When I first moved to Southern Virginia I had to learn a new cultural vocabulary. I learned about snap peas and butter beans. I acquired a taste for salty cured ham. I also learned about steal toes after a particularly brutal sermon I delivered on our need to bear one another’s burdens rather than to be one another’s burdens.
A sweet lady in the church said to me after the sermon, “Preacha’!” Because that’s what they call a pastor ‘round these parts. “Preacha’! If I’d a known what you were going to say I would have worn my steal toes!” I said, “Why? Because you want to kick me in the shin?” She said, “No! You were stepping on my toes!”
In II Timothy 1:8 the Paul instructs Timothy regarding the manner of his ministry saying, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” (ESV)
Here are three reasons preachers shouldn’t shy away from harder sermon topics:
1. The Church is a schoolhouse for disciples.
Church isn’t what we make it. Church isn’t a creation of Christians. We have a specific mission. The mission of every local church is to make and reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ. There are a lot of half-alive Christians because there are a lot of half-alive preachers.
We preach deliverance without repentance which leads to lightly happy, immature souls. We preach repentance without fault, leading to a distorted understanding of sin as inconsequential imperfection rather than a crime against God. We feed starving souls snow cone happy-happy joy-joy thoughts and they leave the meeting house malnourished and weak. Disciples need to be well fed on truth and strengthened by exercise in sacrificial service in the Kingdom.
No soldier ever became a celebrated retired war hero without going through basic training and fighting some battles. Don’t be afraid to preach harder truths. Disciple-making is serious work and being a disciple requires some effort.
2. The Holy Spirit is a consuming fire.
Far too often we pray for the Holy Spirit to meet us in the sermon but we only welcome His joy and not His conviction. Consequently, we receive none of His power. I can imagine nothing more pitiful than to pray for the Holy Spirit to fall with no intention of heeding His call.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11 ESV) Don’t fear the fire. It burns but it also purifies. Step on some toes with Holy Spirit fire. Just do it from the Bible and get ready for God to move in the meeting house.
3. The only measure of success is faithfulness.
Nobody wants to be disliked. This goes at least double for most pastors. Ministry is harder. It’s even harder when you’re unpopular with your people, but he is a poor preacher who gives no offense to his listeners. He either needs them to like him more than he should or considers them too placid or plain to receive truth,
Be faithful to the Word of God and faithful to people by giving them all of its beauty, hardship, and challenge. No serious follower of Christ wants flattery. They want growth. Don’t fear the sensitivity of a few hurt little toes. Preach the truth.
It is far better to risk offense for the sake of Christ than to gain many friends through docile preaching and be complicit in their lack of growth, spiritual fruit bearing, or worse. Real relevance is high truth, the whole truth, brought low into the hearts of men with passionate loving straightforward biblical preaching, even if a few toes get bruised in the process.