When the modern preacher spends time studying the Old Testament prophets he is often inspired by these bold leaders who seem to care little about audience reception and care nothing about personal reputation. We applaud their willingness to speak truth to an audience unwilling to receive it.
These “disputation speeches” can be found in the prophetic writings of the Major Prophets and Minor Prophets alike. Often these prophets were preaching to very hostile and skeptical audiences and therefore come across as aggressive and even argumentative.
The book of Malachi is a perfect example of this. There are a series of disputes that Malachi gives to the unbelieving crowd. God declares, “I have loved you.” The people argue back, “How have you loved us?” Again, Malachi declares, “You have robbed God!” The people answer back, “How have we robbed God?”
Naturally, the Old Testament preacher simply reflected the hostile spirit of the audience.
Unfortunately there have been times I, as a preacher under a new testament, have taken that hostile spirit behind the pulpit to a congregation that was neither skeptical nor hostile.
I’m starting to learn that…
We are not O.T. Prophets but N.T. Pastors
Isn’t there a difference? America is not Israel. I’m not called to keep a nation from forsaking its God. Instead, I’m called to shepherd a flock I’ve been given and look for lost sheep to bring into the fold. As I disciple each new convert, they will begin to develop a Biblical worldview that will affect their family, community involvement, and political choices. Sadly, we often grow so frustrated with the people outside of our congregation that we begin preaching sermons to people who aren’t even in our pews. Aggressively attacking the ills of a society that isn’t listening while the sheep remain unfed.
II Timothy 2:24-26 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.
The New Testament pastor has very specific instructions on how to address his audience in an effort to persuade them to truth. But sadly, I often find myself like Moses: frustrated, furious, and fuming (Numbers 20:10-11).
About a year ago I was preaching the Christian principle of abundant giving. I used the example of The Giving Pledge currently growing in popularity among American billionaires in which they pledge to give away a majority of their fortune by the day they die. I had written into my sermon the following statement. “’Oh, pastor… If I had a billion dollars then I too would be a generous giver.’ I’m sure that you think you would!” I planned to retort sarcastically. “But if you’re not giving now of your dozens of dollars you’re a liar to think you’d give generously with your billions of dollars.”
Pithy, right? Like a good movie critic I was prepared with scathing statements and poignant put-downs. But why? I was not speaking to a hostile crowd filled antagonistic people. I was preaching to my church. I love them and they love me. They are not a rebellious nation but a holy nation (I Peter 2:9). They desire to hear truth and follow God’s Word. Why should I address them in such a hostile way? Moreover, how many would’ve I convinced through my unwarranted sarcasm? Not many, I wager.
I’m also learning that…
We are not Preaching to the Culture but Preaching to the Church
I Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you…
Young Peter had a tendency to be too brash and too bold. This propensity got him into trouble. Therefore, Jesus sat him down one early morning and gave him simply instructions, “feed my sheep.” Our Lord even repeated this 3 times to Peter. He didn’t say, “Change the world.” He didn’t say, “Convert the Emperor.” He just told him to “Feed my sheep.”
Peter was so moved by this that when writing to pastors 30 years later he repeated these simple words. “Feed the flock of God which is among you.” Peter had seen after thirty years of doing THAT – the rest of God’s plan would come to fruition. In fact, centuries of church history have shown us that the world did change, the emperor publicly confessed Christ, and Rome eventually fell – all as ministers were faithfully willing to preach to the church.
How do we know when we have stopped preaching to the church? When we find in our sermons little biblical explanation and insignificant life application for the people in our audience, we’ve missed the target. Though cultural issues of the day must be periodically addressed we must remain focused on relevant Bible sermons. How many lost sheep are walking out of our churches in discouragement and disillusionment because they came to hear a preacher talk about Jesus but instead heard a warrior talk about culture? There is a reason our churches are shrinking though our voices are getting louder.
Lastly, I’m starting to learn…
A Focus on the Culture is Distracting – A Focus on the Pastorate is Clarifying
We must remember the pastor’s ultimate goal is not to change culture but to shepherd his flock (I Peter 5:4). But in faithfully doing so, God will begin to change culture through a slowly growing and changing flock. Cultural change is the result of shepherding, not the goal. When we confuse the two we begin to see ourselves as culture-warriors rather than biblical-pastors.
II Timothy 4:2-3 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
Why should we be so focused on patiently preaching the Word of God to our local church, for our local church, and at our local church? Because the days have arrived where the preacher is unable to compete with the talking heads, corrupt politicians, and culture warriors of our society.
II Timothy 4:4-5 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
Others will be distracted by endless debates and fascinating stories. But we are to be utterly focused on the work of the local church. When we stay focused, endure difficulties, convert the lost, and faithfully work our ministry – God will exalt His name, bless our disciples, and enlarge our ministries.
America, and the rest of the world for that matter, has great hope for the future if the tens of thousands of Bible-believing churches would refocus on evangelism and discipleship. 10 years from now we would have far more true Christians and deeper disciples. This would lead to a culture shift far greater than any other thing we could possibly do. And this may keep us from becoming frustrated, argumentative, and hostile.
Perhaps there will be a day when the Lord gives me an opportunity to speak to an audience who is hostile, skeptical, and argumentative. In that day I hope to speak with as much boldness, authority, and passion as the prophets of old. But until that day I will remember the audiences to whom I am speaking. These audiences are filled with authentic followers of Jesus and genuine seekers of truth. They deserve a preacher who believes in the power of God and believes the best of his audience.
What are your thoughts? Where am I going wrong? Where do you agree? What have I missed? Please comment in the thread below and I will attempt to answer each.
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Stephen CurryOctober 16, 2017 at 5:26 pm
Right on target Josh. Appreciate your heart and open candor. God has certainly worked in this in my life in recent years and I have found I have been more effective all around with “results” when I focus on the Word and the Lord of the Word. A great reminder that we have a first obligation to “those who are there” rather than “those who are not”.
Josh TeisOctober 16, 2017 at 8:39 pm
Thanks Stephen. Focusing on those who are actually in the pews is a must.
ZachOctober 16, 2017 at 6:20 pm
I whole heartedly agree with much of what you wrote Pastor Josh. I have been teaching children who ride our busses to church that its our job to carry the gospel, simply as telling parents, friends and teachers what they learned in church.
You seemed to echo some of what the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me about over the last year or two.
Josh TeisOctober 16, 2017 at 8:40 pm
Glad to hear it Zach.
TommyOctober 16, 2017 at 6:56 pm
Can I just retweet this line by line already???? LOVE this! Our culture is truly changed sermon by sermon, week by week, heart by heart. For some, it’s just easier to rant! Thank you for speaking to this, and as always, your spirit! Love you Bro!
Josh TeisOctober 16, 2017 at 8:42 pm
Wow – thanks for your my friend. Too often I find myself ready to rant rather than preach the Word.
Ramon CocolanOctober 16, 2017 at 7:07 pm
The sheep must be warned of the outside dangers, but also directed to the green pastures. The sheep are responsible for eating, but the Shepard has to lead them there. I will say that even within the church there will be times that wolves have to be addressed, and that’s not easy or fun, but needful. Great thoughts in general.
Josh TeisOctober 16, 2017 at 8:50 pm
I agree that the pastor has a responsibility of warning the sheep of dangers that lurk outside the flock. I just wonder if we are actually warning the flock or ranting against the world. A good test for this is the “preaching to the choir” test.
If the topic I am addressing is agreed upon by the vast majority of those in attendance then it may be that I’m not actually teaching the congregation but rather preaching to the choir.
If the topic I am addressing is something that the people in the congregation are in disagreement upon – it will lead the loving shepherd to address the audience in a way that will attempt to convince them rather than alienate them.
I hope this makes sense.
Rob MooersOctober 16, 2017 at 7:31 pm
Pastor! So poignant, especially with everything going on in the country & world right now. It’s easy to feel like there’s a need to run around and screw everyone’s heads back on straight, because they all seem like they’re collectively losing it out there some days… but that’s not the mission, and there’s no way WE can fix it all at once and relieve all that frustration we feel when we see it. You just keep bringing it down there and God will change the hearts and minds of those with the ears to hear, and they’ll carry it with them and change others, and so on!
Josh TeisOctober 16, 2017 at 8:50 pm
Thanks Bobby! We sure do miss you since you had to move away. Love you and the fam!
Brett PennellOctober 16, 2017 at 9:08 pm
Josh, I don’t think that we have ever met, but I appreciate the article. This is something that the Lord has dealt with in my life over the last number of years. Shepherd the flock. Feed the sheep. These things are best done by preaching the Bible.
Rodney LoveOctober 16, 2017 at 11:49 pm
Great article. I agree that we can easily miss our original calling and that ultimately affects our people. . Keep up what you are doing.
Jeremiah DeweyOctober 17, 2017 at 2:02 am
Great article! I especially agree with your third point. It is only through the change in hearts of people who come to Christ that culture is changed. You stated, “Cultural change is the result of shepherding, not the goal.” We as pastors must remember what our main goal should be, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”. Again, this is a great reminder. Thank you!
Mike MeloneOctober 17, 2017 at 2:12 am
Bro! That was so on point. I remind my congregation often that I am not a political or hot-button issue preacher. I tell them messages of that content preach against people who aren’t in our pews and give us a false, self-righteous opinion of ourselves. What our churches need are sermons of solid, Biblical Truth with proper, nonbiased application.
Thank you for your words of encouragement!
Scott MercerOctober 17, 2017 at 6:00 am
Wow! Just so good! Thanks!
Joseph DeHassOctober 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm
I agree with everything! I love that when we preach the Word, God changes them! We don’t need to manipulate, we simply need to let God work!
Spencer SmithOctober 17, 2017 at 2:28 pm
I’m glad a preacher down in Georgia preached against my wicked culture. I wouldn’t be here today without that preacher. So many preachers are so worried about “tact” that we have lost all “contact”. You’re basic premise of “if you preach the Bible you won’t be preaching against the culture” is flawed. If you preach the Bible you will end up being an antagonist against the modern wicked culture of today. I agree that we shouldn’t be jerks, but a solid Bible preacher will antagonize the culture to some degree.
Bill PraterOctober 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm
Having grown up in the ministry under a “prophet,” this has not been an easy change for me. Looking over messages from the 80s and 90s, it’s clear to see that the way of the “prophet” was all I knew. By God’s grace that’s changed a great deal, and is still changing. I’m finding I’m much more effective as a New Testament pastor/preacher than I am an Old Testament prophet.
Thank you for helping an “old guy.”
Ty PerryOctober 18, 2017 at 4:40 am
Excellent article, Pastor. Thank you for your ministry TO our church and your heart FOR our culture. As a shepherd, the Lord has used you and continues to use you to encourage and exhort us to be like Jesus and to make disciples. I truly thank the Lord for you whenever you come to mind. Praying for you.
Keith TaylorOctober 18, 2017 at 12:37 pm
This is a great reminder of why we have lost one full generation of people in our churches. Ranting on issues rather than revealing the truth of the Word. I find it peculiar that most of the same social issues we see were alive and well during the life of Jesus and ministry of Paul. Their response was much different than the response of many today. Paul did not organize protests or preach against political policies and people but stayed focus on our relationship with Christ. Thanks for posting this reminder.
MatthewOctober 18, 2017 at 2:30 pm
While there is much I appreciate about this article, I must admit that the title and some of the content did not seem to fit together. When I read the title, I expected to read an article about the need for pastors to avoid talking about politics and focus on preaching expository sermons. This is a premise with which I hold heartedly agree! However, some of the statements you made seem to suggest that you were referring more to hobby-horses and personal opinions than politics. Is that an accurate assessment? I completely agree that ranting from the pulpit one’s own personal opinions about life, politics etc. and failing to use scripture except to support your positions is not Christ-honoring preaching. Preaching the Bible means to preach about God, Jesus, salvation, love, humility etc.… and we need more of this kind of preaching in our evangelical churches. Preaching the Bible also necessitates preaching against certain aspects of our cultural that are wicked and pose a significant threat to children of God. I would assume when you say we need to be Gospel preachers and not culture warriors that you are NOT saying that we should not preach/teach about the wickedness of Hollywood, the pervasiveness of drugs, the increasing distortion of human sexuality and other issues that are very much cultural issues. Right? These things need to be addressed in teaching and preaching in a scriptural, loving, humble and Christ-honoring way right? Clarification on this would be very beneficial I think.
Jason SalingOctober 19, 2017 at 7:28 pm
I understand what you’re saying in not intentionally being hostile when your church isn’t even being a hostile people. To rant just to rant is futile. Yet with that acknowledgement, I’ve been challenged and grown in my walk with the Lord more under “prophet type” preachers, bold proclaimers of the word of God. Also, in the New Testament, they didn’t seek to just “preach to the flock,” they preached outside of the walls of the church so to speak, and they did likewise receive hostile reactions. From the world’s perspective, the preachers were considered “culture warriors,” and were accused of not following Caesar, accused of turning the world upside down, etc. I don’t believe the church should be silent on moral issues going on in the culture just because he is preaching to the flock, as hopefully there are younger Christians in the church that genuinely may have questions about where the Bible and current culture collide. As a teenager, I’ve avoided many poor choices, due to taking heed to strong Bible preaching against modern culture’s sins. I was never challenged in these ways when I was going to a soft non-denominational “all about unity and love” type of church. Also, I’ve notice now that I’m preaching, there is usually more of a visible response to the message and positive feedback of how the message challenged them when I’m preaching more of a “prophet” type message, than when it is simply a comforting or motivational type of message. I try to preach the balance of scripture in regards to the tone of the message, sometimes bold and aggressive, sometimes comforting and uplifting. So I don’t see it as OT Prophets vs NT Pastors issue, but simply preach the message God has given in the tone that God has written it.
Scott PostmaMay 30, 2018 at 2:26 am
Helpful thoughts, Josh. I appreciate this line, particularly: “This would lead to a culture shift far greater than any other thing we could possibly do. And this may keep us from becoming frustrated, argumentative, and hostile.” Culture is created out of a shared mythos, language, and religious experience, not from ideologically-driven political constructs. I wonder how much eschatology, often unconsciously conceptualized, actually plays into a church’s (pastor’s) praxis? Most Christians would probably agree that a culture most conducive to human flourishing is a gospel-centered culture.
Genessa TorsyJuly 26, 2018 at 2:57 pm
Really powerful thought here: We are not Preaching to the Culture but Preaching to the Church
I Peter 5:2 Feed the flock of God which is among you…
Thank you for the reminder!
Ben SchettlerOctober 17, 2018 at 10:51 pm
We are not O.T. Prophets. Good point.
We are not preaching to the culture we are preaching to the Church. I am not sure if that statement is Biblical. I believe if you examine the term preaching you will find it to be an exclamation of the gospel and exclamation of truth. So we should be preaching to everyone. Contextualizing your sermon to your audience is always wise but if your audience is only “the church” you need to expand your platform. You should be cultivating an audience that is not the church.
A focus on culture is confusing but a focus on the pastorate is clarifying. I think the focus should be on Christ and others. And because our focus is on Christ and others we should examine the culture with discernment. If you are going to be an effective ambassador you MUST examine culture with Biblical discernment. And that will require focus. To place a conflict between examining the culture of those you pastor and pastoring people is a huge mistake. If you are going to be an effective pastor you must have a knowledge of how to lead someone through the culture they are in.
Its like saying lets focus on the flock but not on the weather or the path they will walk down today. A good shepherd understand the environment he is walking his sheep through and needs to, yes, focus on that environment from time to time.
All that being said, almost every congregation in every church in America is ill equipped to “give an answer” the way I Peter 3:15 commands. So while I appreciate the heart behind this article the reality is that if people in a church were more equipped to give truth the pastor would not sound like and old testament prophet. The New Testament church was birthed in a culture of skepticism and its growth stood in relation to the individual church members ability to speak the truth to their neighbor. In the West, Church members are not equipped to give answers and so the pastor has become the lone voice of truth. I hope pastors speak more frequently about issues that their church members face in culture not less.
Furthermore, I would say we ARE warriors, that is why God calls us to put on the whole armor. We are in a battle. We just need to know who the battle is against. Its not the people in my church or in my community it is a spiritual battle against wickedness. If we fight wickedness and not people I think we can all be effective warriors who speak the truth in love to a culture that needs to hear it.
Josh you are a great friend and forgive me if I went too far in this critique. You know my heart in equipping people to speak the truth in love to the unconvinced.