Pastor, Give the People What They Need, Not What They Want

Pastor, Give the People What They Need, Not What They Want February 4, 2022

My pastor has long used the phrase, “Preach the Word and let the chips fall where they may.” In a nutshell, this encompasses his philosophy of ministry (and my own). The central task of the preacher is to preach. This should be a relatively uncontroversial statement to make in one sense, but in our current church culture, where the pastor is more often seen as a CEO or “brand builder” rather than a shepherd, it is an unpopular statement to make. The expectations placed on pastors are often flatly unbiblical ones, partly owing to the congregant’s lack of biblical wherewithal, yet partly owing to the pastor’s neglect to preach the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

There are obviously many other duties tasked to the shepherd of God’s flock, but they all invariably flow from the ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4). Visitations, funerals, weddings, counseling, even administrative duties, all must fall under the auspices of this primary duty. When they don’t, these duties invariably transform into something other than what is intended of them. In other words, these duties, when done rightly, are an extension of the pastor’s primary task of preaching and teaching. Counseling, marrying, burying, and more, are to be born out of the pastor’s obligation to the Scriptures rather than simply a perfunctory duty, and especially the main duty.

There are constant temptations to let the central task of the preacher be something other than the ministry of the Word and devotion to prayer. The obvious example of becoming the next big name in celebrity evangelicalism is relatively low-hanging fruit to identify, but it is nonetheless something the broader church culture places high currency on. However, the more subtle examples of this abound in the various ministries that churches can participate in. That is not to say it is inherently evil that someone desires the church to have a soup kitchen, for example, but good social deeds are not the primary focus of the church. Rather, the Great Commission is (Matt. 28:16-20).

Yet if you were to ask the average layperson what the primary duty of the church is, it is highly doubtful the Great Commission would come to mind for many. Some would say social justice is, others would claim that a vibrant youth group is what’s needed. For many though, the last thing that would come to their mind is making disciples of Christ. Even for those who would lift up the Great Commission as the primary task of the church would not adequately define what that actually means or would place heavier emphasis on one of the three means Christ has given us rather than encompassing evangelism, baptism, and teaching as the way one makes a mature disciple. I have sincere doubts that many pastors would even adequately define this as the church’s primary duty; after all, the positions of those in the pews is often a reflection of what comes from the pulpit.

It is of no small consequence that Paul’s dying exhortation to young Timothy was to, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). The reason? “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Brothers, we are living in this “out of season” time, where the multitudes prefer fables fit for old women to sound doctrine. Nonetheless, the charge to pastors is still that they preach the Word, and that is precisely what we must do. We must feed Christ’s sheep (Jn. 21:15-17). Yet in order to do that, we must be a workman approved, who accurately handles the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). This is particularly where I sense many have failed in their confusion of what it means to be a pastor.

The people don’t need self-help.

The people don’t need to discover their true inner self.

The people don’t need motivational pep talks from the pulpit.

The people don’t need entertainment.

The people don’t need to be spurred on to inclusivity, encouraged to rally behind pet social causes, or even urged to participate in ten step programs that promise them a better life if they follow Jesus.

The people don’t need topical sermons born out of spurious proof-texting, nor do they need “expositional” sermons that are little more than using the text as a springboard for their faulty theological positions.

Christ’s sheep need His Word.

They need to be taught those ancient truths of Scripture that transcend time itself and will stand for all eternity. They need pure, expositional preaching that doesn’t shy away from a single verse in God’s Word. They need men willing to stand or fall on every jot and tittle of the Scriptures, seeing these as the inspired truths of God Himself, in whom there is no guile. The church needs lion-hearted preachers who refuse to tickle the ears of their congregants. They need bold-hearted pastors who aren’t afraid of controversy generated by simply preaching the Word as it unfolds, verse-by-verse, and letting the chips fall where they may.

What we need then is not to give the people what they want, but what they need. The reason for this is simple: God’s Word is the only thing which will accomplish His desires in us, through us, and for His glory. The sad reality is that many have forgotten this beautiful truth and chase after various other things that fail to deliver on that which they promise. And this, at the heart of it all, is what it truly comes down to. We fail to take God at His Word, that the Word itself is the means by which the Spirit has promised to work and accomplish His will.

It should be of little wonder then to see why the broader church is in such a sorry state as it is, where many cannot articulate the truths of the faith, let alone the gospel. It should be little surprise to find many who are double-minded and unstable in all their ways (Ja. 1:8), who are tossed about by every new wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14), and who are infants struggling to take in even the most elementary teachings of the faith (Heb. 5:11-14). While many are baffled at the surge of deconstruction stories in the church—should we really be all that surprised by it when we’ve sold our birthright for lentil stew?

It grieves me to see so many caught up in the throes of an authority other than the Word, yet I believe this is simply an unraveling of what has long been the practice of many who purport to be Christian. We have an abundance of Bibles available to us and a myriad of ways to properly understand the text—yet when it comes to what the Bible teaches, what often gets shouted rather than whispered is, “Has God said?” Yet unlike Eve, many are so ignorant to the Word that they are even more susceptible to the lies of Satan than she was. Couple this with the hordes of “teachers” who will happily teach contrarywise to the Scriptures, and the situation is quite bleak.

Yet there is a remedy to this. Preach the Word, in season and out of season. Submit yourself to the authority of the Scriptures in every manner and then demand no less from your hearers. Everything under the Sun must be brought into submission under the Word of God. Everything. We preachers are those tasked with handling the sacred truths of God, in such a way that we can indeed “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction.” All of this, of course, presumes that we actually believe we have the market cornered on the proclamation of truth, and that we don’t shrink back from that awesome task in the marketplace of ideas. We, of all people, have the ability to say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Many will not desire this in an out of season time such as ours, but who cares? This is the task to which you were solemnly charged in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom. Give the people what they need, not what they want. If they are truly Christ’s sheep, they will hear His voice (Jn. 10:27-28). If you’re not preaching to those who will hear His voice, to whom are you preaching? Is it not far better to accurately handle and proclaim the excellencies of His Word for His sheep than to try and feed the goats, whose bellies will be destroyed on the Last Day? Feed His sheep.

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