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How can you avoid undermining God's Word? (Lightstock)

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We pastors love the Word of God. We read it, study it and devote our lives to learning it and teaching and preaching its riches. It is our sole authority for what we believe and teach. And yet ...

We sometimes do things that undermine the confidence of our congregations in God’s Word. By our (perhaps) well-intentioned attempts to communicate what we have learned and believe, we may actually do more harm than good. The result of that is to discourage God’s people from reading it on their own and feeding their souls upon its nourishment. And when we do that, we are betraying them, dishonoring the Lord and playing right into the hands of the enemy.

Here are 10 ways we sabotage the confidence of our people in Holy Scripture:

1. The pastor stands to preach without reading Scripture at all. He says by his omission that Scripture doesn’t matter, that what counts is what he has to say.

Having said that, I will say it’s not always necessary to carry a Bible into the pulpit with you if you know the text by heart or it will be projected onto the screen. But the pastor should leave no question in anyone’s mind that what he is sharing is not some clever something he thought up but a message based on God’s eternal Word.

2. He reads it but does not preach it. His sermon is made up of his ideas, input from others, and quotes he has picked up in his reading. The Scripture is not relevant.

I confess to having done this myself. The message, I felt, was true to Scripture, but the text I read at the beginning had little to do with anything. It sets a bad precedent for our people.

3. He shortcuts the reading of Scripture in order to get to the sermon. I heard of a pastor who announced, “I’m not going to read the text this morning so I can get into the message God has given me.”

Anytime we leave our people with the impression that God is still giving extrabiblical revelations today, we are opening up a Pandora’s box of problems we will never be able to close it again. Let us be careful of “adding to this word.”

4. He adds to the Word his own thoughts, which may end up changing the plain meaning of the text. Scripture, for him, becomes an instrument to dress up his sermons, not an authoritative word from on high.

Billy Graham set the standard for his generation by his repeated use of “Scripture says”!

5. He spends more time preaching his ideas than opening the text. We are not against creativity, and we are all in favor of looking at biblical stories in fresh ways. However, these impulses must be restrained and made to honor God’s inspired and revealed Word most of all.

6. He skips the great themes of Scripture in order to preach the odd, exotic and minor texts. The “great themes” of Scripture—those taught and illustrated from one end of the Bible to the other—include (but are not limited to) the Trinity, the sovereignty of God, the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ, prayer, grace, faith and love. However, some pastors feel attracted more to the unusual text that allows them to plow new ground. If the pastor’s motive was to provide his people something fresh and unusual, we can understand the sentiment, but it should be done sparingly.

7. He reads the Scripture poorly in the service and stumbles over words. His lack of preparation speaks volumes about his low regard for the Word.

8. He keeps insisting that “the original Greek/Hebrew” means something else than what the Bible in the hands of his members plainly states. As a result, members leave church believing that the translation they hold in their hands is not trustworthy. They are thus discouraged from picking up the Bible and reading it during the week.

9. He skips around in his preaching and never preaches the grand themes of the Word or entire books of the Bible. Therefore, his people never learn their Scripture.

10. Finally, few things discourage God’s people from trusting the Word and reading it for their own edification like a pastor who overdoes the exegetical business. This is the opposite of No. 1 and No. 2 above. In this, the pastor spends two years preaching through 1 John. He proudly announces to his preacher friends that after six months, he’s still in the first chapter, as though this were an accomplishment to be proud of. As a result, members grow to despise that epistle. (Not saying that all do, but many will, and that’s a serious indictment.)

The question then becomes, What can a pastor do to encourage his people to love God’s Word more and to make full use of it during the week?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Love it yourself, pastor. Read it daily, read it carefully and lovingly, and listen to its message.

2. Study it carefully, looking for its plain and intended message, not bringing to it your own presumption. “What is God saying here?” Do not read it looking for a sermon, although you will find plenty. Do not read it looking to prove a point, although you will often make such a discovery.

3. Pray about this. Ask the Holy Spirit—the Author of this Book, mind you!—how to present it best and to encourage your people (His people!) to love it and obey its teaching. The goal is for them to say as Job did, “I have esteemed the Words of His mouth more than my necessary food!” (That’s Job 23:12.)

4. Plan your public reading of the text by reading it multiple times aloud, reading it slowly, and asking your spouse for suggestions on how to make your reading of it more effective.

5. Remember that this Word is far more important than anything you will say about it.  (You may have to keep reminding yourself of that, because the human spirit will insist that the message you have labored over all week deserves the stronger billing.)

6. Do not try to overshadow the Word with your stories or preaching.

7. Do not do anything that undermines your people’s confidence in the inspiration of the Word of God. I’m thinking of a pastor who spent the entire sermon time telling his people that the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman (John 8) is not authentic and not to be trusted. Toward the end of his sermon, he said, “However, this should not cause you to distrust Scripture.” It’s too late; he had already done that to them. (There is a way to present such stories as this and the ending of Mark’s Gospel. But it should be done carefully and lovingly.)

8. Teach your people to sit before the Word as an obedient pupil and to listen for His voice. In presenting a Bible to an unbeliever who had agreed to read it, I suggested that he begin each time with the prayer, “Lord, speak to me. I’m listening.”

That is a prayer the Lord wants to honor.

Finally, my brethren: This is a lifelong process, pastor and teacher. You may never reach the point where you master the art to your satisfaction, but it’s well worth the effort.

If, in calling on your members in their home, you discover that they have been reading the Bible regularly and loving it, take that as a compliment. You’re doing something right!

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

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