Belligerent pt. 3: Violence in the Pulpit

What you are about to read is part three of an ongoing series. If you have not read part one and part two I invite you to do so.

As I said previously, I’ve been seeing things, hearing things, picking up on some subtle and not so subtle words, actions and vibes from some Christians and some pastors. Not all Christians, not all pastors, but enough to catch my attention and cause me concern. My observations have helped me conclude that the church has become too violent. We can be hostile, brutal, brawlers towards those we disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it is our secular society or fellow Christians, we are too willing to draw blood.

I see this fault in myself as well.

There are five places where I have recognized this violence surface:

  1. Violence surfaces in our preaching.
  2. Violence surfaces in our social media.
  3. Violence surfaces in our vocabulary.
  4. Violence surfaces in our homes.
  5. Violence surfaces in how we interact with those we disagree with.

Violence in our preaching

It seems that we have a lot of angry pastors leading our churches and their anger comes out in their preaching.

Pastors are angry because their church isn’t growing.
Pastors are angry because their people are not very committed.
Pastors are angry because things didn’t turn out as they planned.
Pastors are angry because of personal marital problems.
Pastors are angry because of disappointments with their denomination.
Pastors are angry with their church board because the board is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to work with.
Pastors are angry because they don’t have enough money to provide for their family.
Pastors are angry because they feel overworked and under appreciated.

In addition to the above, some pastors are angry because they suffer from depression.

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Anger is one of the most common manifestations of male depression. Someone once said that when a woman is depressed she beats herself up. When a man is depressed he beats someone else up. I’m not talking about physical abuse, although that is probably happening in some pastors homes, but I’m referring to verbal abuse. Women don’t struggle as much with anger as men do when depressed.

If you are angry on the inside, violence will show up on the outside. Please keep in mind that there are varying degrees of violence, some more subtle than others.

For the pastor, one of the more common outlets for violence is the pulpit.

Some pastors sermons are too focused on sin, the need for personal holiness, the evils of the world, attacks on other Christians or churches, reasons why the church in America is dying. Theirs is an angry, negative, violent sermon filled with “what’s wrong” rather than “what’s right.”

Now if I were to post the paragraph above on Facebook, I guarantee that within minutes, if not seconds, heated (angry) objections would be made supported with a multitude of scriptures.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa Dave…sounds like you just want to tickle people’s ears. We’ve got to preach against sin, we’ve got to call people up to a higher standard. Sure God is a loving God but don’t forget that He is holy and one day we will all have to stand before Him and give an account of our lives. What about obedience? Don’t you care about lukewarm Christians? Read your Bible. Jesus drove the sinners out of the temple. Paul brought rebuke and correction to the churches he wrote to.”

I know all that.

I believe all that.

I just think that there is too much of that.

The word ‘preach’ can be used in a positive or a negative way. Saying, “He preached a good sermon.” is a positive use of the word. Saying, “Hey…don’t you preach at me.” is a negative use of the word. Using the word ‘preach’ in this way can mean to give moral advice in an annoying or pompously self-righteous way. The word ‘harangue’ means a lengthy, aggressive and critical speech.

I want to preach without being preachy.

Every time we stand in front of a group to preach we have, as they say, “a captive audience.” Oh I suppose if someone doesn’t like what we say they could get up and leave (I’ve had that happen), but for the most part, once they walk through the door and sit down they have to listen to us.

Preaching is a calling, honor, and privilege, and it is also a great responsibility.

It takes a lot of honest and humble self-awareness to recognize if I am preaching or venting. Of course we want to believe that we are ‘standing up for truth’, ‘calling sin, sin’ or ‘teaching the whole counsel of God’. Maybe we are. Maybe we’re not. Maybe we’re just letting off steam. My sermon can be more rant than righteous. My preaching can be an unconscious release of the anger, irritation, and contempt I have for someone or something. This is a violent preaching.

Violence in our pulpits is hard to recognize, harder to admit, and even harder to change. But change we should and change we can. And, I might add, we can change without compromising or watering down our understanding of the Bible.

It’s all about heart and delivery. If my heart is troubled with anger, violence, contempt, belligerence and hurt then I need to bring that to the Lord for healing. If I can say what needs to be said in a kind and gentle way why would I want to do otherwise?

Preaching is communicating. But there is more to communicate than merely content.

When we preach are we communicating that we are angry or happy, mad or glad, irritated or invigorated, contemptuous or compassionate? Do we preach with a smile or a frown?

“But we’ve got to preach against sin.”

I get that, I really do.

If you need to preach against sin do it with a smile. If you must be a prophet, be a nice one. There are enough ‘not-nice-prophets’ out there to adequately represent the other side of the coin. You don’t need to add your name to their ranks. They will get the job done without your help. They will, I promise.

Next up: Belligerent pt. 4: Violence in Social Media