When this blog was still in its prenatal stages, a young friend sent me over forty questions he thought younger pastors would have about ministry. Many of them, like this one, are rather provocative. Perhaps you find yourself in this situation or know someone who is.
My answer assumes that you’re an Associate or Assistant Pastor. And the first part of my response will not be very helpful to you if you’re stuck in this situation. But it might help someone contemplating taking a position in a church.
If you are considering serving on the staff of a church, I would suggest that you listen to several – and I mean several – sermons before you accept the position. It might be a very attractive opportunity. But you and your family will also be attending the church, so you also want to consider the same factors you would if you were not in ministry and you were looking for a home church. And that includes the quality of the preaching you’ll hear each week.
But you’ve made the decision, and you find yourself in a position where you are regularly struggling with the preaching. What do you do?
First, some things not to do:
Don’t stage a coup.
You may laugh or recoil at the mere suggestion, but it’s not that far-fetched. You can unintentionally plant seeds of discord in your church by sharing your thoughts with the wrong people. You (and your wife) cannot risk saying anything to people within the church. If you do plan to talk about it, you need to find someone who can keep the matter in the strictest confidence. Never put yourself in the place of undercutting your pastor. That means that you don’t entertain other people’s criticisms of his preaching, regardless of how you feel. Certainly James 4:11-12 applies here.
Don’t give him books on preaching.
That’s just not gonna cut it.
So what can you do? What are your options for dealing with this?
First, check yourself.
What I mean is check your own heart. Is it just a matter of preference, or do you feel you could do a better job? You know what? You might! But nurturing that attitude will do nothing good for you or your church. It will affect your relationship with your people, your relationship with your Pastor, and God’s blessing on your own preaching. Run from this!
Second, identify why you dislike his preaching.
Look, every preacher has a different style, you included. That’s why we all have favorite preachers. How we preach is the product of several factors: what they taught us in school, what we picked up (often unwittingly) from other preachers, and our personality, just to name a few. If you don’t resonate with his style, remember that you can still learn and grow if he is teaching the Bible clearly. And try to avoid comparing him to one of your favorites. You wouldn’t want someone comparing you in that way.
Next, pray for him.
Preaching is hard, and like athletes, pastors go through slumps too. From my experience and from talking to other pastors, sometimes our sermons just seem to fall flat. As you know, most pastors have a lot to do besides preach. Sometimes those other responsibilities end up impacting our preaching. And then there are personal things that the pastor is going through, or church problems he is dealing with.
But remember: God prospers the preaching of his Word. Your pastor might not be the greatest orator or the greatest theologian. But if he is faithful to the text, God will use him. You don’t have to love his style of preaching, but challenge yourself to find something to take away from the sermon.
If you still feel that the preaching is seriously deficient, I believe that the best response is to begin (quietly) to look for another place to serve. Senior Pastors have a right to expect loyalty from their associate staff members. In most cases, the Senior Pastor will have been there longer than you have.
Your job is not to rescue the church from what you consider less-than-stellar preaching. If you are talking about preaching heresy that’s one thing. But if you are unhappy with the “how” of your Pastor’s preaching or the things he emphasizes, that attitude will only deepen with time. Sooner or later that will make itself known. And you don’t want that.
If you can’t cheerfully live with the situation, then pray for an opportunity to move on, be humble and respectful, and be open to the possibility that what you consider deficient is not so much deficiency but a difference of style or personality. And if you leave, don’t drop a bomb by criticizing the preaching. Keep that to yourself.
In the meantime, guard your own heart and pray for the man God has placed in the role of preaching each week.