Our Great Temptation
One of the greatest temptations preachers face is not to teach hell fire and obedience. Neither is it necessarily to preach a grace that does not lead to and is devoid of obedience. Some might argue that it is to preach an individualistic gospel without any repurcutions for our corporate living. Others might say that it is to totally ignore individual piety as an important category for theological reflection.
Preaching What People Want to Hear
However, I think that our greatest temptation as preachers is to simply preach that which the people want to hear. Please do not misunderstand. Many of us find ourselves in churches and contexts that believe in railing against certain sins. These certain sins may be different depedening on the context. For example, in some churches the preacher has not preached until he or she has railed against smoking and drinking. In those contexts the preacher may have the misconception that she or he is preaching the straight testimony when preaching against these habits. The people, in these churches, love this. Part of the reason they loves this, however, is that they have no such issue with these particular vices. So the preacher is “hard-core” even though she or he has not addressed the congregation.
Some of us find ourselves in congregations where paradoxically it is easy to talk against “hypocrites” in the church. It is funny that sometimes the folks shouting the loudest are the ones who are guilty of this particular sin. Here the preacher is playing his or her role and the people love it. The message is separate from them and never made to touch them.
Some of us find ourselves in congregations that the only thing that is desired is things that prop up our “assurance of salvation.” Sometimes preachers in this context will preach about how “you may not wanna hear it, but God has given you this assurance.” Certainly there is a time for such a message, but when it is preached to those who expect it and who are in desparate need for ethical training for the saved, such preaching is easy and leaves people without the next step.
God’s Word Confronts
It is easy to preach what the people want to hear, whatever that is. But the prophetic gospel confronts us with Grace when we wanted to hear law so desperately. It prods us with law when we want an indulgent Santa-Clause for God. It teaches us of our corporate responsibilities when we just want to hear about a “personal relationship with Jesus.” It shocks us with personal piety, when we only want the preacher to tell us about relieving social pain in the world. In short, the message that God has given us to preach is about change and transformation. Not just about changing the other guy, or even changing us, but about changing our own desires about what the Gospel will do.
The Message Should Shock You
If the implications of the message that you are preaching does not surprise you every so often, if it does not shock you at times, if it does not wake you up out of your sleeping, then you need to go back to the text and find out what God is really saying rather than what the Status-Quo in your church is saying. Stop giving the people warmed over pablum and calling it meat. Start preaching the transforming message of a coming kingdom. The people may get mad, but “when we’ve been there 10,000 years, they will be happy somebody told them the truth.