Posts Tagged ‘how preaching creates conflict’

“If you can preach, people will forgive you for all kinds of mistakes, but if you can’t preach, they will nail you on everything they can.”

That’s a paraphrase of what a megachurch pastor once said during chapel when I was in seminary … and there’s a lot of truth in that observation.

For a long time, I have believed that the primary way for a pastor to create conflict in his church is to promote change without first receiving the approval of the board, staff, and key leaders.

Change creates anxiety … causes people to complain … the complainers organize … they oppose the change maker … and if he doesn’t comply with their wishes … they strategize his demise.

But I have a theory … and I haven’t read this anywhere … that preaching may ultimately be the primary source of conflict in a local church.

Let me make my case:

First, the pastor is the only authority figure in modern life who tells people collectively how to live.

When I saw my doctor recently, he offered a few suggestions for helping me to become more healthy … but he did not gather all his patients in a room and bring us a lecture.

When I see a politician giving a speech on television, if he’s too prescriptive (Americans need to drive less, cut our electrical use, conserve water) I might talk back to him or change the channel.

All week long, we resist people in our lives who tell us how to live … even if they’re experts in their field.

And then we come to church on Sunday.

And what happens?  A man stands up … using the Bible as his source … and tells us: “You need to trust God more … humble yourself before the Lord … share your faith with your neighbors … treat your wife better … be honest at work … obey our country’s leaders …” and so on.

If we believe the Bible … and we like the pastor … and we’re walking with the Lord … we’ll want to comply with the pastor’s directives.

But if we don’t believe Scripture … or we dislike the pastor … or we’re not walking with God (and this incorporates a large percentage of any congregation) then we may very well resist the pastor’s words.

Paul … Stephen … Peter and John … all were persecuted because of their preaching.

They didn’t arouse opposition because they were disorganized administrators … or insensitive counselors … or poor staff supervisors … or even weak leaders.

No, they aroused opposition because of their preaching … just like Jesus did.

Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what a pastor says … just that he’s the one saying it.

My guess is that people complain more about their pastor during the two hours after he’s preached than during the rest of the week combined.

Why?  Because he’s just finished telling them how to live … and they don’t like it.

Second, the pastor arouses rebellion by preaching against specific sins.

If a pastor preaches against the sins of others, we’re all for him.

But when he starts preaching against our sins, we may very well rebel.

And if he doesn’t stop, we may even seek to take him out.

I think it’s safe to say that if John the Baptist were around today, he wouldn’t have a large congregation.  His preaching was too specific … too condemning … and way too personal.

Yet Herod Antipas liked to listen to John preach.  Mark writes that “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” (Mark 6:20).

But Herod’s wife Herodias felt differently: “So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him” (Mark 6:19).  Why did she feel that way?  “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife'” (Mark 6:18).

It took Herodias a while, but she finally took John out … for good … because he was preaching directly at an area of her life (marriage) where she refused to change.

It’s possible for one family member to love the pastor’s preaching … and for another member to hate it … even though the pastor has no idea who feels which way.

Whenever I preached against a specific sin … and if you’re being honest with the biblical text, you have to so … I hoped that my preaching would cause people to experience immediate transformation in that area of their life.

But sometimes, preaching causes sin to surface in someone’s life … at least for a few minutes.  If people repent, they’ll grow spiritually.  But if they resist, they’ll blame the messenger for coughing up their pain.

The experts tell us that it only takes 7 to 10 people to force out a pastor in any size church.

My guess is that a high percentage of those individuals are getting back at the pastor for preaching against specific sins in their lives … even if they aren’t conscious of it … and won’t ever admit it.

Third, the pastor’s authority, words, and manner can arouse open resistance.

Resistance toward preaching takes various forms:

*Not showing up.  During the final few months of my last church ministry, one board member in particular stopped coming to worship services.  I’d look down and see his wife … smiling … but he wasn’t sitting next to her … and I knew that wasn’t a good sign.

*Wandering around in the back.  In that same church, another board member never brought his Bible … and spent his time during my sermon doing everything besides sitting down and listening to the sermon.

*Watching from another room.  Still another board member from that church wouldn’t come into the worship center, but watched the service from a monitor in an adjoining room.

*Crossing arms.  My worst all-time antagonist once left the church for a year, then returned on a Sunday when I was preaching through Mark and spoke about Herod Antipas executing John the Baptist.  The antagonist sat twenty feet away from me with his arms folded … staring me down … then complained to the board chairman that I aimed the sermon at him.  I will never forget his body language that day because he launched a rebellion soon afterwards.

*Rarely looking up.  I’ve written before about a board member who spent 90% of the sermon time reading the notes in his Scofield Bible.  If all the pastor ever sees while preaching is the tops of some people’s heads … and they won’t look at him … that may signal resistance in action.

*Criticism after the sermon.  One time, when I served as guest speaker at a church, a staff member came to the front to make the announcements after I spoke, and tried to rebut something I said during the message.  I’m not sure everyone caught it, but I sure did.

This resistance could be to the pastor as a person … or a leader … or a counselor … and be communicating the message, “I don’t like or respect you, so I certainly don’t want to listen to you.”

But it could also be resistance to the pastor’s tone … speaking style … use of language … stories … cadence … sense of authority … or any one of a hundred other things.

Whether the pastor’s preaching reveals or causes resistance, though, there is no doubt that most church antagonists find fault with their pastor’s preaching … even if they never tell him to his face … but discerning observers may very well notice.

Finally, the pastor claims to be speaking for God … but some hearers just won’t buy it.

I was a pastor for 36 years.  During that time, what give me the right to stand up and tell people how to live?

In my mind, I was called by God to speak the Word of God to the people of God.  Any authority I had came from God’s call to ministry and from using Scripture as my authority.

While a pastor is speaking, many of his hearers identify him as God’s messenger … and sometimes, with God Himself.

And whether they’re conscious of it or not, they can project their feelings about God onto their pastor.

If they’re angry with God, they can become angry with their pastor.  If they’re disappointed with God, they can become disillusioned with his messenger.  If they’re wounded because God hasn’t protected them from suffering, they can blame God’s servant for the way they feel.

Seven years ago, I gave a message called “Defending Biblical Marriage.”  Using Matthew 19:4-6 as my text, I stated that Jesus reiterated that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman.

Without my knowledge, a board member and his wife invited a journalist from the local paper to hear me speak that day.  Being an unbeliever, I heard that she did not like my message … and later on, that leader asked me not to speak anymore on controversial issues.

But I couldn’t do that.  I had taken a vow at my ordination … which none of the board members knew about … that I would preach the whole counsel of God … which, in my mind, means that I am free to speak on any and every issue as long as I’m basing my remarks on the authority of God’s Word.

It is entirely possible that the ensuing conflict in my church was launched after I gave that message.

A colleague of mine who does church interventions once told me that he visited a congregation that was having massive problems.  As I recall, the pastor had been forced from office.

During his intervention, my colleague discovered that 14 church leaders were engaged in sexual immorality.  14!

Let’s say that you were the pastor of that church, and you were preaching through the Ten Commandments, and you came to the seventh commandment: “You shall not commit adultery.”

With 14 leaders violating that commandment, how do you think they would respond to you?

They’d want your head.

Yes, conflict often arises in the church parking lot … and inside staff offices … and through cell phones … and during board meetings.

But my theory is that conflict originates more often inside the worship center during the pastor’s sermon than in any other place in the community.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

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