While preparing for my sermon I read the following.
Today people are fundamentally consumers: they want what they want when they want it, even in the church. If they do not like what is happening or what they hear, they leave and start shopping for a better deal. Meanwhile, the pressure is constantly on preachers to increase attendance, to raise the budget, to grow a church–to do whatever it takes to improve market share. Be nice; be funny; make promises; do not offend. There is an inordinate desire for approval, for applause, for appreciation on the part of pastors today. To Paul’s queston, “Am I seeking human approval, … am I trying to please people?” (Gal 1.10), many preachers today would have to answer, in all honesty, yes. When preachers are captive to public opinion, when churches too easily become purveyors of gospel gimmicks, offering the religious goods and services people want, what is sacrificed is the ability to be a slave of Christ in service to his unchanging gospel.
–Heidi Husted Armstrong
“Galatians 1:1-12,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, pg. 90.
I am not planning to use the quote in my sermon because it does not fit the congregational context. I’m the visiting preacher and the church spends most of its energies reaching out to the local deaf community and African refugees. Yet the quote resonates with other voices I am hearing lately. For example, Chris Seidman at the Branch Church was a guest lecturer in my class on practical theology. I asked him to talk about his ministerial identity and relate how it connects to practice. He spoke about Jesus’ baptism and how Jesus began his own ministry after the word from heaven, “This is my son whom I am well pleased.” Chris spoke about how ministry springs forth from the blessing and grace of God and not from the approval of people. The examples he gave convicted us all.
I am part of a team that facilitates healthy matches between churches and ministers. It is satisfying work. Yet there are times when both parties would do well to commit themselves to the ability to be a slave of Christ in service to his unchanging gospel. The church might actually get smaller if such matters were practiced. As Fred Craddock often noted, It is not bad preachers that people will not listen to; it may just be very good ones.