Somewhere along the line a lot of us preachers seem to have lost our civility. I appreciate the critical importance of offering a message that is consistent with the Scriptures, but I also believe that we must speak in a manner that is consistent with the Scriptures. Why do we seem to think that having the right theological content obviates our need to offer it in a manner that is congruent? I appreciate the value of directness and passion. I also appreciate the value of graciousness and a peaceable spirit.
For me, the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 and 23) provide a kind of litmus test for preaching. Preachers must be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good and faithful. They must speak gently and with evident self-control. If they cannot attend to at least this basic description of Christian comportment, then why would anyone be compelled to listen to what they say, no matter how significant a thing it might be that they are saying.
I realize that this very comment might appear to be in violation of the charitable nature of these categories. No doubt these qualities are owned more by aspiration than actualization in my experience – and in yours. It is hard to offer critique without sounding impatient, perhaps even unloving. The problem is that we seem to have got to the point where some preachers wear it as a value that they incite offence. Some preachers see no irony in that they come across obnoxious, relishing every opportunity to bludgeon people with the gospel.
I won’t name anyone in this, because I know that it is not my place to judge the inner workings of another’s heart. To be truthful, I’m not thinking of any one person at the moment. I am speaking rather of a growing inclination toward a kind of angry preaching – a preaching that delights in picking out the flaws and rooting out the inconsistencies in another’s faith and practice.
I hesitate immediately, knowing the reservations my comment must incite. Do I not believe in the preaching of the truth? Am I soft on sin and unconcerned for righteousness? Am I weak in my concern for the lack of truth in the preaching of the modern pulpit?
No to all the above. I don’t believe my comments reflect weakness. They are, rather, an attempt to reflect the character of Christ who came bearing grace and truth, and in the spirit of the apostle Paul who taught us to speak truth in love. I am very concerned for truth and righteousness. It is just that I don’t delight in the exposure of its absence. I believe in preaching sin. I just don’t believe in being gleeful about it.
I am not forgetful of Paul’s comment, that it’s worth rejoicing whenever Christ is preached, whether out of good motive or of bad. But I want to be the kind of preacher that God is pleased to use. I tell my students that the manner of their preaching matters just as much as the message of their preaching. If I can’t observe your message by your manner, I will not be open to your discourse. If I can’t see your message with my eyes, how will I ever hear it with my ears?