Pastors: Stay out of the bully pulpit

image courtesy ichabodthegloryhasdeparted.blogspot.comI’m taking “Exploring Christian Ministry” at the moment, and we’ve been on the subject of preaching this week.  This was one of our discussion forum questions, followed by my answer:

How can we keep from crossing the line between coercion/manipulation and persuasion?

I have strong feelings on this subject because I feel I’ve seen so much coercion and manipulation from the pulpit over my lifetime. Manipulation, especially. Pastors have a unique position from which to speak, a privilege that most people in the church never have. They should handle it carefully. These are a few of my thoughts:

Preach Christ, not yourself. I’ve seen preachers talk about how much time or money they gave to the church, in order to guilt people into giving more. It’s not about you. It’s ALWAYS about Christ.

Don’t preach to specific people. It’s one thing to try to bring God’s Word in a way that is relevant to your specific congregation. It’s another matter when everyone can tell that you’re really talking about so-and-so and his problems with his wife, or whatever the case may be. Respect the dignity and privacy of the people in your congregation.

Don’t preach as a reaction to hurt or frustration. We had a pastor who used to jokingly say, when he was upset with people in the church, “It’s time to put on my prophet robes and get out the big hammer.” I was his secretary, and knew he was kidding. But I’ve also seen it done. The pastor has had it up-to-here with something in the church and “yells” at the congregation. Some people leave feeling shamed. Some people leave feeling angry. And a lot of people leave wondering, “What brought that on?” Very few leave feeling they’ve heard from God. Don’t use the pulpit to get even.

Don’t belittle groups of people in your sermons; not the Catholics, not the homosexuals, not the Calvinists – no one. Preach the truth on a specific subject and let the Word of God be what helps people come to the right conclusions. You don’t know who in your congregation will be wounded and closed down by a cheap joke or a dismissive remark.

DO consider preaching a privilege to be handled with the utmost care. DO remember that it’s not your own skills that put you in that position, but the call of God. DO remember that you are not responsible for results, only for being obedient.

One of my classmates replied with this comment:  I am printing your post so it can be used to pass on to the pastors I am associated with. This should be converted to “A pastor’s Commandments”.   So that’s gratifying.

What about you?  Would you add any “commandments” to the list?


About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Christian Ministry, church, religion, spirituality, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pastors: Stay out of the bully pulpit

  1. kevin b says:

    Pandora’s box. You have opened it, and I am going to rummage through it.
    I totally agree with your list of “commandments” and would also add some others:
    Don’t lie. If you are going to use some story as an illustration, tell the truth about your sources or consider a different story. We had a pastor use an incident that had happened immediately before the service to make a point in his sermon. Everyone knew the story but he tried to pass it off as something else. There were so many angry people that day…
    Stop talking about your vacations when you have a congregation full of people who cannot afford one, or cannot pay their bills. Nothing loses me faster than hearing about other people’s fun when we are struggling.
    Don’t repeat the same sermon once a year. There are 66 books in the Bible, I know you can come up with more sermons.
    Use the Old Testament once in a while.
    I will add more later. I have to do some actual work at work.


  2. kevin b says:

    Just a couple more.
    I agree with your point about picking on other groups, but also stop reminding us every week that you know a gay person, or someone black, or you have went to the mission field (or some large American city), and then treat us like we have never done that, or known anyone different, and WWJD…that gets so old.
    Stop preaching tithing because the offering is down. Preach Christian living. And tell your board members to lead by example. Have them get up and talk about tithing. I always know that giving is down when the tithing sermon rears its ugly head.
    Sometimes it is alright to admit you are human. Just be careful.
    And stop using worn out illustrations. Honestly, Sharon, if I hear the “train-bridge-little boy-gears” story (Made into a short film) one more time I will scream.
    By the way, get on the net and look up “the Butterfly Circus” film sometime. There is a good sermon illustration.
    Much love to the whole family.


    • I’ve seen “The Butterfly Circus”! It’s lovely. One of the actors in it – Doug Jones – was a guest at Cornerstone this year and screened a couple of his short films. That was one of them.

      Yes, to all that you’ve said. It’s also nice to get input from someone who has actually written and preached sermons.


  3. excellent remarks here. just excellent!!!


  4. Pingback: The Abnormal Church: Bullying: It happens in church too! «

  5. sparkle says:

    I have a few suggestions but I’ve never been a leader
    of a church in any capacity, so take this as coming from
    someone who has been on the
    “other side” of the pulpit. Respectfully I suggest that all
    pastors put themselves in the place of the person who is sitting
    on the pew in their church who simply
    wants to hear more about Jesus and is tired of hearing
    how beautiful your wife is, how much you do for the community,
    how perfect your kids are, etc…We
    are glad you love your family but we love ours too and
    we don’t have the platform
    you do to brag about ours. Mention them at times but don’t
    make it sound like they are above reproach and you have
    the perfect marriage when some marriages
    are struggling. Let the congregation know that God can
    heal the worst marriage, can bring the most backslidden kids back
    to Himself, etc….Also, when someone tells you something in
    private DON’T use it as your next sermon illustration. Even if you
    don’t name names, many will suspect who you
    are talking about. Before you point your finger at one of us
    to belittle us, to malign us or to shame us, think about how
    you would feel if it happened to you. You make your point
    and use us to give credence to it yet you don’t stop to think
    how you’ve just humiliated us in front of
    an entire congregation and now we have to have
    prayer just to pick us up off the
    floor once you’ve used the pulpit to drive a point home.
    And if you hear something about someone in your congregation,
    please don’t believe everything you hear.
    Call us into your office to have a one-on-one with us,
    and allow us to either defend ourselves against the
    accusation or to repent if it’s true. Don’t preach
    proper steps to confrontation if you don’t use them
    yourself. I think people are most
    tired of the intense hypocrisy in leadership in churches.
    Arrogance and haughtiness are also sins. In fact, there’s a
    lot of preaching on smoking and drinking,, etc… but little
    on sins that come directly from the heart, such as false
    accusation and lying. I heard one preacher say you know
    you’ve matured as a Christian when you hate thinking
    that you may have caused harm to someone just
    because you could! If a preacher dislikes someone they can
    malign them in front of everyone from the pulpit and
    most of the people will believe whatever is said; the person has
    no way to defend him/herself.. If I dislike a leader I can tell my
    closest friend or my husband and yes
    that is wrong. I’m not defending or condoning that, but
    usually that is as far as it goes. But when it’s done from a pulpit it does
    much more damage and hurts more
    people. Often whatever the pastor says is looked on
    as coming straight from God
    when He had nothing to do with what was said!!


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