Finding the Right Blend
Paul not only said that all Scripture is inspired, but that it is, “…profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). He also told Timothy to, “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). How does a pastor find the right “blend” in his preaching? I want to be positive, uplifting, and encouraging in my preaching, but I know there are times that serious issues need to be addressed. How do you address negative issues without coming across as harsh or “beating the people up?” What tips would you give a young pastor who wants to preach the whole counsel of God without coming across as condemning?
Pastor Al Jennings – Fort Wayne, IN
And do everything with love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NLT).
As you preach the Word, you can address issues. But focus on the Word, and address what the Word says about the issue. As you do, do it in love and don’t spend too much time focusing on the issue itself.
If the issue involves only a few people, consider calling those people aside and address them privately. This way, you are not addressing the entire congregation about an issue that only involves a few people.
Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
This is a very important question and exceedingly vital for all young ministers (as well as older ministers). There are so many clichés that could be written here, and many people speak them when addressing this. The plain and simple fact though is that we really do not need to be preoccupied with our delivery. Our delivery is important, but the greatest factor in determining its effectiveness in people’s lives is our care for them!!! The overriding thing here is our heart for people. All four aspects of this verse should be delivered with the hearers best interests in our hearts.
You show me a minister who understands the mercy of God for their life, and has committed themselves to communicate that mercy by “God’s grace,” and I’ll show you a person who can convince, rebuke and exhort without coming across harshly! You show me a minister that is NOT actively committed to imparting grace to the hearers, who hasn’t developed within them a heart for people, and I’ll show you a person who cannot even edify people even when he is trying.
For us to do this, we need to pay attention to what Paul said in Romans 12:3. We need to remember that we ARE the people that we teach and preach to. It is the same Grace and mercy that God extended to you that He is trying to communicate through you to them! If we don’t understand this one thing, then ALL of our efforts are vain. If you are rebuking people, it is because they need to repent. If they do not need to repent, we should not be rebuking them. If they need to repent, REMEMBER, it is the goodness of God that leads them to repent.
One of the greatest verses that I continue to gain revelation from, and has consistently helped me to communicate in all ways is, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”
Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ “voice tones and voice inflection” when he called the pharisees hypocrites? Were they teachable, they would have repented at Jesus’ words!
Pastor John Lowe – Warsaw, IN
I personally think the way you deal with difficult items is to love your people all the time so that they know when you address anything that is correction, etc.
The motive is love, firm, by the Word, a correct spirit, and no hesitation. You love them, so of course you would address topics that need addressed.
Set it up by saying things like this when you’re just preaching: “As your pastor, I am always on your side endeavoring to address subjects that are exciting and hard because I love you and want God’s best for you, like Paul said to Timothy, etc., the Corinthian church, Rome, etc. Please know I will be faithful to the Lord and to you to deal with the hard things.”
Living right sure helps too. LOL.
Pastor John Brady – McAllen, TX
As a pastor, I realize more and more that my job as a minister is to confront wrong behavior. The Word of God is to show us the right path, by revealing the wrong path.
To give you a little background, my wife and I pastor in a culture that is very non-confrontational. People in our community would rather lie to you than tell you something they think you might not like. I have learned to bring correction in a manner that people can receive. The goal is not to offend or exclude, but to help people truly change their lives by being open to correction. I think each speaker has to find their own voice and develop their ability to address negative issues in a way that people can receive it. The two major ways that God has led me are:
Humor is the number one natural way to connect with people. If God has wired you this way, don’t be afraid to minister this way. The hardest people will open up if you can get them to laugh a little. One Sunday morning, one of our congregation members said to me, “Pastor, you spiritually kicked me in the teeth, and you had me laughing at the same time. Thanks I needed that!” I believe God has given some pastors the gift to drive home a point through humor. It is powerful and becomes like Velcro – it sticks with them!
When you talk about correction, don’t come at it from a place of superiority, but talk to people at their level. If you come at people like you have it all together, and you are better—it’s a hard pill to swallow. One of the ways we can be transparent and bring correction is by sharing a personal story of how God corrected us on a similar matter. When you are that vulnerable it opens the heart to receive the message. However, it is important that when you are vulnerable, the story ends on a note of victory. People must know that you have overcome through Jesus and His Word. It becomes a living testimony and an inspiration. First, my pastor goes through the same struggles. Second, if God did it for him, He will do it for me.
I know there are many more methods, but these are the two that best fit how God has wired me. Find that sweet spot of how to bring correction and it really becomes a joy. As your people embrace this, you will begin to hear great testimonies of transformation.
Pastor Mark Boer – Boise, ID
I think when approaching the subject of correction, rebuke, etc., it should be done with that word “blend” in mind. Meaning this: if they are used too frequently, your message will come across as negative rather than helpful. A balanced approach to subject matter would be heavily weighted on grace and mercy. We should spend a lot more time strengthening and encouraging people in their journey, than telling them what they are doing wrong. This is not to minimize the necessity of the latter. For when it is done in proper proportion and with love as the motivation, it can be a great blessing.
When it is time to point out wrong thinking, believing, and behaving, it can be much more palatable when using terms like “we” and “us” as opposed to “you.” For example, “You need to stop doing….” or “It is time for you to start…” Instead, use language like, “We all need to…” Identifying personally with what we are telling others to do can help to take the harsh edge off of the message.
Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Last year, I taught through the New Testament and I plan to do it again soon. We’re a word of faith church with lots of messages on faith and confession, but this helped us touch on other important topics like taking care of the poor, predestination, marriage, worship, judgment and grace. Some parts were easy for me; others required a lot more study. The congregation really liked it and read their Bibles more.
This year, we’re asking the whole church to read through Faith Food Devotions by Kenneth Hagin, and we’re using it as the basis of our mid-week Bible studies. It’s easy for the Bible study leader to prepare and everyone is getting a lot out of it.
Most churches do a short offering teaching. In the same way, you can also insert a 5 minute message by an associate pastor or lay leader on timely topics like marriage, addiction, disciplining children, reading your Bible, and other basics. These can be just a short teaching from the pulpit, but they’re also effective as videos, skits, or taught with props and other creative tools. This is a good place to involve your college and career age groups or lay leaders looking for a place in ministry.
Lastly, pastors should stay balanced personally so they can stay balanced in ministry. If your yard, finances, health, kids, cars, and closets are a mess, you may need to restructure your time commitments and take care of your family and personal life a little more. It’s a lifelong marathon and not a 40 yard dash from Sunday to Sunday.
Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
As ministers of the gospel, we have to remember who we work for. There are things we don’t like to touch, but I’m not in charge. God knows what our people need and we should always follow his leadership in ministering to his church.
I always try to minister the whole council of God, but in a manner that doesn’t beat the people up. I have to say that I haven’t always done that. In the early years of my ministry I would preach hell fire and brimstone. I really believe that most young preachers have a tendency to do this. The frustration brought about by the lethargy in the church contributes to that, and we end up trying to scare the hell out of the people instead of loving heaven into them.
One of my mentors said many years ago, “always end on a positive note.” You can have the people feeling the flames of hell but don’t leave them there. End on a positive note! Also, the tone of your voice and the expressions of your body can be either positive or negative. If you have someone you can bounce questions off of, ask them how you came across after your sermon, and don’t get offended if they say something critical. Thank God for the godly wife I have who loves me enough to tell me the truth.
I pray constantly that no one can sit in one of my services with sin in their life and be comfortable with it; that the convicting power of God will always be present and the love of God always experienced. I know that’s not very popular in today’s church, but like I said earlier, remember who you work for. As a child will not be healthy eating ice cream and cake every meal, neither will a church be healthy if you only feed them what they want every Sunday.
Pastor Rick Sharkey – Spokane, WA
Over the years of maturing and gaining experience in pastoring, I had to resolve a critical issue. I am not running for office but I am being a parent. I had to get past wanting to be popular or liked.
There are hard issues in raising children and hard issues in spiritual leadership. I love my children and parent them. I have the same position with my leading of God’s children. My kids don’t need a friend but a leader, mentor, and consistent, reliable father. The same is true in God’s house. We need pastors who think like fathers and not detached voices. I also rely on the Holy Spirit to help me discern issues before they become deep crippling problems. The old secular proverb, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” is so wise. I try to hear from the Holy Spirit and minister on real Bible truths before the issues become practiced and infect the house of God.
There is a chapter in Qualified (Tony’s new book) on tact and diplomacy (great chapter. My favorite was dealing with difficult people). You can speak the truth in love and bring wisdom in a way that is easy and inviting and not harsh, condescending, and caustic. Real sheep hear His voice and long for truth and wisdom.
My experience has brought me to this revelation…I am not building a crowd. They often turn into gangs that will revolt. I am committed to pastor a church. Jesus is building a flock, not a herd.
Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
The very first tip that comes to mind as I prayerfully read through your question a number of times is this: If you desire to please a lot of people, a lot of the time, DON’T BECOME A PASTOR! (This is hilariously funny—“in my head.” Hope you could hear the humor as you read it!)
I believe that this is an issue that you’ve been praying about for a while. This belief is based upon two simple observations. First, James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” My second observation was found in your question itself. I believe you actually answered this question yourself. You said, “I want to be positive, uplifting, and encouraging in my preaching.” This is your answer! You can address serious issues without being harsh or beating up the people. Negative situations can be handled in a very positive, uplifting, and encouraging manner! Just work through your outline in search of anything is “on the edge” and figure out a way to present it properly. For example, we recently made some serious changes to the design of our platform. These changes impacted the look and feel of our sanctuary in a fairly dramatic way. All of the younger people were thrilled, but there was quite a group of individuals who were obviously struggling with the changes. I simply shared with the congregation (on numerous occasions) and celebrated how happy I was to be leading a group of people who were strong, supportive and mature. I told them how many congregations would actually complain about changes like these, but our church was much more mature than that and THAT was why I loved pastoring them! I spoke to a negative situation without being negative and it came across positive, uplifting, and encouraging. I believe you already have the ingredients to your solution. You now simply need to follow the directions (the recipe) and you’ll end up with your desired result.
Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
In preparation for preaching I ask myself two questions:
1) What do I want the people to know?
2) What do I want the people to do?
The second question is the “So what?” moment. There is no need to inform people positively or negatively without the call to action. People love truth. The truth sometimes hurts. Most people want to improve deficient and damaging areas of their lives. Giving people the solution to a problem is positive. Criticism without a solution is condemning. Observing and informing people of problem areas with a way out is healing and helpful. Knowing about my problem is one step closer to something improving in my life.
Awareness is the first step towards change. Self-disclosure is the next step. Before negative can be overcome, the person must take ownership of his or her problem. Most people cannot make significant changes without help. Honest feedback from another person is required to sustain positive changes in behavior. Finally, fear and gratitude or praise cannot exist simultaneously in our minds. When we point our error, we must also encourage people that they can make the positive changes that are necessary.
Pastor Jerry Weinzierl – Sterling Heights, MI
For me, humor is an important key. Mary Poppins may have been a bit on the ‘witchcrafty’ side…but she did say that ‘a spoon full of sugar…’. Well, you know the rest! I’m not talking about making serious issues/subjects into a joke. But there’s something about a smile, a laugh that seems to disarm or at the very least, begin to dismantle ‘walls’ of protection. My experience is that people respond best when:
1. They know you love them and have their best interest in mind.
2. You don’t seem to be preaching out of anger, frustration or piety.
3. You can give them the opportunity to respond and you make it sound like it’s something they can actually do. (Your people will know if you believe in them!)
4. Be real! If you messed up and can use your story to illustrate the subject, don’t be so afraid to tell on yourself….but ONLY if you’ve come though it successfully. I ‘live what I preach’, but it’s also a good thing to ‘preach what you live’.
Final thought: When Jesus said, ‘Go and sin no more…’, there was a message in that phrase that the woman caught in sin heard loud and clear. I believe she probably thought to herself, ‘…If He said, Go and sin no more…I must be able to, “go and not sin…He believes in ME!’. Well, just a thought. :o)
Hope it helps…
Pastor Monte Knudsen – Mt. Pleasant, IA
Repentance is actually a positive not a negative. It means to turn from, or turn around. We should count it a privilege to teach, inspire, and lead people to turn from sin and turn to God. It helps me personally to think of sin in an acronym. Self Interests Now.
We should think of pastoring like parenting. Our children need positive affirmation but they also need correction without apology and discipline without us feeling guilty for it. This is not a license to give people a “piece of your mind,” but rather a mandate by God to disciple and train believers for the work of the ministry.
For example, when was the last time you heard a message on believing God to make it through suffering? Moses did it when he “chose” and when he “refused” to be a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. It takes faith to speak what God is directing you to say when in fact you know it is confrontational or corrective. It is something we “choose” and we “refuse” to compromise even though we understand it doesn’t add to our popularity.
Last thought: you don’t have to be a “mean” parent to bring correction or discipline. You just have to be strong. You don’t back down when your children whine or complain. Choices have consequences. Obedience does have reward and disobedience does have consequences both in the pulpit and in the pew.
Pastor Dennis Cummins – Puyallup, WA
I believe that preaching a balanced diet of the Word of God is an unavoidable responsibility of any pastor. I think the challenging issue is that sometimes the whole council of God becomes out of season with current cultural appetites. So when the people groan about the pastor being too pointed in preaching, are the people just having itching ears or is the pastor being too harsh and legalistic? I think subjects like hell and the judgment of God are many times viewed as negative and condemnatory messages, but if we preach it with a tender heart motivated by love and humility, it can be inspiring and motivating.
While most churches have doctrinal statements on their website, how many churches actually preach what they say they believe? Some may say they believe what is listed in the doctrinal statement, but if it is not reinforced from the pulpit on a regular basis then maybe it’s not something they hold true to.
Here in the state of Washington we recently passed same sex marriage and marijuana use. I felt that I had a biblical obligation to speak out God’s word concerning these issues. While it wasn’t popular, I had to address them. I can’t be the Levite preaching for 10 shekels and a shirt (Judges 17,18). Like the Levite priest he was able to adjust himself to the culture and compromise his calling so he could keep his position and paycheck. It’s easy to preach inspirational messages of increase, blessings, and healings, but without preaching consecration, sanctification and sacrifice we have no foundation character to maintain the increase, blessings, and healings.
We are living in a hedonistic culture where the pursuit of life is happiness and I can’t dare adjust my preaching to suite the appetites of man. I must preach every sermon as though it’s my last, for I am a herald of the King and not a puppet of the people.
Pastor John L. Pfeffer, Jr. – Seekonk, MA
There are times when God as our Father has to rebuke or chastise us. Hebrews 12:5-11. He corrects us because He loves us. Therefore, His correction comes out of His heart of love to bring us into line where He knows we will have His blessings.
I have found in handling difficult situations with people in the church, that as long as I make sure that my motive for the correction is the same as His, it will come across the right way. I have learned that it is the motive of my heart that will be communicated much more that what I say.
Therefore, before I deal with situations (either from the pulpit or personally) I ask God for His heart towards that situation. Then I have to be sensitive in my heart to what He wants and not what I may want in that situation. I have never had Him fail to provide direction.
Pastor Terry Scheel – Fenton, MO
I grew up listening to pastors spend more time correcting the saints than encouraging them. By the time I became a pastor, I thought it was my job to bring correction to the congregation every time I addressed them. One day I was visiting one of my church members who was temporarily in a mental health facility. It was the first time he had spoken with me privately. He said, “Pastor Terry, I didn’t know you could be so encouraging. I like the man I’m talking to here privately far more than the man I listen to behind the pulpit every Sunday!” Wow. I had to go to a mental health facility to get some of the best advice I had ever received. It was then I realized I needed to encourage the congregation rather than always correct them.
It is important, however, not to get in the ditch on the other side of the road and only bring words of encouragement every time you minister. The following verse perhaps best sums up the pastor’s pulpit role:
2 Timothy 4:2 (AMP)
Herald and preach the Word! Keep your sense of urgency [stand by, be at hand and ready], whether the opportunity seems to be favorable or unfavorable. [Whether it is convenient or inconvenient, whether it is welcome or unwelcome, you as preacher of the Word are to show people in what way their lives are wrong.] And convince them, rebuking and correcting, warning and urging and encouraging them, being unflagging and inexhaustible in patience and teaching.
I am very concerned by what I observe going on in some of the most popular pulpits of today. Every message, every time is positive and encouraging! These pastors are in violation of the aforementioned verse. They never tell the people in what ways their lives are wrong. No wonder they are so popular! I believe these pastors are perhaps the ones described in the following verse:
2 Timothy 4:3 (AMP)
For the time is coming when [people] will not tolerate (endure) sound and wholesome instruction, but, having ears itching [for something pleasing and gratifying], they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold…
The Old Testament prophet’s messages offended people more than made them feel good about themselves. The Lord Jesus’ messages encouraged sinners, yet offended the religious and self-righteous. Remember, a true man of God will have two messages in his mouth, a message of repentance and a message of blessing upon repentance.
The Word of God can be offensive because it causes people to change and grow to a higher level. The Word of God can be offensive but you, as a pastor, don’t have to be offensive. I’ve watched pastor’s offend congregations with John 3:16. John 3:16 didn’t offend the congregations; it was the pastor’s offensive demeanor that did.
2 Timothy 4:2 (noted above) tells pastors to preach the Word. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to speak the truth in love. So, approach your pulpit looking for ways to bless and encourage your congregation. Yet, don’t be afraid to bring correction. Preach the Word, do it in love, stay sweet, and let the Word of God bring the correction. Be tactful, and bring correction with a smile on your face. Like Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”
If you are a true man of God, you will step on the congregation’s toes once in a while with the Word of God. Whenever I step on someone’s toes with the Word of God, I am quick to remind them that Jesus still heals toes! And, I remind them with a smile on my face!
Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
With the large number of options that people have to hear preaching via TV, radio, the internet, books and other sources, people more and more today can choose what they want to hear, rather than what is good for them. It is similar to a five year old turned loose at a buffet. Most kids will go straight for the brownies and the ice cream. It makes them feel good, but it is not helping them grow and develop. I was given the command by my Mom each night to eat everything on my plate—whether I liked it or not. Christians today do not have to do that when it comes to doctrine.
As a pastor, we have a responsibility to “feed the flock,” not necessarily keep everyone upbeat, happy and affirmed. Yet, we cannot preach based on our mood swings nor because of the last crazy counseling session. Just like nutritionists now know what it takes for the human body to grow, develop and to stay strong, so the New Testament gives us a spiritual nutrition plan.
As Kenneth E. Hagin mentioned frequently, we should spend much time and get the bulk of our doctrine from the epistles as they were written to us—to the church. They were also written to a body of believers—the saints at Ephesus, Colossae and other churches. By looking at the overall content of the epistles, I think we can see many strategies that will help us develop a preaching strategy.
- Build a foundation of positional truth. Most of the epistles start with telling the believer who Jesus is, what He did and how that now affects them. We see amazing truth of the finished work of the cross, righteousness, faith in Him, the grace and love of God among the first few chapters. New Christians do not know this and mature Christians forget it.
- Show believers how to apply truth in everyday life. Most epistles then move away from issues that make believers want to shout and wave handkerchiefs. Now, if God has forgiven us, forgive one another in the same way. Since God loves you in these amazing ways, love your wife in the exact same way. God was generous to your, be generous to His body. We have to be taught how to live out the truths of redemption, not just get encouraged by them.
- Address issues in the church. Every epistle other than Ephesians included specific teaching to correct something in the local church. Paul addressed big theological issues like legalism and gnosticism. He also spoke about incest, abusing alcohol, sexual immorality, lying and a long list of destructive behavior that needed to stop and be replaced with godliness. Other than Galatians, he never started with correction. He started by telling the believer who Jesus was and their redemptive place in Him.
- Be Jesus centered. The epistles make much of Jesus and so should we. We should also use the gospels so that people have a face to face encounter with the focal person of the Bible. We are changed as we behold Him. The teachings, parables and acts of Jesus are God showing up in plain view among us. Our teaching should never deviate from the nature of God as revealed by Jesus. While every step of the life of Jesus was driven by love, many encounters and conversations He had with His followers included correction and rebuke.
We are simply channels of God’s Word and counsel. Let’s let the Word of God do its wonderful work as we preach and teach it in its entirety and for the purpose it was intended.