How To UN-Identify!
There is a trend which can be detected —-
and maybe it is not a trend, but a limited fad among some churches —-
and maybe not among churches, but exemplified by some pastors —–
and maybe not only exemplified by some pastors but progressively marking God’s people —-
and maybe not only marking God’s people but unknowingly infecting God’s people who now finding themselves spiritually discouraged.
This fad will cause a congregation to slowly become disheartened and dispirited, and as that happens, the cause may well not be realized.
As I was again listening to a message by a pastor during my morning walk (I listen to about 120 messages a month), I was reminded again of this tendency in pastoral preaching. I was reminded because as I listened, I was feeling some of those very real disheartened and dispiriting emotions.
Perhaps a statement by Barnabas Piper will capture what I am addressing. Barnabas Piper is the son of Dr. John Piper. Barnabas, who wrote a recent book (which I reviewed at the time of publication) about his PK experiences in the Piper home, made this observation,
The biggest negative was not connecting with God in a personal way. My dad’s view of, and relationship with, God is so big and so powerful that it looked like the only way to come to God. But it didn’t work for me. It wasn’t until I was out of college and things kind of fell apart for me that I encountered God’s grace and the person of Jesus in a profound way on my own.*
His Father’s God was just too unreachable, too high and holy to be approachable by sinners who struggled with real issues of life and living!
That is what some preachers can do in their preaching (and in their child-rearing). They can “un-identify” with their audience; they can preach a message which leaves the listeners disheartened and discouraged!
That is the kind of message I listened to today which motivated me to write this about preaching and preachers. In fact, I was going to name it “Watch Roseanne on ABC – Every Tuesday Evening.” What has caused that program to jump to an audience of 25 million “listeners?” It speaks to the common man, those who work every day in the real world, those who do not live in the bubbles of Hollywood or DC, those who are just trying their best to live life.
As I listened, I tried to quantify the elements of this kind of message and approach. Here are some thoughts as to what marks such messages.
#1) Marked By Imposing and Pretentious Language:** The language speaks of a life that marks the most mature believer. Even more, the language communicates that the speaker has arrived there as well. Wording and comments which so UN-identifies with the average Christian — such as . . . .
“That is what the cross does — it changes everything in our lives.”
“Everything has changed! When we are saved, we have a new life!”
“All that has changed when you are saved and have died to this world. We have been crucified with Christ and to this world.”
“We have been moved from death to life, and now the Lord is the supreme center of our lives!”
“The cross is now the center of our lives. The world has nothing to offer or give to me. It no longer has an appeal.”
“We are a new creation — completely made new. It is not tacking on morality but totally changed. And that is what the cross does.”
“Do we bear the marks of Jesus. Is it obvious that we are His master and we are His slave.”
“Everday Christians live in a way that we are obviously His, by the marks in my life that I only love Him.”
#2) Little Recognition of the Differences in the Audience’s Levels of Personal Spiritual Growth: It does not adequately recognize that there are people in the audience who are at different levels of spiritual growth. If “you who are in the audience” are not where such greats as Paul / Daniel / Joseph / Peter / Stephen / etc. are, as described within in the passage, you probably will feel embarrassed or discomfited.
#3) A Blurring of Salvation & Sanctification: There is an inadequate distinction made between being saved and becoming more and more Christ-like over time. “Progressive Sanctification” is just that, it is progressive, not instant.
#4) Promotes Spiritual Insecurity: The message almost communicates that one is not saved if they are “not there yet.” Listeners begin to even question whether they are even saved because that description of Christianity is not a description of their life.
#5) Implies An “Either/or,” Rather Than A “More & More”: Too often the challenge is given in an either/or fashion or form . . . .
“Are you in love with Jesus, or does this world pull you into stuff, things, possessions, position, power.”
“Do you pray to God every day and spend time in His Word?”
Rather than the real picture of — More & More . . . .
“Who of us would not say that we cannot do better at loving Jesus. It is not that we do not love Jesus, but that we need to love Him the more!”
“We all know that we can do better, that we can be more consistent in prayer and the reading of the Scriptures.”
The goal is not that we will ever attain, but that we have a new life which aspires. The goal needs to be that we are seeking daily to be more Christlike, that we need to die more and more to this world, that the love of God more and more overwhelms us.
It has been said that . . . .
People have not rejected the Christian faith, but a caricature of the Christian faith.
How about a “Preaching Parallelism” to that truth . . . .
People have not given up seeking to live like Christ because they cannot be more and more Christlike. They have given up because they are trying to live lives, preached by pastors, which they cannot attain.
*The life of Barnabas Piper has gone downhill from the days of the writing of his book, the restoration into ministry, and his position in Christian organization. Nevertheless, that downhill journey has not deterred him from being back in the ministry.
**This is some of the text from that actual message.
“This is about crucifixion changing you in the core, in the inside, in the deepest parts of who you are — what you desire — what you want — your passions — all of those have changed – it says — and Paul says that what happens when I make Christ my boast!
That this relationship I used to have has all changed and been altered. I have been crucified, and this world crucified to me . . . .
Give me one pure and holy passion — this world is empty, pale and poor — compared to knowing you, my Lord.
When the cross is the center of my life, and I have died . . . . There is nothing the world can offer, nothing the world can give to me — that is what we need to preach to our teenagers. What our teenagers need and what we need is a healthy dose of I am crucified to those things.”