Are you looking for a whipping or a harvest?

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by Mike Benson

Over 30+ years of ministry, I’ve occasionally heard various church members say, “Preacher, I think we need a sermon on_____________________.”

The subject suggestions have been as diverse as those who offered them. Frequently, but not always, the proposals leaned towards moral issues like modesty, sex, or beverage alcohol.

Sometimes they gravitated more towards specific doctrinal issues like marriage and divorce, giving, or the oneness of the church.

I’ve always been curious as to what really prompts people to offer sermon suggestions in the first place. Sometimes I’ve been courageous enough to inquire as to why they think a particular message needs to be addressed.

What I’ve discovered from listening is that some brethren request specific sermons because they’ve got a burr in their saddle.

They’re aggravated with a fellow church member who doesn’t meet their own personal–dare I say it–Pharisaic expectations, and so sermon suggestions are tendered as a means of fixing folks. “So-and-so is doing this…and so you need to preach a good sermon on this”–whatever this may be.

I call these, “whippin’ sermons.” Whippin’ sermons are where I’m urged to preach on pet subjects and verbally whip a church member or members into submission.

In essence, Mike needs to tell off weak members via the pulpit in one glorious fire and brimstone message; he needs to correct folks and one whippin’ sermon will do the trick.

I’ve never been able to find quick-fix, duct-tape, whippin’ sermons in the Bible. I do find occasions where some preached with improper motives (cf. Philippians 1:15-16), but even they didn’t reap immediate, instantaneous results.

What I do find in the Scriptures is where prophets and preachers did a lot of seed planting (Luke 8:4-8; 11-15). They scattered the seed–Word, cultivated it, fertilized it, and watered it in anticipation of an eventual God-given harvest (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Strange as it may sound, it is not a preacher’s job to fix anybody. Correct (2 Timothy 3:16-4:3), yes; fix, no. It’s not his job to tomahawk members of the body of Christ into compliance.

It is his God-given responsibility is to scatter the precious Word–seed on different soils and then let God do his part (Isaiah 55:10-11).

A preacher knows the seed is good. He knows some soil is good. He also knows some soil will soften over time given the right conditions.

Have you ever heard of a person who listened to just one whippin’ sermon and obeyed in totality?

More likely what you’ve witnessed is that over time, with repetitive, consistent, loving seed-planting and instruction, as well as godly influence and patience (1 Peter 3:1-4), a person eventually came to the truth and made a successive, gradual change.

If either a preacher or a farmer forces seed on blacktop, you can be certain there won’t be any growth or legitimate conversion. That’s true in the field as well as in the pew.

Do I covet sermon suggestions? Absolutely! Do I intend to preach one-hit wonders so that somebody can vicariously get at somebody else in the assembly? Not for a minute.

Give that a thought the next time you find yourself saying, “Preacher, I think we need a sermon on____________________.” The person who may really need a whippin’ won’t be the “weak” brother, but you.

One thought on “Are you looking for a whipping or a harvest?

  1. I’ve asked for one sermon in my life–the annual “don’t go to prom” sermon, since–scarily enough–Katie’s school has a 5th grade mixer that is extremely popular, and we were not going to let her go. I wanted her to hear what we were going to tell her presented by someone else, because it would have more credibility coming from the pulpit than from us (she took it well, btw). But for all the other times I’ve heard a sermon prefaced by “I’ve been asked to preach about this,” I–and others–have spent the WHOLE time wondering who asked for it, why they asked for it, and what was their problem with [person’s name here]. The funniest example of this was a sermon on language, which I am pretty sure every woman in the congregation thought came from [person’s name here], only to find out during an angst-filled discussion at ladies’ Bible class that this individual was worried that someone was targeting her! Notice that none of us were as concerned about getting rid of some euphemisms in our speech as much as we were about who in the congregation was out to get us and secretly judging our every word. You can’t exist and function in a congregation in which you feel watched and criticized. It’s not healthy–it makes for anxious, paranoid, and eventually angry, touchy people. So, sorry for the lengthy story–but this is just spot-on, and I truly appreciate the last paragraph.

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