At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.
When modern ears hear words like “prophet” or “ prophecy,” they typically invoke imagery of futuristic predictions or something sensationally mystical. Most people relegate the role of prophecy to the ancient scrolls of the Old Testament. And, prophecy does often involve a God-given vision of the future. Furthermore, the prophetic role certainly seems more prominent in the Old Testament.
To understand the role of prophecy today, we must begin by understanding the ancient prophets’ role. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition. It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that biblical prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.
To understand the role of prophecy today, we must begin by understanding the ancient prophets’ role. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition.Tweet
It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that biblical prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.Tweet
The Role of Biblical Prophets
Pre-Pentecost prophets were politically incorrect centuries before politically correct speech, and behavior was embedded into mainstream culture. Contrary to what most modern “prophets” peddle, their predictions of future events were rarely rosy. Their predictions were typically terror-inducing warnings straight from the mind of God. Aside from eschatological prophets (like Daniel and Ezekiel), their warnings were anything but vague. Prophets were acutely aware of the looming death penalty if they lied or spoke out of turn (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).
God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).Tweet
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 was the backdrop that framed the mindset of true men of God. They feared the judgment of God and eschewed the opinions of men. To be sure, that nobility of heart and strength of moral character took a toll. Habakkuk felt abandoned by God (Habakkuk 1:2-11). Jeremiah mourned the prosperity of the wicked and felt the loneliness of being discounted (Jeremiah 12:1-4, Jeremiah 20:8). Elijah longed for death (1 Kings 19:4). Noah succumbed to strong drink after the fulfillment of his prophecy of worldwide judgment (9:21). And, God instructed Hosea to marry an unloving prostitute (Hosea 1:2) and endure a lifetime of heartbreak. Their difficulties and struggles don’t make the prophetic calling particularly compelling. Modern readers glamorize the prophetic life, but the reality described in Scripture is sacred, scary, and sacrosanct. To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.
To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.Tweet
Further convoluting the confusion surrounding prophecy, the definition of prophecy itself is mostly misunderstood. Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions. They taught they reproved, rebuked, informed, corrected, and did all of this with long-suffering. In other words, they operated much like the preachers described in the book of Acts. That being said, in many ways, all preachers carry the prophetic mantle.
Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions.Tweet
The Role of Apostolic Prophecy
The five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13) is divided into distinctly separate categories by apostolic thinkers. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are usually viewed as non-overlapping roles. Even those who theologically recognize the simplistic nature of this way of thinking revert back to it in practice. However, every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.
Every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.Tweet
Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers. Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable in the eyes of God. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit is detestable and stirs God’s wrath. I am genuinely concerned that many apostolic preachers are losing the courage to remain righteously counter-cultural and unavoidably politically incorrect. I say “unavoidably” because it’s not possible to be biblically correct and politically correct at the same time. Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.
Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokersTweet
Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit stirs God’s wrath.Tweet
Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.Tweet
Six Prophetic Tensions
I’d rather eat glass than jump into impossible-to-resolve eschatological debates. And, there’s probably no stickier debate than the question of who the Two Witnesses are in Revelations chapter eleven (Revelation 11:3-12). However, it would be foolish to overlook the appearance of burlap-wearing, fire-breathing, element-controlling, loudly-testifying, plague-inducing, death-defying prophets roaming the streets in the last days. When God calls two witnesses to preach during apocalyptic times, they will be eerily Old Testament in nature. And yet, more often than not, New Testament preachers seem frightfully out of step with the biblical prophetic legacy.
Every self-aware preacher wrestles inwardly with the tension that exists between their human desire to be excepted by men and their calling to be godly counter-cultural mouthpieces. Some bow, some bend, some break, and some refuse to surrender their will to anyone but God. No one desires to be politically incorrect, but it’s the nature of the calling. The truth (especially God’s Truth) is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.
Truth is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.Tweet
I’ve noticed six growing tensions developing in the hearts of ministers in my lifetime. Every politically incorrect prophet must win these battles that rage within their hearts and resist the pressure to become just another name on the long list of false prophets. This is a real-life and death, and Heaven versus Hell battle between good and evil. Not only does their eternity hang in the balance, but the souls of their followers do as well. Many have lost their stomach for the fight, others are just learning the importance of the struggle, yet a powerful remnant of true prophetic men of God are stepping to the forefront of spiritual warfare.
1. Truth vs. Timidity
Postmodernism has been eroding the perceived value of truth for at least sixty years. Just calling a biological man a man is considered borderline hate speech in our stupefied society. Peddlers of confusion malign and attack simple voices of reason. Spiritual truths are betrayed, minimized, and shunned by purveyors of moral ambiguity. Preachers are portrayed in pop culture as buffoonish curmudgeons or wild-eyed lunatics. Sometimes, godly truth-tellers are physically punished or stripped of their comforts.
In America, they are silently bullied and quietly derided (at least publicly) in an attempt to intimidate or embarrass them into submission. More and more, western preachers feel the urge to be timid about truth. They fear preaching controversial topics and eventually avoid speaking of the things God cares about altogether. But true men of God choose to shake off the shackles of timidity and speak the truth with boldness (Acts 28:32, Proverbs 28:1, Acts 4:13, Acts 4:31, Ephesians 6:19).
2. Clarity vs. Confusion
God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). True prophets clarify. False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation, he’s more than likely a false prophet.
False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation, he’s more than likely a false prophet.Tweet
3. Conviction vs. Compromise
Have you ever noticed how excruciatingly uncomfortable the Last Supper must have been for the disciples? Judas was on the verge of betraying Jesus, and Jesus was painfully aware of that impending “kiss” of death. Judas was probably acting super strange. Jesus was always perfectly willing to make people squirm. So, naturally, He decided to mention a betrayer was in the room. That little grenade caused a lot of commotion.
As if that wasn’t enough drama for one night, Jesus took the opportunity to warn the disciples about all kinds of discouraging things (John 16:1-4). He told them they would be kicked out of synagogues and become societal outcasts. He even told them they would be killed by people who thought they were doing the work of God. Surely the disciples thought this is the kind of stuff we should have been told a long time ago. And, Jesus perceptively addressed those thoughts by assuring them that even though He was leaving in the flesh, He would remain with them in the Spirit (John 16:5-7).
During this revelatory conversation about the coming of the Holy Ghost, Jesus laid out a description of what the role of the Spirit would be on the earth (John 16:8-11). Jesus didn’t mince words; He said the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, reveal their need for righteousness, and warn them of the coming judgment. Notably, conviction is one of the primary roles of the Holy Ghost.
Conviction. Sin. Righteousness. Judgment. All of these are becoming taboo topics. But if these topics are the primary issues the Holy Spirit was sent to address, then preachers who refuse to handle them are not Spirit-filled. Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.
Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.Tweet
As people search for “safe” spaces, and Truth is viewed more and more as confrontational hate speech, preachers are placed in a precarious situation. The temptation is to avoid conviction and replace it with an ooey-gooey, warm, and fuzzy brand of non-intrusive, conversational preaching. Please understand, there’s rarely a need to be intentionally offensive or off-putting, but God’s Word usually offends carnal sensitivities. Conviction isn’t comfortable, but it’s irreplaceable and indispensable. Preaching conviction is a huge part of the prophetic job description. Prophets who never preach conviction of sin into the hearts of their flock are not prophets at all.
4. Faith vs. Fear
The spirit of antichrist doesn’t care if prophets speak the truth as long as they whisper it in fear and cower in the corner. Anxiety is normal and often justified, but true prophets overcome their fears with faith. They preach fearful things, but they temper it with faith that encourages and edifies. They preach doom and coming judgment, but they also preach that faith will bring us into an eternal relationship with God that is blissful beyond comprehension. Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.
Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.Tweet
5. Reverence vs. Irreverence
There is a growing sense of irreverence towards spiritual things, even among “religious” people. I believe this is reflected in many ways, including how people dress for church (check out Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church?). Ancient prophets brimmed with righteous reverence for the things of God. They demanded the same from those listening to their divinely inspired words. Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name. British theologian Thomas Smail gives an interesting warning in his book The Forgotten Father:
“Abba is not Hebrew, the language of liturgy, but Aramaic, the language of home and everyday life… We need to be wary of the suggestion… that the correct translation of Abba is ‘Daddy.’ Abba is the intimate word of a family circle where that obedient reverence was at the heart of the relationship, whereas Daddy is the familiar word of a family circle from which all thoughts of reverence and obedience have largely disappeared… The best English translation of Abba is simply ‘Dear Father.”
I think Smail was attempting to strike the delicate yet hard to achieve the balance between reverencing God and simultaneously feeling closely connected to God. In the apostolic movement, many have over-corrected away from highly liturgical denominations (like Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians) whose reverence is more like a cold indifference, into a mushy “God is my best buddy” mindset. Not only does this endanger reverence, but it also breeds lots of unintended theological fallacies as well.
Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name.Tweet
6. Power vs. Prosperity
Perhaps, the worst degrading of prophecy has come from the proponents of prosperity theology. The “God will double your money if you send me a thousand dollars right now” crowd. These charlatans, either genuinely or disingenuously, believe that wealth, health, and fame are spiritual success measures. But, ancient biblical prophets were far more concerned with spiritual power than earthly power. They called down fire from heaven while barely having enough food to eat or a place to live. If prosperity theology is correct, the ancient prophets were wildly out of the will of God.
Most people reading this have long ago rejected prosperity theology; however, there is a lingering (unspoken) assumption that struggling preachers are somehow out of God’s favor. This assumption is a subtle trick of the enemy. It’s just another way to shame godly preachers into conforming to the will of the carnal majority. The real measuring stick of apostolic authority isn’t bank accounts. Instead, it’s the manifested power of God. Interestingly, as materialism grows, manifestations of the Spirit decline. Men of God should seek the power of God, not positions or materialistic prosperity. I’m all for the blessings of God, but never at the expense of the power of God.
The household of God is built on the blood-soaked foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus is the chief cornerstone of that unshakable foundation. Next time you read through the Gospels, pay attention to how astonishingly politically incorrect Jesus was in word and deed. He wasn’t trying to be odd or quirky. It wasn’t a gimmick or a facade that Jesus put on for attention. He just spoke the truth even when it was unwanted.
God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their safety or societal security. They will leave their comfort zones and abandon the shackles that carnal culture wraps around their minds. They will seek to grow the Kingdom of God and not their ministry. They will value the Truth above tolerance and wisdom above worldliness. The spiritual revolution is already beginning; which side of it will you be on?
God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their safety or societal security.Tweet
You might be in ministry if you have…
…encouraged those who discouraged you.
…loved those who left you.
…prayed for those who preyed upon you.
…lifted those who let you down.
…laughed with those who laughed at you.
…given to those who do not give.
…rejoiced with those who rejoiced against you.
…worked for those who worked against you.
Count it all joy. That’s what it means to be like Christ. Why would we have it better than our Master?
Of course, there are tremendous blessings and rewards as well. Most of them are spiritual and otherworldly. However, I think we set up young aspiring ministers for failure when we fail to prepare them for the realities of ministry. Ninety-nine percent of ministry is not glamorous or exciting.
Make sure you have a genuine calling and unshakable burden before you enter the ministry.
C.S. Lewis opens his classic work The Screwtape Letters with the tale of a fictitious demon named Screwtape detailing how he successfully kept “his patient (i.e. a mere human)” out of the clutches of “the Enemy (i.e. God)”. Screwtape is teaching an underling demon named Wormwood the art of keeping mankind distracted from the reality of God and that pesky thing called Truth. He cautions Wormwood away from arguing with his human “patient” because arguing promotes reasoning, and reasoning leads to logic, and logic ultimately leads to God. Screwtape slyly writes:
“By the very act of arguning, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiances. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream.”
Screwtape goes on to describe a scenario where one of his atheist patients once began seriously considering the reality of God while reading quietly in a museum. He gloatingly writes:
“Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had lunch.”
Lewis was creatively describing the satanic art of distraction, misdirection, and the subtle use of the mundane as a diversionary tactic. Lewis approached the issue from the standpoint of an atheist being demonically distracted from facing the reality of God. Likewise, I see this same demonic strategy being used against unwitting Christians with alarming frequency. Remember, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942, long before the advent of uber mundane distraction devices otherwise known as smartphones.
I realize that life is hectic, complicated, and a little overwhelming at times. It can be difficult to find time for prayer, busy church schedules, personal Bible study, devotions, and meditating on deep spiritual gems. In theory, most Christians genuinely want to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Yet, they get carried away by what Screwtape called, “the immediate stream of sense experiences”.
How many times have you been on the verge of bowing down to pray only to be interrupted by the ding, ding of an incoming text message? How many times have you looked over during a powerful sermon only to see your neighbor actively scrolling through their uber mundane distraction device otherwise known as a smartphone? How many times has something as trivial as eating dinner kept you from a church service?
I realize there are acceptable distractions; we have to work, we have to eat, we have to relax, and we have to sleep. But if you watch you will begin to notice little ordinary diversions that slip into your mind unexpectedly just as God is calling you to a moment of communion and Divine contemplation. Perhaps, these are not all demonically inspired as Lewis seems to suggest, however, they certainly impede our spiritual progress.
I’ve been picking on cell phones, probably because that’s my Achilles’ heel, but your Trojan horse (I might as well keep opening Pandora’s box of metaphors) might be something more like Edmund’s Turkish delight. For those who aren’t familiar with Lewis’ most commercially successful work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund is a young boy who happens across an evil White Witch in the mythical land of Narnia. She skillfully distracts him from her evil intentions with delicious morsels of Turkish delight.
That’s the thing about distractions; by themselves, they’re usually not all that sinister. There’s nothing inherently evil about Turkish delight. Although, I’ve tried it and it really is quite dreadful tasting. Regardless, cell phones aren’t evil. But if they keep us distracted from what Lewis called “the universal issues” they suddenly become nefarious. Your Turkish delight might be a job, a hobby, a relationship, video games (check out this disturbing article about male millennials and video games), sports, or whatever else casually draws your attention away from eternal Truths.
Even serving others can become a distraction if it’s not done properly. Luke 10:38-42 records the story of Jesus visiting Martha’s house. Naturally, He began teaching and instinctively Martha’s sister Mary abandoned her chores to sit at His feet. This placed the responsibility of providing a meal and making sure the house was in order solely on Martha’s shoulders. The ESV correctly states that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Jesus was teaching. Evidently, a resentment towards Mary began to grow in Martha’s heart. She was working. She was serving. She was ministering to people’s needs while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Finally, all that pent-up frustration was directed towards Jesus:
“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me (Luke 10:40).”
But Jesus gently admonished her saying:
“…Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”
Even our best intentions can become a distraction from the actual words of Jesus. Preachers can get so caught up in service they forget what really matters. Church singers and musicians can get so distracted ministering in music they become oblivious to the Word that is going forth. This is true in various different ways for all of us who are busy serving the Lord. So, the next time you find yourself being pulled away from the voice of the Lord, intentionally choose the good part, and don’t let anything take it away from you (Luke 10:42).
Preachers need our prayers and support more than ever before. 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 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 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.
Preaching is 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).Tweet
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.
Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.Tweet
My motivation for writing isn’t to criticize 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 sure 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.
One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap.Tweet
1. Success & Popularity
Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. My brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached to this day. 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.
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.Tweet
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 hearts to handle success and popularity.
Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.Tweet
When 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 day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
When 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.Tweet
Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).Tweet
I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I think preachers should work as hard as possible 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.
All the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.Tweet
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).
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).Tweet
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 many 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 real 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 Spirit’s directing, opting instead to build my favorite soapbox 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.
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.
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.Tweet
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.Tweet
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, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.
Preaching can devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and fail their mission.Tweet
5. Valuing Crowd Size Above the Spiritual Growth of the Congregation
I’ve written a fair bit on church growth 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. Instead, 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 people’s actual spiritual health.
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.
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.Tweet
When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers.Tweet
6. Willingness to Sacrifice Scriptural Integrity
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 the trust placed in us by others.
Failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.Tweet
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, the 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.
Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness.Tweet
Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety. 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.Tweet
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.