From one end to the other, God's Word tells us how wonderful God's Word is. Better than gold and sweeter than honey it is. Job said, "I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12).
We preachers believe this. And we say those words to our people. We like our people to bring their Bibles to church, open them as we read and preach, and use them when they return home.
There is nothing wrong with our aspirations in this regard.
However, when it comes to connecting our people with God's Word personally to the point that they will become ardent readers and diligent students of Scripture, we should give ourselves a C-minus. And sometimes, an F.
Without any research or study to back it up, I will state categorically that the typical member of our churches—the kind of church people who fill your pews each Sunday and are your best supporters, pastor—takes his Bible home and does not open it until the next time you rise to preach.
There is something wrong here. As a general rule, we pastors are doing a poor job of encouraging our flock to love the Word and live in the Word so that they might live "by" the Word. That is the point, after all. Jesus said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). It is the doing of the Word which is our goal (James 1:22).
Question: In what ways are we dropping the ball? How are we failing to encourage our people to love God's Word and to live in it?
When I asked Facebook friends to join this conversation, they pinpointed seven ways.
- A pastor discourages his people from opening their Bible, reading it and loving it when he overdoes the Greek and Hebrew. The pastor reads a text, then says, "Now, the Greek does not say that. This verb in the Greek is a past pluperfect intransitive and when coupled with an indirect object of the active preposition means 'sometimes but not always.' So, the translators got it wrong here."
You want to run out the door screaming.
Brendan: The pastor makes the Scripture seem too complicated when he spends a lot of time digging into the Greek and Hebrew. Members go away feeling only the Ph.Ds can grasp its meaning.
People walk out the door believing the Bible they hold in their hands is untrustworthy and inadequate.
Now, as a college student, I loved the times when a preacher brought some fresh insight from the original languages. My conclusion is there is a time and place for this, but if overdone, this practice is deadening to the spirit.
- A pastor discourages his people from loving the Bible when he undermines their confidence in its inspiration. I was visiting in a church one day when the pastor's entire message centered on how John 8:1-11 (the story of the adulterous woman brought before Jesus) is not found in the oldest manuscripts of Scripture. After completely destroying their confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible, he concluded by assuring his people that in spite of all this, the Bible in their hands was God's inspired word and could be trusted. Therefore, they should read it and live by it. But his final words could not undo the damage the sermon had caused.
Pastors need to settle once and for all that "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Unless you believe that with all your heart, pastor, you will not be able to bring your people to the same confidence and faithful trust. (For any minister not believing this—or having serious doubts as to the integrity of the Word—there is plenty of help available. I suggest you start by calling your mentor, some older pastor whom you love and trust. If you don't have one, find one now.)
- When he gives only lip service to the Word in the worship service and the sermon, no one is encouraged to know the Word.
Terry: Pastors will read one or two verses up front, then spend a half-hour on unrelated stories, his opinions and reviews of books he has read.
No wonder our people do not return home eager to get into the Word and incorporate its truths into their lives. We are not showing them those truths.
Jim: We fail our people when we do not preach what the Word is teaching.
Charlie: We silence the Word by putting our own spin (cultural, political, racial and so forth) on Scripture rather than letting it speak for itself.
May I add that we can go too far in the other direction too. I like the image of the pastor holding the Bible in one hand and today's newspaper (remember those?) in the other. Preach the word, pastor, but show its relevance to what's going on today.
- When his sermons ignore the Scriptural message, he fails his people. He may read from a text, have the Bible read as a part of the service and still deliver a sermon devoid of any biblical content. The Lord said, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me" (Matt. 15:8, quoting Isa. 29:13).
This is mostly a repetition of the third point but needs saying. How often have we heard sermons that exist apart from Scripture. A few verses were read up front, but then they were completely ignored in order for the preacher to deliver this neat little package of stories and personal convictions. You could have heard the same thing in a civic club meeting.
Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
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