Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us (Acts 10:33).
A preacher once complained that his congregation was being eaten alive by boredom. He lamented what he perceived to be a twofold problem — himself and his church. As for himself, he feared that he was the source of the boredom. He wondered whether he had the ability to communicate the gospel in an effective manner. Am I that boring? Do I have what it takes to preach a sermon that is simultaneously accurate and interesting? Perhaps the problem is me! As for his church, he wondered whether the problem might reside with them. Maybe they lack an appetite for the Word of God. After all, don’t many of them dine regularly on the junk food of the entertainment industry? No wonder they have no stomach for my well-balanced sermonic-meals. Perhaps the problem is them!
Some preachers have struggled with such questions. They wobble back and forth between assurances that their preaching is a-okay and criticisms that their pulpit work is dull as dirt. They see-saw up and down, assigning guilt first to the pulpit and then to the pew.
Where scenarios like this exist, immediate action is in order. First, let us admit that the problem can be a disinterested and spiritually immature pew. Second, let us admit that the problem can be a disinterested and passionless preacher. Third, let us admit that the problem can therefore be common to preacher and pew — that the problem is us!
This common problem is two-fold: a loss of confidence in the Word of God and a loss of eagerness to hear it. When pulpit and pew lose confidence in the Word of God, preaching suffers significantly and so does eagerness to hear it preached. So, what to do? Well, the pew should confess the sin of apathy: the Scripture is read, the sermon commences, and members eagerly sit back for their customary doze. The pulpit must confess the sin of laziness: many preachers simply aren’t willing to put in the effort to produce heart searching, up-to-date, touch-us-where-we-live sermons.
After repentance comes reform. In reforming our expectations, we will begin anew to revere the Word of God for what it is — the Word of God! We must regain an eagerness to hear the Word of the Lord, an eagerness written on our faces and pulsing through our hearts. Likewise, preachers must regain an eagerness to preach the Word. Any preacher who isn’t eager to do so should repent or find another profession. The entire scene ought to remind us of the episode in the house of Cornelius the centurion when the apostle Peter arrived. Cornelius said to him: “Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (Acts 10:33). Notice that they are in the presence of God. Peter preaches, but it is God who is doing the talking. Notice too the pew — they are there to listen to everything the Lord has commanded. Shame on the church when it expects so little from God in the preaching of His Word. Shame on preachers who have taught the pew their meager expectation. But let shame give way to eagerness, an eagerness to hear the Word of God so that we might also possess an eagerness to live the Word of God. Surely if preaching is boring the problem is us.
Rev. J. Mark Beach is Professor of Ministerial Studies at Mid-America Seminary in Dyer, Indiana.
Reprinted from The Messenger, a publication of Mid-America Reformed Seminary.