If you want to build an audience, talk relationships. It really works. Spiritual gurus have built their empires addressing the subject. After all, who doesn’t need help to improve their marriage? Talking relationship is the most relevant subject anyone could address.
I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that the American church has latched on to the real potential for church growth here. Countless pastors get up on their stages, dim the lights, and begin with a scenario like this: “Good morning! Today, we are going to talk about relationships–happiness in relationships. Are you having a bad marriage? Do you need help to recover the romance? Wives are you tired? Have you lost your bearings? Husbands, are you wondering where the fire went?” The pastor replies, “Well, I have “good news” for you. For the next two months we are going to begin a series on relationships. God has something in store for all of you. You just need to tap into his resource box.” Then comes the bomb . “Today”, says the minister, “we are starting right at the issue that no one has ever been bold enough to address in the church, and that is sex.”
The above scenario is happening in countless churches across the US on a given Sunday. I remember reading about Daystar Church in Good Hope, Alabama, where the pastor had a month long focus on sex in his sermons and it was explicit. In fact, the church raised a billboard throughout the county that advertised the Sunday worship services with this new series: “Great Sex God’s Way.” Citizens were confused. A local truck driver spoke out, “Paul said preach the Gospel. Talking about sex ain’t gonna get nobody to heaven.”
The point of the truck driver should be taken seriously. What makes pastors experts on these subjects? When I studied to be a minister of the gospel, there were no classes on how to have better sex in my marriage relationship. I was trained for a specific purpose. That purpose was to preach the law and the gospel in such a way that aimed for the conversion of people’s lives. Have we forgotten that the primary goal of all Christian ministry is to reconcile sinners to God?
The Scriptures command pastors to bring the Word of God to bear on the hearer’s conscience with the goal that people would be presented perfect in Christ on that day. We do not deal merely with symptoms. Our goal in preaching the law of God is to address sin in people’s lives to lead them into Christ’s gracious arms to receive the forgiveness of sins. To be sure, through preaching, the pastor should seek to conform believers into the image of Christ as they pursue a new life of righteousness with a thankful heart. But there are priorities in the way ministry should be approached.
Does this mean pastors should never address subjects such as sex from the pulpit? We address them in so far as the Word calls us to address them. Our applications must arise from the text itself. But this is not what is happening in the above scenarios. The applications are often completely divorced from the Bible and manipulated by the pastor to gain a following. Most topical sermon series on these subjects have little, if any, obvious connection to what the Bible is actually saying. This is precisely the underhanded ways Paul warns against in Christian ministry.
There are numerous dangers with this kind of preaching ministry, but here are three of the most important:
- A Cult of Personality Develops: The people become too dependent on the pastor. This, I suspect, is the real problem. Christianity today thrives on the cult of personality and pastors are pushing harder than ever to be that personality.
- The Preaching Becomes Moralism: The message panders to the desires and felt needs of the people. In the process the ministry is becoming a new kind of legalism based on the pastor’s rules and insights for a better way of life. The theology of the cross is replaced with a theology of glory, now.
- The Witness of Christ is Undermined: Isn’t it sad to read of the truck driver above crying out because the church is not doing what it should be doing? What effect might the pastor have in his community if he were consistently preaching Christ with conviction and power? Faithful witness to Christ is bound together with faithfully exalting his person and work. When this is removed, there is very little the church offers that the world does not already offer.
Pastors are not called to be sex therapists, economists, politicians, scientists, or preachers of social causes. Pastors are heralds of the good news of God’s provision of a savior who came to us to convey us out of darkness into the kingdom of righteousness. There is something heavenly, powerful, and different about the sound of this message. “We preached Christ,” said the apostle, and God’s people, more than ever, need to hear that voice.
–Christopher J Gordon, Escondido, CA
Adapted from an article written in 2010