Posts Tagged ‘pastors and manipulation’

I recently attended a church service where the pastor engaged in questionable ethics while preaching.  While the congregation seemed to love what he was saying, I felt that he was manipulating them so they would give him the response that he desired.

Having heard … and given … hundreds of sermons in my lifetime, let me share with you four principles for evaluating the ethics of a sermon:

First, the pastor needs to be honest with the biblical text.

When a pastor practices exegesis, he’s taking out truth that God placed in Scripture.  But when a pastor practices eisegesis, he’s putting into the text his own thoughts and ideas … acting like his ideas are better than God’s.

I heard a message a few years ago that I thought was fabulous.  The preacher spoke from James 3:1-12 on taming the tongue.  He dealt with every key phrase in the passage in a way we could all understand.

The message was so good I wondered if I should ever preach again.

But some pastors leapfrog the tough phrases … step around sentences with difficult syntax … and avoid all the tough stuff.  When they read Scripture out loud, it’s unedited … but when they preach it, it’s edited.


Maybe they don’t understand the text they’re studying … or they can’t translate biblical ideas into contemporary language … or they don’t think certain ideas will resonate with their hearers.

When I was a youth pastor and still learning to preach, I chose a text for a sermon.  When I started studying the passage, I discovered it wasn’t saying what I thought it said … and I had little time left to shift gears.  As I recall, the sermon bombed … but I could not in all good conscience twist Scripture to fit my preconceived ideas.

Ask yourself: is my pastor teaching what God’s Word really says … or what he wants it to say?

Second, the pastor needs to preach the entirety of Scripture.

When I was ordained, I was charged with preaching “the whole counsel of God.”  The phrase comes from Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:27.

Paul told his friends, “While I was with you, I never held back the Word of God” (NIV).  The phrase is usually taken to mean, “Preach everything that’s in the Bible … whether popular or unpopular.”

If a pastor is truly called by God to preach the whole counsel of God, that pastor will eventually have to preach on controversial issues like homosexual conduct … racism … loving money … capital punishment … gay marriage … substance abuse … hell … child abuse … the role of women in the church … and even political issues.

Here’s why: the Bible speaks to most of these issues, either through direct commands or general principles.  If a pastor teaches what Scripture says about these issues, then his people can penetrate the culture with biblical arguments.  But if the pastor fails to teach what Scripture says, then his people may adopt the mindset of the culture by default.

If a pastor routinely sidesteps controversial issues to avoid conflict inside his church, he’ll cultivate a congregation that’s biblically ignorant and cannot intellligently converse with those outside the church.

Ask yourself: is my pastor dealing with tough issues biblically, or is he sidestepping controversy to be popular?

Third, the pastor must give credit for materials he’s borrowed from others.

I once heard a pastor do a long series on an issue he knew little about … and the more I heard him preach, the more convinced I was that he was “borrowing” his information from another source.

In fact, I was pretty sure I knew who that source was.

My dilemma: if I did the research, and found out my hunch was right, what was I supposed to do with that information?  Confront the pastor?  Take it to the board?

In my case, I decided not to do the research … but plagiarism is a serious matter, especially in Christian circles.

It is unethical for a pastor to take someone else’s quotation … or story … or sermon … and pass it off as his own without acknowledging his source.

In fact, it’s not just borrowing … it’s stealing.

I once used an outline on unanswered prayer that I kept from Dr. Curtis Mitchell from Biola … but when I preached a sermon on that topic, I told the congregation that I was using his outline but that the sermon content was my own.

Whenever I used a story I got from someone else, I would say, “Rick Warren tells the story …” or “That story from R. C. Sproul illustrates the point that …”

When a pastor stands before a congregation, they have the right to expect that their pastor interacted with God and His Word the previous week … and that he didn’t “buy” a sermon from a website for $15 and act like it was his.

Ask yourself: does my pastor give credit to others for ideas, or does he act like they’re all his own?

Finally, the pastor should never manipulate people into doing what he wants.

I know someone who attended a church where the pastor tried to persuade people to attend church services … and would use anger to get his way.

He would say, “If you don’t come to the Sunday night service, I hope your TV blows up.”  (And he would say it often.)

Maybe he was just kidding … or maybe he really meant it.

I learned early in my preaching ministry that “going to the whip” only works once.  A pastor can “guilt” people … or shame them … or threaten them … but most people see through it … especially when a pastor tries to manipulate people into attending services more often or donating more money.

If your pastor does this, here’s how to put a stop to it:

Ask him kindly to show you the verse in the Bible where Jesus or Paul or the apostles use guilt and threaten people if they don’t come to church or give more money.

Of course … the verse isn’t there.

Many pastors use these tactics because they unconsciously seek to control people’s behavior … but it shows an appalling lack of confidence in the Holy Spirit.

I once served under a pastor whose ministry was not going well.  One Sunday, he told the congregation, “The Lord told me that someone is going to respond to the invitation today.”

We sang 12 verses of “Just As I Am,” and no one came forward.

I can’t see hearts, but I suspect that the congregation was being manipulated that Sunday.

Ask yourself: does my pastor tend to manipulate or motivate people with his words?

Let me make one final statement:

If a pastor has been called to teach Scripture … and he trusts the Holy Spirit to use him … and he’s walking with God … and he has prayerfully studied God’s Word before preaching … THERE IS NO REASON TO USE FLESHLY METHODS TO ILLICIT A RESPONSE FROM GOD’S PEOPLE.

In fact, the desire for a visible response may be more about satisfying a pastor’s ego than anything else.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ethics of preaching.

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