Preaching and Pragmatism

A while back, Steven Furtick posted a very helpful article on his blog. Yes, I know “Furtick” and “helpful” don’t often go together, but there you go. In the post, 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.

Practical application is good, of course, but only so long as it’s actually helpful. At the time I wrote this, I had 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. A great concern I have about how I present my application points—whether in a book, an article or in a sermon—is that I don’t want to be guilty of doing the same.

“Seven steps to a better you” might sound good on paper, but it’s an impossible weight to bear.

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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