Many times when we criticize preaching and call out false teaching we have the preachers in mind. We think if we rid the country of false teachers our churches will be sound and our theology right. But there’s a great contibutor to false doctrine that we let go easy. We forget the supply is only available because the market demands it. Our minds don’t pause to imagine that the people on the pews are shaping the man infront as much as he purports to. We think the direction of flow is God to his servant and from pulpit to the congregation. In truth it works both ways and sometimes it’s what the preacher thinks the congregation wants that dictates the Sunday sermon. It’s the congregation to the pulpit and back without God in the picture. Paul warns of this in 2 Timothy 4:3
3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.2 Timothy 4 NIV
People will come to the preaching hour with a craving not to hear from God necessarily but to hear what their minds desperately crave. They come with an urge not always for false hope but whatever makes their hearts skip a bit. Some want to hear mind blowing mysteries and conspiracy theories. A great service for them takes them around fantasy kingdom where they wrestle with demons and leave with secrets only they know. Others want to be blown away by the genius of the man of God. These might fool you with a love of the Word but they are mere intellectuals in a lecture hall. For some it’s another Churchill show and they want to laugh their lungs out. They want a sense of emotion, someone who gives them the feelings. The man of God is easily deceived by these as they seem to flow with him. In truth they are all junkies thirsty for one more jab.
But even when we value God’s Word and want the preacher to point us to the text and context we can also have unrealistic views about preaching. If we expect every sermon will be top notch however we define it, we are no different from these guys. We are still driven by the itch of our ears not what and how God wants us to leave church that day. Yes we should celebrate great preaching that points us to Jesus and keeps our nose on the text of God’s Word. But if we expect it every Sunday we demand a standard the man of God can’t meet and it says much about us not him. In truth, it’s not the best sermon every Sunday that is the mark of a faithful ministry. It’s not the best meal in a great restaurant that keeps us growing and healthy. Sometimes we need some ugali, some omena and once in a while some veggies. It’s a people committed to God and his Word even when the church next door sounds like the Spirit has come in person. It’s when we choose to wrestle with the word and sometimes get it wrong and don’t deliver the best talks that we show we are truly committed to it.
I don’t want to say we should excuse boring preaching. I don’t say we put up with mediocre preachers as long as they quote the Bible. And we shouldn’t think a church can’t be faithful if it’s lively and growing rapidly. But we need to be careful we don’t set a standard for preachers that makes them aim at pleasing us more than God. If we do that we risk the man of God answering to our itching ears and that is neither right nor healthy. Preachers on the other hand shouldn’t be removed from the congregation or merely sing by their tune. Paul advice to Timothy is to both preach the Word all the times whether people like it or not, even when it leads to persecution but also to be invoved in the life of his congregants. To know when they need encouragement or rebuke.
2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
…5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.2 Timothy 4 NIV
The mandate comes from above but it has in mind a people easily tempted, easily discouraged, oftenly forgetful and who mostly prefer the world around them. The preacher needs to remember the medicine of the Word is what they need but careful also to make the right diagnosis. But the congregation needs to be careful lest they make the Lord’s servant doubt his tools of trade. We need to ask ourselves, if the sermon was not what we expected, is it possible we had the wrong expectations? Is it possible we have a wrong view of preaching and we expect it to be a daily meal outside? But when a preacher does his job well it won’t kill us to appreciate him as much as it is his job. That man is a man like any other and there is a lot that would easily discourage and deceive him to follow in the world’s steps like everybody else. Believe you me he’s no different from you. And if you are the kind that easily falls for one criticism imagine how he’d crumble with a thousand. For faithful preaching to work the congregation needs to be on board in the good and the not so good Sundays.