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June 13, 2008


There was a specific moment in time when a decision was made that left me thinking very differently about ministry. The time was the mid 80’s after almost a dozen years in full time ministry. Before I go further into the actual decision let me share a story and some thoughts. 


Some years earlier I had a conversation with an older preaching friend from a town nearby. I asked him, “Why do you preach the way you do?”  I had experienced his style of preaching as I grew up attending gospel meetings with my family. The preaching was hard, direct, critical and always called for those who had been identified by the sermon as sinners to respond with a trip to the front of the church building during an elongated invitation song. I don’t remember his response to that question but whatever it was led to a follow-up question I do remember, “Do you believe that everyone listening to you is a hypocrite?” While I have forgotten much of that conversation from 20 plus years ago, his answer was memorable. His answer was a simple “Yes.” (By the way, my friend would not have objected to my characterization of his preaching style. His love for God and his understanding of ministry led him to the decision to preach as he did.)


The questions grew out of thoughts that had been rolling around in my head as a result of thinking about Jesus’ words to the feeble disciples compared to His words to the hypocritical Pharisees. There seemed to me to be a huge difference. To the hypocrites He spoke in final terms of judgment but to the disciples it seemed more correction joined with further explanation, guidance and direction. Rather than, “you are going to hell because….” there were words like, “Don’t you yet understand? Let me explain….” It wasn’t as though there was no correction, but the correction was couched in, “Let’s regroup, reconsider and recommit.”


In examining the preaching I had heard and much of what I had done I saw that there was always a highlighting of human failures, disobedience and sin as well as a description of the ways in which we are a huge disappointment to God. There were also the calculations which led to declaring many other things sinful by implication, direction and “it just doesn’t look right.”With good intentions we declared it a sin to: be absent from Sunday PM worship, use the expletives “gosh” “dog gone it” and “jees”, wear pant suits, smoke cigarettes, own two cars and a boat, not give 10 percent of gross income, not have personally shared the gospel with and baptized someone, mix bathe, dance in any shape form or fashion, drink any alcohol other than medications, use a modern translation, hold hands in church, wear shorts, etc. etc. etc.


As I continued to examine the preaching I had heard I noted that it was not uncommon for sermons to progress from introduction to conclusion without even a simple mention of God’s love and his gracious desire to help us through and lift us up. It was almost always a Jeremiah style; “repent or perish you bunch of rebellious hellions” type message. I noticed one other thing in my looking back to the preaching I had personally experienced. I could not remember even one example of a sermon where God’s mercy and grace was preached without the “balancing” caveat of, “But we all know that faith without works is dead and God expects us to obey Him.” Yet, I could recall many examples where sins were listed, condemned and judgment was pronounced without a single mention of God’s gentle loving grace. It was as if to mention grace would have let the sinners off of the hook….


This post is long so I’ll follow it up with two others in the next couple of days:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. lesjr permalink
    June 14, 2008 7:40 pm

    I am looking forward to the “rest of the story.”

    Check out my blog as well, my friend!

  2. Sarah permalink
    June 15, 2008 4:24 pm

    I am looking forward to future comments also. Coincidently I ran into a former member today, now non-attending and she was talking about this very topic…about how “hard” the church is toward those in its midst struggling and how she has left the church, but not God. I believed her. She was one of the best bible school teachers my children ever had.

    I exchanged hugs with my sister today, we spoke of missing our former interactions…and I left her with tears in her eyes…we sure do let each other and our LORD down.

  3. June 15, 2008 11:05 pm


    Your heart always touches me. I am sure the same is true of the friend you speak of.

    Please let her know that we love her and that we would love to be fellow strugglers with her. We all need the same thing and the church family is to be the safest place in the world to receive it.

    I will be praying with you for her!

    By HIS Grace!

  4. June 16, 2008 2:42 pm

    I too would like to follow this series of posts.
    That mixed bathing thing is serious though. Nobody should take a bath together unless they are married, I guess!!! I know what you are talking about but that’s part of the problem…some who hear this kind of preaching don’t have a clue…nor should they.
    Thanks for the post,

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