8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities, however, God clearly ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is also Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.

Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

My motivation for writing isn’t to berate the fallen, there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line, yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for certain if you labor in ministry long enough you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.

1. Success & popularity. Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. To this day, my brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.

Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.

Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure, but very little time preparing their heart to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent. The moment a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every single day without the help of the anointing. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I believe preachers have an obligation to work as hard as they can to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

3. Loving preaching more than people. This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.

Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased a lot of rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than true righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process I resisted the directing of the Spirit opting instead to build my favorite soap box or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.

To be clear, preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

4. Forgetting the main mission. As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, interesting, inspiring, and fresh some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

5. Valuing crowd size above the spiritual growth of the congregation. I’ve written a good bit on church growth here, here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Rather, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the actual spiritual health of the people.

Obviously, just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers. Which leads nicely to the next trap.

6. Willingness to sacrifice scriptural integrity for any reason at all. There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and of the trust placed in us by others.

7. Burnout. Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

8. Ministering to others while neglecting family. I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others they lost sight of their primary responsibility.

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Here’s Why Young People View the Church Like the Last Old Department Store

In the last 25 years, the church growth movement has transformed how America has church. It has also changed how younger people view church.

Many churches are now driven by business and marketing philosophies, moving away from a focus on discipleship and relationship with God.

The pastor has changed roles from shepherd to salesman. A distorted view of grace is his wares.

Evangelism is nonexistent. Apostles are no longer understood. Prophets are rejected. Teaching revolves around life skills. Prayer is redefined as positive thoughts, and the Spirit has no place in the business plan.

People now go to church to be courted and entertained, rather than to worship God.

Choosing churches is now the equivalent of deciding between buying jeans at the GAP or Old Navy. The product is pretty much the same. So who has better customer service? Or you can always stay home and do your shopping every Sunday morning online with a beer in your hand.

The result of this church culture is that younger people now view most churches like the last old department store in town, barely hanging on from the last century.

And they are simply shopping elsewhere.

Attempts to become mega church businesses have equated churches in the minds of millennials with the Sears downtown.

There is a “Going out of business” sign on the windows and everything is for sale, including the fixtures, the building, and even management.

The only way the Church will ever out-market, out-perform, or out-sell the world is through prayer, the preached Word, and the power of the Holy Ghost.

This world doesn’t need the Church to be Sears, a megachurch, their coffee shop, or a theater where they can view a well designed theological-themed production.

The world needs the Church to be Apostolic, Spirit-led, and Gospel preaching.

The world needs the Church to be full of conviction and separated unto God.

They need the God-designed Church that began in the Book of Acts, has thrived in every century, and still preaches the Truth that has the power to change even this generation.

Rev. Jonathan Sanders is a dynamic evangelist, preacher, teacher, and coffee connoisseur. This article originally appeared on Jonathan’s Facebook page. His posts and daily thoughts are always inspirational, articulate, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter here and here. As I read his original post, I couldn’t help but think of David refusing King Saul’s armor before fighting Goliath. David understood that he needed to use the tools that God had equipped him with rather than conventional weapons of war. The modern Church desperatelly needs to reject marketing methods and embrace spiritual, God-ordained weaponry.

 

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Rev. Jonathan Sanders

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How to Seek God’s Will (For Any Situation)

Christians can and should seek the will of God, especially for big life decisions (Matthew 6:10, Ephesians 5:15-20, Hebrews 10:36, Judges 6:36-40). Sometimes though, I think we make the whole process far too mystical and mysterious. We make it harder than it needs to be. After all, God wants us to know his will.

The Bible contains 1,189 chapters full of guidance and direction for our lives. I’ve noticed that people who struggle the most to find God’s will spend the least amount of time in his Word. Don’t beg for God’s voice if you haven’t studied his Word, but I digress.

Below are a few quick and practical tips that will help you learn how to distinguish God’s will for any situation.

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Study to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). I’ve already jumped the gun on this point, probably because it is the most important point. There’s a lot of big life decisions that you won’t agonize over if you already know God’s Word.

Paul continues that thought by saying we must, “rightly divide the Word of truth.” A lifestyle of studying and understanding the Bible will put you miles ahead of others when it comes to quickly knowing God’s will for any given situation.

God will never contradict his Word. You are not the exception to the rule. You are not the one person who can do what God told everyone else not to do. God’s word is settled (Psalm 119:89). If you feel like God is telling you to do something that contradicts the Bible you need to see a doctor because the voice you’re hearing isn’t God’s voice. I’m kidding. Well, maybe a little serious. But mostly kidding.   


God’s will never removes you from apostolic authority, submission, or headship (Romans 13:2-7, Ephesians 5:21-22, 1 Peter 5:5, Hebrews 13:7, Titus 3:1). Period. Even pastors need a pastor. Even Elisha needed an Elijah. Like it or not, God has always had a chain of command and you are always out of God’s will when you break it.

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It is always God’s will for you to be faithful, therefore, anything that impedes faithfulness is most likely not his will for your life (Revelation 2:10, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Psalm 31:23, Matthew 25:21, Psalm 101:6). God wants you to be faithful to the Church, your family, your faith, and his Word. God wants you to be faithful in your marriage and to your children. Anything that hinders faithfulness to those things is very dangerous.

Let’s talk real life for just a moment – if you’re trying to decide if it’s God’s will for you to take a job that will cause you to miss church all the time it’s probably not his will. If you’re wondering if you should go to college in a city where there is no strong apostolic church you should know it’s probably not God’s will. If you’re thinking about doing something that takes you away from your family on a regular and unhealthy basis it’s probably not God’s will. If you’re thinking about dating or marrying someone who isn’t totally committed to God and his Word just know it’s not God’s will.

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Seek counsel from your pastor BEFORE making a major life decision. Do not wait until you’ve already decided to seek pastoral counsel. It’s not really counseling if you’ve already decided. I specifically mentioned your pastor because he is your spiritual under-shepherd. Your pastor is the watchman on the wall. Other saints may have good intentions and even good advice, but they are not your pastor. If your pastor’s voice doesn’t matter to you than you are already out of God’s will.

Be prayerful, be purposeful, and be praiseful (1 John 5:14, James 5:16). The very nature of prayer draws us close to God. It brings us into communion and relationship with the Lord. Without prayer, you will never hear God’s voice. Purposeful and praiseful prayers are the keys that unlock the rare mysteries of God’s perfect will for specific situations.

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Remember, decisions have long lasting consequences. Consider the past, present, and the future. Know that instant gratification is not always the right choice.

Lot was correct in perceiving that he needed to separate from Abraham. But he pitched his tents towards the well-watered plains of Sodom (Genesis 13:12), and just a few verses later he was living right in the middle of Sodom. Clearly, this was a decision that placed him squarely out of God’s plan for his life. He made life decisions that caused him to trend in the wrong direction.

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Is That Really You God? – 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice

IS THAT REALLY YOU GODOne of the most common questions that I receive is something along the lines of how can we hear the voice or God? Sometimes it’s phrased in the context of seeking after the will of God. Every sincere Christian has endured seasons where they desperately needed to hear God or know his will. Loren Cunningham’s book Is That Really You God? delves into this topic head first. I found the book helpful and insightful. Loren digs beyond platitudes and easy answers burrowing down into the meat of the question. Especially, interesting are her thoughts on learning to differentiate God’s voice from our own internal voices and the world’s external voices. She walks us through the transition of young Samuel mistaking the voice of Eli for the voice of God. She further illustrates the process of Samuel’s maturation process and spiritual development, noting that as Samuel matured he easily recognized the voice of God, and others heard the voice of God prophetically through him.

I have compiled a short voice over video documenting the main themes of the book along with a few thoughts of my own click here to watch 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice.

For further elaboration click here to listen to my full Bible study podcast entitled 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice or on iTunes here. I have included the lesson slides below.

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4 Reasons People Don’t Pray

For well-intentioned Christians, it becomes almost second nature to respond to situations with the little phrase, “We’ll be praying for you.” But are we? Please understand that I’m not trying to be snarky or hurtful, but I am concerned. In some cases, I’m afraid the well-meaning “we’ll be praying” has become little more than a platitude. Of course, there are exceptions to this concern. Thankfully, there is a long list of people in my life who hold my hands up in prayer. They are at the forefront of spiritual warfare. They have prevented untold hosts of attacks with their prayer lives, and they have stood firmly in the gap while others fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane. Those individuals are the stopgap between life and death, Heaven and Hell, revival and stagnation. Without such people, the Church would be rendered spiritually anemic.

For some, however, the phrase “we’ll be praying (or another variation of the same meaning)” has become a declaration of concern rather than a declaration of actual intent. Genuine concern is not the same as genuine prayer. Concern is only valuable if it leads to an action. And the most valuable action that can be birthed from genuine concern is prayer.

Here are a few convicting questions regarding prayer that we should ask ourselves regularly. Do I talk about prayer more than I actually pray? Do I understand that genuine concern leads to genuine prayer? Do I believe that prayer works? Am I spiritually lazy? Or worse, am I complacent? Here are a few reasons that people do not move beyond concern and into actual prayer.

They do not understand how to pray. Even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Prayer goes beyond merely caring. In fact, Jesus instructed us to pray for people that we don’t particularly like or care about (Luke 6:28). Powerful prayer is not casual or flippant. Prayer is most effective when we are in the Spirit (Colossians 4:2-4). Effective prayer requires faith (James 5:15). Prayer must be done often (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In short, the more you pray the closer to God you become, therefore, your prayers become increasingly powerful.

They intended to pray but became distracted or busy. This is one of the great difficulties of modern Christianity. Most of us truly mean well. We intended to follow through, but we’re all going a million miles an hour. Our lives are so filled with stuff, and we’re so overrun with demands that we simply fail to keep the important things as the top priority. But remember, good intentions alone do not help anybody.

They are only superficially concerned. Let’s face it, sometimes we are less concerned than we want to appear. There are two dangers lurking here. One, we should not make shallow promises to save face. Two, we should care more than we do. We should ask God to give us a tender heart towards the plight of others. Also, be careful that you are not using the promise to pray as an excuse to do nothing else. What if the Good Samaritan had only promised to pray for the beaten man rather than binding up his wounds? We instinctively know that this would have been immoral and yet we often use the promise to pray as a cop out. Sometimes we have to pray and physically help others at the same time.

Spiritual & physical exhaustion. I call this the Gethsemane Syndrome. Many of us have prayed so much and cared so much that we are physically and spiritually exhausted. When the disciples were with Jesus in the garden just before Calvary they were sincere but they were exhausted. Mercifully, if we wait upon the Lord he will renew our strength (Isaiah 40:32). Satan knows that you are weakened even further when you leave the presence of the Lord. The antidote for exhaustion is to enter deeper into the presence of the Lord.