The responsibility of standing in the pulpit

Preacher in the pulpit
Used by permission from Christian Images

As a follow-up to my last two posts (June 29 and July 1), I feel the need to offer some balance to avoid the impression that I condone anything that is said from the pulpit.

One of the things that I admire about Timothy Keller is that when he preaches, he takes into consideration that not everyone will agree with what he is saying. He acknowledges that some of his listeners have not gotten to the place where they accept Christian teaching on the topic at hand.

This is not to say that Tim Keller does not try to persuade his listeners to a particular point of view, but he does it in a way that acknowledges their minds and hearts and he does it with courtesy. I have heard him say a number of times something to the effect of, “you may not yet believe in this, but let me give you some things to think about as you consider this issue . . . ” This is neither manipulative or condescending to his listeners.

Contrasted to Mr. Keller’s approach, I have experienced attempts at persuasion from the pulpit that are not so gracious and accepting. When the preacher takes the attitude that those who disagree with him are simply wrong and need to be set right, very little of lasting value results from it.

This is not to say that we need to equivocate on what Scripture says. We need to present the clear teaching of Scripture as what it is and stand firm on it.

But, when we begin a statement with “Scripture clearly teaches that we should . . .” we better make sure that it is Scripture and not our own particular interpretation that we are standing on.

For example, it is clear from Scripture that we are called to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27), but we may disagree on the best method of doing it. We are called to care for the poor in our community, but may have differing philosophies on the role of government in providing for the poor.

I would encourage pastors (or anyone in a teaching ministry) to make it OK for people to not arrive at the same conclusion that you are proclaiming from the pulpit. You need to give them time and space to work through the data.

When a preacher feels the need to push people toward a particular conclusion, he may demonstrate contempt for the listeners and an insensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps this is the central issue. Does the pastor trust God enough to present the data of Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to bring people to the right conclusion?

As church leaders we must keep in mind whose is the responsibility to build the church. It is not the pastor’s responsibility. It is not the elders’ responsibility. It is not the preacher’s responsibility. It is Christ’s and Christ’s alone (Matthew 16:18).