Visiting churches here, I hear all types of sermons. Some have good points, even great points, but many miss because they are theologically weak, not practical, or follow pastoral biases. An example of such sermons might be perennial “giving” or “stewardship” sermons warning all that God is cheated if various percentages of our income are not given (dubious from a true biblical perspective), along with annual pledges for church support. Often the endless and currently trendy “series sermons,” where some pastors preach three-point messages for weeks on end, amaze me. Some are good, but some are grounds for endless pontificating by pastors who can’t come to the point.
Today’s column is intended to give five examples of types of sermons that may be keeping seekers away from Christianity.
Steps to Becoming a Christian
Many pastors rightly believe this is the focus of their ministry but when all is said and done, their congregations often don’t get it, because the pastors themselves don’t seem to get it. Few Christians I meet day-to-day can explain to me how to become a Christian, other than tell me to attend their church. Even Christ’s followers had a hard time understanding it (see Matthew 19:16-30). An elevator speech (explaining what you do or believe in a short elevator ride) is virtually unknown to most pew warmers I meet. Many know more about what they’ve been told not to do, than to share biblical truths on obtaining eternal life. This shows many learn little from attending church for years, even after copious Bible study. I also don’t believe it’s contained in the Billy Graham or Luis Palau approaches nailed down by the “sinner’s prayer.” And why do church people flood such meetings anyway? I thought they were directed at the “unsaved.”
Some churches and pastors advocate rapture teachings of doubtful scriptural backing, teachings widely discredited by biblical scholars and theologians. In too many rapture-preaching churches this teaching emerges as a scare tactic compelling non-believers into following this line of thinking. “Get on board, as you won’t know when it (the rapture) happens.” Christianity Today, just this week, denounced the latest Nicholas Cage movie about the rapture, “Left Behind,” as “un-Christian.” Theologian Martin Marty, in an Oct. 8 piece in Huffington Post, decried the attention these movies get, the rapture industry, and the money it brings in, as “something really bad esthetically … served up by a damn fool to a plain fool public as if it is an asset to belief and believers’ communities.”
Hellfire and Damnation Preaching
Many scholars believe this unfortunate interpretation of scripture is used to compel people to accept a misunderstood theology. This teaching, hurled from hundreds of Alaska pulpits, says God will allow sinners to burn in hell “forever and ever” if they are found wanting. Why would you serve a God who allows this kind of torture to continue forever? Many world-class, conservative and respected Bible-believing theologians and biblical scholars reject this line of reasoning countering instead that God will punish the wicked, their death is certain and final, not “forever and ever”.
Abuse, Domestic Violence and Mental Health
A national debate has arisen regarding pastoral failures to address issues of abuse, domestic violence, and mental health issues from the pulpit. With the recent focus on the NFL regarding issues of domestic violence now extending into other professions, it’s time churches gave these topics wider focus. I agree with the view that church is a hospital for those who are spiritually sick, but shouldn’t the prevailing issues of spiritual sickness be brought out in plain sight? The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault recently reported that of every 100 adult Alaska women, 48 experience sexual violence from an intimate partner, 37 experience sexual violence, and 59 experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence or both. Yet most churches are strangely silent on this. Why? Maybe they believe these people are not in “their” church.
Practical Advice for Enjoying a Healthy Life
In many churches prayer is requested for friends and loved ones every week. They suffer physical pain with heart, gall bladder, obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and other maladies too numerous to mention. I believe we should pray for those with such conditions. However, many of these maladies might have been totally prevented by adopting healthy living styles, something church leaders seem to ignore from the pulpit. Diabetes, for example, is heavily influenced by poor lifestyles. In 14 years of attending and observing local churches, I’ve heard just one sermon advocating healthy lifestyles. Instead, when attending church suppers and potlucks, I repeatedly see one aspect of an unhealthy lifestyle; unhealthy food, even that cooked by the churches themselves. Abundant scientific evidence is on the side of healthy lifestyles, but why isn’t it shared? The Bible itself contains excellent health information.
While this column won’t endear me to all area church leaders, my intent is to raise questions about the way local churches present themselves by their messages. I can’t claim to visit every church on a regular basis; no one could. However, the churches I regularly visit represent the majority of churchgoers in Anchorage. Though not exhaustive, this list represents reasonable targets to alert church leaders to the way they present themselves. I encourage more church leaders to review these issues seriously and hopefully begin addressing them from their pulpits.