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How to listen to bad preaching without (hopefully) becoming self-righteous


For the past while, I’ve been listening to some preachers (or, if you prefer, “preachers” in some cases) for a little project I’m working on. And it’s been painful—I mean, really, really painful. Now, all are actually decent public speakers—one, in fact, is a brilliant motivational speaker—so it’s not because they’re entirely lacking in value from an entertainment perspective, nor are there no helpful nuggets to be gleaned from what they’re saying.

But they’re really hard to listen to and not act all high-and-mighty. To not nitpick every word, joke or non-sequitur that inevitably appears. Why? Because they’re missing the thing that make preaching preaching—Jesus. After all, if Jesus isn’t preached—if the good news isn’t proclaimed—is it really preaching?

I’m very thankful that I am a part of a church where we actually do preach the gospel consistently. We open the Bible each week and we study the Scriptures together, looking at how what we’ve learned both applies to us and points us to the good news of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

But when you find yourself under a different sort of word ministry—one that uses the Bible to prove a point or as an illustration, rather than as the point—what do you do? Is there a way to listen to this sort of preaching and not become totally self-righteous?

Believe it or not, yes. But it takes some work. Here are a few ideas:

Look for the evidence of God’s grace. If the preacher subscribes to a different model than you might believe is most biblically faithful, it doesn’t mean he’s abandoned the faith. It means he’s using a model he prefers (even if we disagree). Look for the helpful elements of the message, even if they’re something that could be found in a talk given by a non-Christian. Then look to see if those things actually relate to the truth of Scripture. If they do, accept them. If not, well, you’re out 27 minutes.

Write while you listen. Grab a notebook, or a piece of paper or something, and write down what’s going through your head. Don’t just let them rattle around. Pray about them, look at them in light of Scripture, and pray that God would keep you humble as you listen.

Pray for change in the speaker. You might be watching the message on your computer. Or listening to it on your phone. Or streaming it on Netflix. However you’re engaging, the exposure to these sorts of preachers is an opportunity to pray for them. Perhaps God might encourage them to change their methods and approach.

Stop listening. Final thing that’s most helpful is to turn it off. Don’t keep listening to something you know is only going to feed your unhealthy and ungodly tendencies. There’s no point in exposing yourself to that which prevents you from thinking on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phillipians 4:8).

I realize if you’re in a church that works under this model, that last point is way harder since it may require leaving your church (which should always be a last resort, but is a biblically acceptable option). If you’re finding you’re in this position every week, talk to the leaders of the church. Ask  them to help you understand the reasons behind the types of messages given. Though there might still be no other option but to leave, it might put you in a better position to leave as friends in disagreement than out of bitterness.

I’ve been putting these ideas into practice while listening, and it’s been surprisingly helpful (which also explains the lack of snarky tweets while I’m listening). It doesn’t make me enjoy the preaching more, and sometimes I still get nothing from it, but it doesn’t lead me to look at those speaking with contempt (I hope). Lord willing, they’ll help you do the same.

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