Dan Phillips dares to ask this question of pastors: “Why are you even a pastor?”
So. This guy gets up in the pulpit, right? He’s got all these people, these immortal souls, literally one heartbeat away from an irreversible eternity, and he… does what?
This is the critical moment. These people have re-arranged their calendars. They’ve altered their schedules. They’ve said “No” to every activity but this. . . .
This may be the only time they’ve been in a church, about to hear someone who claims to believe the Word, the Gospel. Maybe they’re there because a friend or relative has prayed for them for months, for years, for decades. Finally, they’re in a (professedly) Christian church, intending to listen to whatever a (professedly) Christian preacher is about to say. It is literally a critical moment, a moment of crisis, of judgment. . . .
What do you do? What do you do with that priceless, pivotal, unbearably freighted opportunity?
I can tell you what some do.
This one guy – he tells jokes. Now, anyone who’s heard me preach knows I’ve no problem with humor in the service of a Biblical message. The Bible does it, Spurgeon did it, I do it.
But that isn’t the aim here. That isn’t the purpose. No, these are jokes with the sole purpose of making the joker look cute and clever and witty. “Oh, please – like me,” these jokes wail. “Love me. Think I’m cool!” The audience chuckles, and has a good time. Some of them go off to Hell chuckling. Others become a reproach to their professed Lord as they do what sheep characteristically do, without a shepherd.
Then there’s this other guy, who gets up and chats. He shares, he randomly free-associates. Word flow, unfiltered, from imagination to mouth. He poses questions to which he offers no answer. Then he shrugs and wanders on. People leave with never a “Thus says the Lord” to challenge their thinking and point them to Christ.
Yet a third fellow tells stories, as if Garrison Keillor were his model for preaching rather than Isaiah or Paul, Wesley, Whitfield, Spurgeon, or Ryle. They are stories of which the only point is the story itself, or the cleverness of the storyteller. They serve the end of entertaining the audience, or provoking its admiration, or filling time inoffensively. They’ll go off to Hell, or to shame Christ, with a nice story in their ears.
Still another gent weaves a blurry tapestry of vague, gauzy religious sentiments that could equally have been preached by a Unitarian, a pantheist, a New Ager, a Mormon, a Christian Scientist, a Roman Catholic, or a secular motivational speaker. Nobody’s offended. Nobody. People like him, they think he’s clever. Well, good. Because that was his goal: to be liked. Mission Accomplished. He has his reward. They like him… until eternity dawns, and they see how miserably he failed them. But for now, nobody’s offended or upset. . . .
You can bet I’m sitting there fuming, and internally shouting these words: “You had that pulpit, these people, this opportunity – and you did that with it? What, in the name of all that’s holy, were you thinking? You may never see these people again! Nobody may ever see them again! That may have been your one opportunity – and you do that with it? Why did you even get up there? Why are you even a pastor?”