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Why So Many Preachers Annoy So Many Christians

[Please welcome with me Clinton C. Roberts. Clint is becoming a good friend of mine. He lives here in Edmond Oklahoma is a member of the Credo House. He has a Ph.D. from the University of South Africa, he is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma and Liberty, and he served as a missionary in Utah to the Mormons for some time. While in Utah, they set up a coffee shop to serve their cause (sound familiar?). Clinton has an increadible personality and have a life with many deep and sometimes complex issues that will benefit our readers here on the blog. You can find him on Facebook here. I am very excited to introduce him to you. The following is his first blog. Give him some trouble but welcome him with me!]

Maybe this is due in part to having simply grown older and having heard so many sermons from so many preachers over the years – in person, online, by television, etc. – but I find myself increasingly annoyed by things preachers say and how they say it.  Maybe it’s the repetition of all of those preacherly terms & phrases, or the pulpit personas that preachers adopt. Maybe I’m just cynical & unfair in my overall perspective on the subject.

Or maybe T. David Gordon was onto something when he wrote a book a few years ago arguing that “preaching today is ordinarily poor”[1] as a result, more or less, of our culture.  His book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (the title being an intentional knockoff of the widely read Why Johnny Can’t Read of the mid-1960s), points out that society has shifted dramatically and speedily from being text-based to being image-based. That, and a few other elements of the media and entertainment dominated landscape, has made everyone, including ministers, less able to deal with an ancient text, less adept at language in general & careful exegesis in particular, less skilled rhetorically, & frankly too distracted to spend much time caring about these shortcomings.

Since I spend a lot of my time trying to get people to grasp the principles of critical thinking, to follow the steps of logical argument, and to gain some level of appreciation for things well expressed, I fully understand and agree with Gordon’s observations. You can’t read the papers that college students submit these days and conclude anything else. But when it comes to the specified communication known as preaching, there is something more than this that seems to bother me.

This far into the American experiment it is no surprise that unfettered freedom of religion has spurned a thousand varieties of Christian preaching. And while there is unquestionably a very impressive and praiseworthy subgroup among that vast lot, there is another tragically large and perhaps growing subgroup of preachers who have a knack for wasting precious breath & either boring us with the banal or butchering the airwaves with a Benny-Hinnish clown act. Whether they ambush me on TV or online, too many painful pulpit atrocities make my ears bleed, even as they cause me to realize afresh the double-edged perversity of the situation, which is that some of the worst examples attract the largest crowds. Why is that? Why do the biggest throngs clamor for the most inane sermonic drivel? I can think of possible avenues of explanation, but I’ll leave that part of the discussion to one side.

What should have our attention most acutely is that these examples of bad preaching accomplish two simultaneously destructive ends. They lead their regular disciples & devotees down a path of false teaching and irrelevant mind-candy, on the one hand. And they inoculate a lot of outsiders against anything smacking of Christian preaching, on the other.  They doom discipleship & they hamstring evangelism.  I remember some years ago listening to a young business professional talking about why he wanted nothing to do with churches. He had heard various preachers, as he explained, that he’d decided were all hucksters with hair-pieces.  My initial knee-jerk reaction was to rush to the defense of preachers in general, but then I immediately remembered a story I had read earlier that day about investigations into a televangelistic megachurch pastor couple, the female of which calls herself “Paula White” (whom you may have seen on TV before: think bleached hair, plasticky face, and an awkwardly contrived preacher cadence that sounds like she’s been slain by the ‘spirit of the brain injury’ – Beelzeboob, if you will); in a development that shocked absolutely nobody with a lick of sense, this couple was reportedly under fire for misuse of funds. I’m not sure what drew anybody’s attention to them: their modest mansion, maybe, or the Bentley, the jewelry, the exotic trips, or their ridiculous wardrobe straight from the TBN Spring fashion line.

But I could hardly dispute what the man was saying about the assortment of preachers that outsiders are likely to encounter on television. And while most of us recognize the couple in that story as a walking stereotype, there are many far less obvious cases of people pretending to ‘play pastor’ when they are qualified for something more along the lines of Botox-tester. American evangelicalism is a wide-open playing field where anyone can self-apply a title like pastor, bishop, minister, etc.  Consider the range of characters with “Rev.” in front of their names; they span a sordid continuum from Fred Phelps to Al Sharpton. And unfortunately many biblically illiterate Americans are all too willing to give unquestioned respect to anybody who dons a collar, grips a microphone, quotes a verse, and pretends to have authority from God to speak for and about Him. Take a moment to consider who has the largest churches in America, who sells the most books, and whose messages are broadcast the furthest. Consider the preacher who apparently had the primary spiritual influence on the man who holds the highest office. We’re told that among the scream-fests that Obama slept through over the years at his Chicago church were messages about how the white government invented AIDS as a tool of racist population control.

Am I being too negative about the situation?  I’m trying to put it as plainly and semi-politely as possible. If I were more blunt about it, I might say that the spiritual democracy has tilted toward idiocy so that the biblically inept & sub-logical hordes are beguiled by the combination (in varying portions) of the smooth talk, the lofty promise, the self-designation of prophetic witness, the appeal to greed, & the assurance of self-help strategies for every neurosis of modern suburban life. Thus are the stale loaves of empty and false preaching broken over the empty heads of the pew-warming chimps who further enable the decadence of their spiritual masters. They recline at the table to share a festering turd that they have mistaken for true spiritual nourishment. This, I reiterate, is what I MIGHT say about it, were I less a person of tact.

But seriously, fellow church-goers, there is more than a rant to be endured here. There is a lesson and a warning. We now live in the confusing information-choked superhighway, with several million lanes full like it’s rush hour. Data is too plentiful but discernment is on the wane. It’s a dangerous environment for the naïve or the intellectually lazy. Theories, interpretations, trends & movements are legion, tempting every casual or curious cyber investigator to decide, in the absence of a standard by which to judge them all, that the best choice is the one that simply appeals to me personally. But sermons (like any source of information about anything important and objective) are not to be selected the same way you buy shoes. It’s not mere preference. It’s not taste. It’s not a whim. You wouldn’t select a surgeon for your life-saving procedure in that way, would you?

We probably can’t keep the hucksters of heretical homilies from hounding us on TV, the internet, & elsewhere. But every Christian can take truth, belief, & discipleship (which is essentially a lifelong education) seriously enough to hold the standard higher for preachers than we have been lately. We could stop giving time, money and admiration to shallow & shoddy proclaimers of things either untrue or just not that important.  And though some will think we shouldn’t go this further step, we can openly condemn & shame the pompously pious puffy-pompadoured pimps & peddlers of prosperity nonsense. The sooner they are put out of business & have to foreclose on their island vacation estates, the better.

Let’s increase the ranks of those laboring to be worthy of the calling & responsibility of handling profound truths that carry such weight & magnitude, who have studied with diligent intensity, who utilize rhetorical skills wisely & efficiently for the sake of clarity. They are the kind of truly anointed communicators who can lead out in the shaping and framing of Christian minds, which is the primary biblical solution to so many people being ruined by so much poor preaching.


[1] T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2009), 17.

28 Responses to “Why So Many Preachers Annoy So Many Christians”

  1. I think our faithful preachers have to learn to preach interestingly and not boringly. I know one guy whose content is very good, but he is too inspired by the puritans, and preaches in a monotone voice… I think God works through all he has created us to be, when he calls us to preach his word.

  2. This is the worst post I have ever seen! Ok, not really, but CMP said to give him some trouble.

    Really, welcome Clinton, and this 1st post is so true. However, like Craig mentioned in #1, there is a challenge in presenting a sermon that is true and interesting.

    Likewise, I think the expectations placed on pastors (24/7 on-call availability, handle every “crisis”, etc…) means that some have less time and energy to work sufficiently on the sermon.

  3. God bless your courage Clinton! I’ve already shared this article with my small social circles. I’m not a preacher, but the son of one. You’re right. Looking forward to reading more of what you have to say.

  4. Welcome, Clinton! You do know how to attract readers to your comments, don’t you?! At least, this semi-literate Okie was curious enough to jump into your article with both feet. And you didn’t, in the slightest, disappoint me with your “rant” about the weakness of content and shameless self-promotion that many contemporary “preachers” foist on an increasingly skeptical culture of listeners.

    That said. . .may I hazard to make one “literary” suggestion. . .? You might want to consider lightening up a little on the litany of alliterations, lest they leap to lessen and loosen the learning of listless Libertarians. . .{wink}

  5. I am a little confused… is this actually “Why TV Preachers Annoy So Many Christians”? I’m past annoyed and onto really scared by the TV ‘preacher’ who seems to get the most attention from the most people i come into contact with, the lovely Osteen fellow (not sure if he is “Brother” or “Pastor” or whatever. I kind of don’t care). Recently an old friend posted quote after quote from that guy on FaceBook and finally i wrote something like “oh man, no!”, and was asked why i wrote it about such a lovely, encouraging guy. The man makes me mad because he is an ear tickler. He does not care about your eternal soul and so many others don’t either – at all.
    I miss church. luckily a friend recommended her church which streams on the ‘net a few years ago, and it was awesome until that pastor died last year on Palm Sunday…. so i guess i haven’t been annoyed so much as “wow, that guy is merrily leading decent people to hell” and ‘I really hate it that my terrific pastor died”. I can put up with annoyance (I so hoped you would mention the whole 3-point sermon thing! :)), but lack of truth-telling? No way. Just no way.

  6. “…society has shifted dramatically and speedily from being text-based to being image-based.”

    This is sadly very true. Ravi Zacharias has a superb message entitled “Mind Games in A World of Images” that seems to hint that the end times deception(s) stem largely from this loss of the ability to reason in the abstract. At the very least, it goes to show how superficial and feelings-driven (the immediate reaction being of utmost importance) we have become. And if the church has gone that way….

  7. There seems to be a rabbit-like multiplication of false teachers these days…often found in your local, once conservative, hometown church. Certain seminaries seem to function as culprit bunny hatcheries, cranking them out by the hundreds.
    It certainly isn’t a good starting point to train at a seminary that does not uphold the inerrancy of scripture.

  8. 2 Timothy 4:3 “. . . they will not endure sound doctrine;”
    Comparing the above to your polemic is like saying the Titanic, “experienced mechanical difficulties”.
    One thing that annoys me is that poor doctrine is not any more truthful when SPOKEN LOUDLY! And some preachers must learn that pounding on the podium affects the microphone more than the audience.
    In short, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. That’s us. And He repeated Himself.
    Alas, strong desire and a DD are not all that are required to be a good preacher. The best I’ve heard on the air or otherwise have a child-like love for and devotion to the Word of God and the truth contained there. Without that, all the rest is like, well, arranging deck chairs on the big sinking boat.

  9. Michael. You know my area is Christian apologetics and the church sorely lacks with sermons that are nothing but application and no teaching of doctrine. You can’t have application without a foundation. When we were church-browsing when we first moved here, my wife had to tell me several times during a sermon to stay calm because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I remember someone did a sermon on Mark 2 and the healing of the paralytic and how it ended with “We have never seen anything like this.” The whole sermon was about things the preacher had never seen. I remember him talking about a friend who had died and was now walking on those streets of gold. (Sorry bub, but I suspect his body is still in the ground. No resurrection yet. Never mind I question your interpretation of Revelation.) It was saddening to think I’m 32 and this guy is likely more than twice my age and I could probably preach circles around him.

    If the church does not return to real teaching soon with a good basis that can be defended with a sound apologetic, then the church in America will die. I think we’re on our last legs. It’s not too late to save, but the patient had better take the medication soon.

  10. Nick, I know what you are talking about. As the teaching went increasingly South at my lifelong, once conservative, church I would sometimes have a royal stomach ache by the end of a sermon. Interestingly, as solid doctrine disappeared the sins of the pastors became increasingly evident. The two seem to go hand-in-hand.

  11. Susan. When people tell me they don’t like going to church it makes perfect sense to me. I’m also remembering one church I went to when I was single and in Bible College. They were having a “silver ring thing” ceremony which is all about waiting until marriage. Okay. I think waiting until marriage is excellent. But the preacher was saying that if you have sex before you’re married, you’ll be doing it for selfish reasons. Okay. Fair enough. Then he said “Think about what you’ll tell your future spouse, or what you’ll tell your parents, or the guilt you’ll have, or you could get pregnant or an STD. I was thinking “Sorry, but those sound like selfish reasons to not do it also.” Amazingly, as he kept going on, I was getting bored.

    If you can preach about sex and get a single guy in college bored, something is wrong.

  12. Mike, is this the kind of trouble you want us to give him:

    After stating in paragraph 3 that he spends “a lot of . . . time trying to get people to . . . gain some level of appreciation for things well expressed”, he begins paragraph 4 this way: “This far into the American experiment it is no surprise that unfettered freedom of religion has spurned a thousand varieties of Christian preaching.” I think he means “spawned” rather than “spurned.” [Though it’s possible that many of those spawned have also been spurned.] :-)

  13. Now, here’s the other part: Thanks for your observations, Clinton. Well done!

  14. Thanks, Craig – you spelling Nazi, you. I noticed that mistake this morning, but I was hoping I could fly it under the radar. I’m going to give my editor a disciplinary wedgie for that blunder (which will be a strange and awkward experience, since he’s ME).

  15. Preaching in the so-called Free World has fallen on hard times, and even evil days! At least in this culture of postmodernity it is almost one of those social forces which have become outmoded in the West today. But then there is “real” preaching, which will always be the Gospel “kerygma” (message) itself, which as John Calvin said was “the public exposition of Scripture by the man sent by God, in which God Himself is present in judgment and grace.” And we can quote the OT here: “And thou shalt anoint Aaron and his sons, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto ME in the priests office.” (Ex. 30:30) And Jesus Christ, “He anointed me to preach.” (Isa. 61: 1 / Luke 4: 18) And simply, if the preacher withhold the impartation of the knowledge of the great fact of Christ Jesus, he is not preaching! Here alone is the message of the Gospel, i.e. “Christ Jesus”. And Biblically, it is to be a factual reality of proclamation: the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ! Again, this is the proclamation or “kerygma” Gospel message itself. Again, Christ is not the subject of a comment but the burden of our message. HE must be “proclaimed”!

    And btw, the loss today of the Gospel preaching of the Ascension and Ascended Life of Christ, as prophet, priest & king, the Lord Himself who is the divinely commissioned One, with and in the redemptive representative Mediator: in Himself! HE is everything! (A loss too real!) Here are the divine “Sessions” themselves in the Person and “face” of Christ!

  16. “The non-theological Christ is popular, he wins votes; but he is not mighty; he does not win souls; he does not break men into small pieces and create them anew.” ~ P.T. Forsyth

  17. And btw, the great need and predominance today in the historic & visible church is for a renewal and return to a theology of the Cross…St. Paul (1 Cor. 1: 17-31 & 2: 1-2, etc.)… and here too is Luther’s ‘theologia crucis’! The Cross alone is the real “apologetic”, and not so much “apologetics”! And the true God In Christ, is a “saving” God!

  18. Lisa Robinson April 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Clinton, welcome :)

    To leverage Fr Roberts comment, I think the main problem is that preaching has been confused with charismatic speech that rallies the crowd to whatever is being communicated. But he is right, preaching the word “kerygma” is lost when disconnected from the meta-narrative of scripture. And because contemporary evangelicalism has capitulated to an American success philosophy (the biggest, shiniest platform wins), the untrained get away with murder, literally. I consider a personality like T.D. Jakes who can rile up a crowd. He’ll even preach through books of the bible. But his exegesis is horrendous and his theology questionable.

  19. Nick, that sounds like classic moralism (the pastor’s reasons for abstinence). When the preaching ceases to be Christ-centered we’re in trouble.

  20. Correct Susan. When I was dating my wife, her parents could leave us alone, but they always were nearby. They didn’t worry because they knew I had a deep theology and doctrine of sex and took my commitment to them and to their daughter seriously, and still do. Without that, it would have been far more difficult. When a guy and a girl are on a couch together, they need more than a few verses from Paul without a greater theological context.

  21. Folks, we are under the judgment of Almighty God because we have not walked in his ways therefore he has sent this leanness to our souls. We can spend millions on sound equipment, spotlights, backlit projection screens, bump the lights to get folks quieted down so the “worship” can begin, all in the house of God. Like many of you my heart aches over the sad condition of the church and wonder why Bible College professors cannot see that the church is loosing its influence because we’ve adopted theatrics and moved the Holy Spirit to the sidelines. Whatever happened to “Thus saith the Lord”?
    Let me encourage you, obtain a copy of a book entitled Radical by David Platt. You’ll read about a Friday night service called Secret Church. A six hour study and prayer time, No band, No music just your Bible and others who want to be better aligned to Him, following a pattern of underground Churches in Asia. Amazing

  22. I always thought that God’s judgement on our souls was satisfied on the cross. We have just as much grace and Spirit as people in other countries, but . . .
    If we are naughty children, indolent and pleasure-dazed, then a time of chastening will come. Hopefully, an encouraging reminder in His Word will be enough to get us on track, if we dare to rise and conquer!
    Many of us have a lifestyle of seeking mirth, as in Ecclisiastes, to excess or horribly to the exclusion of appropriate solemn meditation, even sorrow, in its due time.
    In fact, most of my evenings are spent in front of that one-eyed monster, the TV set. And so goes a great American tradition . . .
    In short, the bad preachers want us comfortable in the dung heap. The good ones will hand us a bar of soap.

  23. [apologies for the poor English]

    At least you’ve got “some” good preachers in the US. Alright they are lost in an ocean of bad preachers, but at least they’re out there.

    It’s not even the case in most countries on the planet! Preaching in countries like France for example is incredibly poor… it’s either theologically completely vapid or plain heretical.

    Sadly, it seems that only the bad preachers get exported all over the world.

    No one in France would have EVER heard of people like Piper, Keller and all the others… and on the other side, all the silliness going on in the US is welcomed with opened arms, especially the craziest charismaniacs stuff.

  24. I just want to mention again that it seems a bit like we are majoring on the minors here. It’s awful to not be able to go to church and IMHO, some of this sounds more like pet peeves and First World Problems. I read a post that came through my mail (Oh there you are, hi jonathon just above me :)) that said “At least you have some good preachers here”. Amen, friend. We are exceedingly blessed in this country to NEVER have had to go underground to worship God or suffer any major persecution, etc. We are very blessed. If a pastor is preaching sound doctrine, but he irritates you by tapping a lectern.. .that just doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. I have family and friends who HATE God. They hate that my Mom and I love Him. We have to live knowing that unless God intervenes soon, they will go to hell. So i just hope that we can be grateful for the good, even if they annoy you. Sorry i don’t know all of the big words and things – i do know that Jesus came to seek & save the lost, and that is what i want from Pastors. Thanks for reading.

  25. Nice observation about how our preachers preach today. Some people may relate to you. But I am fortunate to be hearing preachers who I can say are very good. They are not boring at all. Sometimes it is the people who are not listening 100 percent. What I mean is that, some are distracted and actually not really in full attention. That was my observation. For those preachers that you think are making Christians annoyed, they must be told about it so that they can make changes.

  26. Does itchy ears have anything to do with it? 2 Timothy 4:3

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