When there is good preaching, just as whenever there is anything good in a church (or in life of that matter), that good thing can become the ultimate thing. When it becomes the ultimate thing, we take our eyes off Jesus and onto that thing. But when we do that, we will find ourselves becoming frustrated with the idol, in this case a preacher. Even Tim Keller, my personal favorite, has “off” days. The same is true for church in general. The minute we look at a church and feel it is the “perfect” church, we will soon be disappointed, and eventually become angry. Jesus is perfect, but preachers and the church are a work in progress. Getting those two reversed, is simply idolatry, and has caused me unnecessary frustration over the years.
So on to the solution. How do you guard against good preaching becoming an idol?
1.) Resist the urge to give the sermon a “good” or a “bad” grade all the time. This is hard, I know. But instead of simply saying “good” (which often simply means you agreed with what was said) or “bad,” consider how the preacher pointed you to Jesus, and your response to His grace to you. Whether a sermon was “good” or “bad” really comes down to whether or not it pointed you to Jesus: for you to drink from the well of living water and then live differently because of it.
2.) Instead of telling the preacher “good” or “bad,” tell him what part particularly ministered to you. Or ask him to clarify something that was confusing.
3.) Consider the worship service as a whole instead of preaching as the main event, and the singing, confession, assurance of grace as the “opening bands.” When Barret and I sit down to evaluate the service each week, we consider the whole of it. In fact, we’ll often say, “That worship service went well.”
4.) Self-Evaluation. I’ve already blogged on this here, but this is huge. Consider how YOU are worshiping or wandering. Why are you bored? How is the Spirit leading you specifically to repent and more deeply believe the gospel. You move from spectator to participator.
5.) Spiritual element. No matter how good a preacher is at explaining, communicating, illustrating, and applying counter-cultural timeless truth in a culturally relevant way, it ultimately comes down to the Spirit speaking through the preached Word. If the Spirit isn’t speaking to those in the congregation, changing hearts, illuminating the mind, convicting of sin, pointing people to the gospel, the preacher is doing nothing but babbling.
If we keep all these in mind, then we will thank God for good and faithful preaching. We’ll avoid idolatry by praising and relying upon not the messenger, but the One who gave us the message.