Preaching and Pragmatism

Yesterday Steven Furtick posted a very helpful article on his blog. There, he shares his concern that if we who preach are not careful we’re going to become like the Pharisees. Furtick explains:

When describing the Pharisees and what they did to the people through their teaching, Jesus said: They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders(Matthew 23:4).

What’s interesting is that when we read that, we automatically despise the Pharisees and assume they had bad motives. But if you study their history, their motives were actually very good. . . . Their driving motivation really was to help by giving people things to do. But in their desire to make the Bible applicable, they actually created burdens that weighed their people down.

Here’s how I think this happens today. We do a sermon series on marriage, which in itself is great. But then we say things like “you need to do these 15 things with your spouse to have a great marriage.” Or we do a series on joy, and we then give them the 7 steps to attaining it. We’re trying help, but without realizing it, we’ve actually burdened people who were already carrying such a heavy load.

While he is certainly not against offering practical application, this was particularly helpful for me to read today. For the past week and a bit I’ve been writing a chapter on biblical generosity for a book I’m working on, and something I’ve noticed over and over again in many preachers’ efforts to encourage a greater level of giving, they tend to resort to an extremely hard line position on giving that leads those who meet the target feeling proud and those who don’t feeling beat up. While the motivation isn’t necessarily bad, the pragmatic approach (“people aren’t giving enough so tell them to give more”) eliminates grace and room for the Holy Spirit to work in people’s lives. In light of this, a great concern that I have about how I’m presenting my application points is that I don’t want to be guilty of doing the same.

Good application always—always—leaves room for the Holy Spirit to work whatever the subject, whether marriage, parenting, joy or generosity. Though it’s much more difficult, it’s a greater gift to our hearers.

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