When the apostle Paul commended the ancient Christians in Berea for confirming that the message they heard originated from scripture, he underscored the responsibility of the listener in evaluating the message being proclaimed in God’s name.
Whereas many will be content to embrace whatever message is proclaimed from the pulpit, the New Testament writers counsel us to take a deeper look (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 John 4:1). Our very lives could depend upon it.
Such a mindset should lead us to consider how those who stand in the pulpit are handling God’s word. Even non-Christian casual observers who listen to a number of sermons from several speakers ought to quickly distinguish marked differences.
Some preachers border on being comedians while others are quite serious. Some may read extensively from the Bible while others only briefly refer to it. And of course, if enough sermons are heard, preachers from different churches will be presenting different messages.
In many respects and whether we like it or not, preachers function like filters controlling the message the congregation hears. The preacher’s motivation and beliefs make up this filter.
While hardly exhaustive, there are a huge variety of motivations and beliefs which can work together to limit and shape the message which the congregation will hear. Some of these motivations might include:
- This congregation needs to be credible to society.
- The numerical base of this congregation must grow.
- As a congregation, we need to change toward being more active in social concerns.
- We need to steer a middle of the road approach, or we need to be on the cutting edge, or still yet we need to maintain the trustworthy traditions of our parents.
- This congregation needs to be an affirming and accepting hospital for the world’s wounded.
When such motivations are combined with the plethora of beliefs sloshing around, the result is inevitable. Some possible beliefs different ministers might hold include:
- The message needs to be expressed within all of the cultural forms and values a society recognizes.
- People will come if the message is always positive, empowering and affirmative.
- Most Americans are suspicious of any message which claims to be absolute truth.
- The problem with churches in the past is that they __________, therefore I need to emphasize the opposite.
- We need to understand scripture as _____________ taught it.
Accordingly, in some churches certain topics or texts will never be proclaimed. In other churches, God may be spoken of as being both male and female. The list goes on.
Paul provided both the foundation for proclaiming the entire message of God as it was intended as well as modeled such a ministry. He taught that all scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, training and correcting (2 Timothy 3:16).
Furthermore, being aware of his responsibility to proclaim the whole counsel of God, he emphasized that he had fulfilled his duty (Acts 20: 26,27).
The preacher is not the only one who bears responsibility. Those who listen, need to consider the message they are hearing.