Style vs. Substance
by Rev. Tony Cooke

In a recent edition of “The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing” (, H.B. London was addressing his observations about the seeming moral decline and the increasing levels of compromise among Christian leaders. He said:

I have been in conversation over the last couple of weeks with some ministry leaders who have expressed great concern for the lack of accountability they see among the clergy, and the increased emphasis we are giving to ‘church style’ rather than ‘church substance.’ Many of us agree that if the gospel is weakened from the pulpit, it will also be weakened in the lives of those who preach it.

We are called to motivate, but we are also called to correct and rebuke. We are called to encourage, and show great grace, but we are also called to address sin and provide an escape. It is my opinion (for what it’s worth), that if we abandon hard truth easy ‘believism’ is a result. A full sanctuary is the dream of every pastor. I want that for you, but I am much more concerned about the fullness of your relationship with Christ.

I thought those were great remarks! I am all for relevance, innovation, creativity in carrying out ministry, but we can’t afford to compromise eternal truth (our substance) in the name of being progressive (our style). This is true personally and in the pulpit. Psalm 11:3 says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

There is a great need in this day for ministers to differentiate between the negotiable and the non-negotiable, between style and substance. I love the statement from Thomas Jefferson: “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Solomon was focusing on the aspects which should not change when he said, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28).

We all enjoy preaching positive messages, but we can’t omit ANY aspect of Scripture personally or in the pulpit. Not only are we to “live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), but when we complete our assignment here, we need to be able to say along with the Apostle Paul, “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

The Gospel is Good News, and it’s right that His goodness be a major emphasis in our ministries! But the Bible isn’t one-sided in its emphasis. Romans 11:22 says that we are to, “consider the goodness and severity of God.” Jude was explicit in his instructions when he said, “…on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” Paul even said, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

Let me reiterate—I believe our messages should be predominantly positive, but I wonder how many people in America sit through church for an entire year, for a decade, or even a lifetime and never hear a message about hell, judgment, sin, or repentance. Thank you for walking in the reverential fear of God and for faithfully proclaiming His Word, whether it’s “in season” or “out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).