Having been a Christian now for nearly 20 years and a pastor for a little more than 10 of those, I’ve heard and preached a number of sermons. I believe the sermon is an important part of the church’s life. God has ordained preaching to be a tool for good in the church. Through preaching he helps to remake and reshape his people into the image of his Son. But preaching, like the rest of the Christian life, is in the context of a spiritual battle. Hearing a sermon is not an automatic sanctification pill. Sadly, many times the sermon gets undermined by other factors.
To make my point of our perennial priority to give attention to the preached Word, I’ve written this article with a degree of satire to serve as a contrast to make its serious points clear enough.
With that, here are five ways to sabotage your pastor’s sermons.
Don’t do anything to get ready for it
One way to sabotage a sermon is to simply show up. “What? Showing up sabotages the sermon?” Yes. The Bible teaches us that believers have indwelling sin. It’s messy, tricky stuff. It gets into everything. And if it’s not properly dealt with, it can wreak havoc in your life and the church. In James 1 we read about how people carry on in self-deception and hypocrisy. They are just hearers of the Word and not doers. But what is the remedy that James provides?
“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21)
Prior to hearing the Word, Christians are to put away or put off remaining sin. The idea is of taking off filthy clothes. The first word (filthiness) was also used of ear wax. The admittedly repulsive picture is drawn of sin being like wax that prevents us from hearing the Word.
Sitting under the Word of God preached is a spiritual practice. God is dealing with our hearts through the Word. James is advocating that we actually go to work on our own hearts before the sermon (or any other time in the Word). To neglect the indwelling sin is to neglect the priority of sanctification. If you want to sabotage the sermon then you simply need to come with a neglected heart, overgrown with the weeds of sin. If you don’t want to actually change, then simply do nothing but show up.
Pretend that you have it all together
When we think about the sermon we have to remember that it is built upon the premise that we are not what we should be and that preaching is a tool God uses to help us get there. Any preacher worth his salt will regularly emphasize the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. With this he will also underscore the truth that we all need the grace of Christ. In order to sabotage this work, all you have to do is pretend that you don’t ever sin. When people ask you how you’re doing, simply say, “Great!” Never show any signs of weakness, need, lament, or despair over sin. Vulnerability is a word that needn’t be mentioned nor modeled. It may not seem like much at the moment, but over time, you will show others that the preacher doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Soon others will realize that most people are like you and can get along just fine on their own. Preaching will become practically irrelevant.
Refuse to pursue peace with others
One of the hallmarks of the Christian church is our love for one another. This love comes from our understanding of how God has loved us. Therefore, how we treat others sheds light upon what we really think God is like. Good preachers will preach on topics like justification by faith and remind you that God has graciously pursued peace with rebels like us. They will even plead with others to come and be reconciled to God. If you want to sabotage this message all you have to do is refuse to make peace with others. Stew on conflict. Nurse a grudge. Distance yourself. Whatever you have to do. Over time you will realize that as appealing as it seems, and as much as people want the sermon to be true, all they have to do is look around at the church and see that it’s not. How could a church characterized by conflict know anything about a God who pursues peace with them?
Live in isolation from other believers
Pastors love to talk about the church. They remark about how the church is a community where people from diverse backgrounds come together with one common bond that transcends all other earthy identities. They preach about the need to spend time together fellowshiping and having intentional relationships. This type of authenticity will sound good to the new guys. But soon they will see you and how you don’t talk to them, spend time with them, or any other Christians. The initial intrigue and appeal will be doused with the cold bucket of reality.
Never talk to unbelievers about Jesus
On paper the exclusivity of Christ is a hard doctrine. The implications of there only being one way to heaven are staggering. If people do not come to faith in Christ then they will go to hell forever. If this doctrine is believed, then any decent, feeling person would have a strong compulsion to warn others of the peril of rejecting Christ. But if over time you and your friends adopt a posture that refuses to experience the uncomfortable conversations that accompany evangelism, you may be able to build up resistance against evangelistic exhortations. In time other Christians will look around at people like you who are regulars at church and wonder to themselves if they really need to talk to unbelievers about Jesus. In time evangelistic apathy will give way to atrophy. These appeals for zealous evangelism will dissolve before they descend on the pews.
Of course all you must do is flip these on their heads to identify some ways to benefit from and help others to benefit from the preached Word.