his own sovereign will. It is not just the content of the Word but the preaching of the Word that is central in worship and is, strictly speaking, a means of grace.

To be sure, many other methods in our hi-tech era would appear to be more effective forms of getting us to do something. Drama can entertain and inspire, emotional choruses sung in ascending chords with growing instrumental intensity can alter consciousness and moods, while audiovisual sophistication can persuade people that the Christian message (whatever that may be) is relevant in our age. A booming anthem with a pipe organ and well-trained choir may stir us. But if the primary goal is not to get us to do something that will effect our salvation but for God to plant his Word in our heart, our criteria for effectiveness and success will be rather different. It is important for us to realize that it is not only the message of the Word but the method of preaching that God has promised to use for salvation and growth. It must, therefore, be central in worship.”

A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship by Michael Horton –

Preaching That Makes One Weep

There’s a wonderful book entitled Chaplain of the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South, which is a biography of Baptist stalwart Basil Manly, Sr (1798-1868).  While the title may be off-putting for some (Chaplain of the Confederacy), I’ve only made it to his life in the 1820s as he just begins his pastoral ministry.  He was a preacher of the gospel par excellence, whom God seemed to use to stir the emotions of his hearers, leading to a revival in the town of Edgefield, SC, where he first served in the pastorate.  This stirring is not a bad thing.  I was talking to a friend about various aspects of preaching and worship services, and he noted how so much of what has been done in churches bordered on manipulation rather than a reliance on the Spirit’s movement in hearts from the preached Word. 

The pendulum swings back and forth between preaching to the heart (formerly known as the affections) and preaching to the head.  Yet, which should the pendulum swing?  Clearly, one generation often seeks to compensate for the perceived shortcomings of the previous one—much like the previous generation seeks to compensate for the one before it.  The goal is to preach to both the head with the truth and the heart with the love of Christ/hatred of sin (see Ephesians 4:15). 

Jonathan Edwards gives some helpful insight:

A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behaviour.

A preaching of the Word of God that seeks a transformation will preach to both head and heart.  It will strengthen the mind and soften the heart to the things of Jesus.  This type of preaching will help us pursue a union with Christ as Christ has pursued a union with us through the cross and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. 

May God give preachers a message and the Spirit to strengthen minds and soften hearts to be sensitive to the truth. 

Dressing for Church: Which Way Does One Go?

pinstripe-bow-tieI cannot tell you how much time I have spent wondering how to dress for church, especially as a pastor.  Casual or no?  Suit or no? Tie or no? Khakis?  It’s maddening. In my 20s and 30s, my dress would depend on the context.  A Southern Southern Baptist Church would usually mean a suit and tie.  A church that just started and was looking to reach a younger demographic?  No tie, no suit, no how!

Have you ever wondered about this?  Churches usually slide one way or the other.  I remember going into a church plant with a coat and tie, and felt the peer pressure to take off the coat and tie.  Others wonder if they can come to an established church with anything else–even talking themselves out of coming because they don’t have “Sunday clothes.”

See the dilemma?

In Denver, I know the majority of pastors and church attenders usually wear a button down shirt or polo with khakis or jeans.  Some who have the build for it, wear T-shirts with logos that connect with a subset of our culture.  Yet, when I went back to Kentucky, I preached in the button down shirt with khakis, but at the restaurant, the majority of church folks who flooded the restaurant wore a suit and tie.  So very different from where I live, but not very different from how I grew up.

Now, I had the draft of the previous paragraphs in my draft folder for about two weeks, when lo and behold Joe McKeever, an insightful retired pastor who lives in New Orleans, put out a comment of Facebook that led to a lengthy article on his blog titled, “Does it matter how the preacher dresses?”  While many may dismiss McKeever as out of line and out of touch due to the whiteness of his hair or his advanced years, he brings much-needed wisdom to the table.  And maybe since I’m not in my 20s or 30s anymore–and this year will bring me closer to 50 than to 40–maybe I’ve mellowed as well.   But we would do well to read this if for nothing else than to interact with the topic.

Here’s McKeever’s point for pastors/leaders:  Staying dressed one step ahead of the dress of your average congregant inspires confidence in your leadership.

Let that soak in. First of all, he’s not saying coat and tie are mandatory across the board.  He’s not saying it–nor should he. Too many different contexts exist for such a blanket statement.

Second of all, he’s not saying that the way a pastor dresses will cover up other issues regarding character, care, preparedness, etc. It won’t take long for the average church attender or member to see through the charade.

My church have a few in a certain demographic that like their preacher in a suit and tie. Others in a younger demographic frankly don’t care.  They want me clean and dressed, which would be good for everyone!

Now let me stop and tell you what I’m doing: I’m spending a lot of time on this blog post, and a lot of time in my personal life over the years concerned about how my dress affects ministry.  Will my dress help connect with visitors? Will my dress be received well among our members?

It’s maddening!  And exhausting!

Over the last three weeks, I have found myself enjoying the feel of a bow tie.  I am in the process of learning how to tie an actual bow tie, but I’m wearing the pre-tied one at this point.  And the comments have come: some have told me, “Wow, you pull that off really well,” while others react as if you say, “You need to pull that off… like now!” (It’s probably about 80/20 for/against).

But it goes down to a fundamental question: what are the rules in wearing clothes to church?  And even for pastors?  Does McKeever have a point?

I think he does, and I’ll tell you why.

  1. There’s no way you will please everyone in the room.  If we have 200 people in our sanctuary, the chances of everyone of them being happy with any given thing are minimal to non-existent.  My goodness, I won’t please everyone reading this blog post even now.  My implication is not for us to stop trying, but to not make it the #1 reason for anything you do.
  2. If you’re not sure what to do, follow McKeever’s advice and dress one step ahead.  You don’t want to be the sloppiest guy in the room, but you don’t want to be two to three steps ahead.  Own your context, lean into it, and don’t apologize or worry.  I love wearing a suit and bow tie.  I can’t quantify why, I just do. I’ve almost gotten to where I can actually tie one.
  3. Whatever we do, be neat and clean.  Iron clothes, wash hair, and don’t let your attire distract.  I visited a church up the road where the pastor wore the pastor plaid and jeans (or was it khakis).  See? I can’t remember–because it didn’t distract.  Granted, some will be distracted regardless.  One couple came to our church who’d just moved up from Texas.  I had my suit and white shirt–but no tie.  They knew in their hearts it wasn’t that big a deal, but they couldn’t get past a pastor or any of the men now wearing a suit and tie when preaching.  Do I put on a tie just to keep them?  No–we’re back at square one in people pleasing.  Someone may object to my bowtie.  Do I yank it off?  No.  You just be faithful and own where you are.

The difficulty in discussing this matter is you can slide into a legalistic mindset very easily.

What do you think?  Does dress really matter?  If it does, what’s your go-to standards and practices?

 

Spurgeon on the Bible Defending the Bible

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Tim Keller’s book on preaching is a treasure. Included is a quote from Charles Spurgeon which is also a treasure.

There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion – it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while the host of us would defend him. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion: open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! You know sooner goes forth in his strength and his assailant flee. The way they meet infidelity is just read the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.

Let’s trust the Word to do its work. Let lion out!