Darryl's thoughts on the Christian Faith, Facts, and World Events
Q: Why Aren’t People Interested in Doctrine?
A: Because sermons are boring. Here’s why they are boring and what can be done to make them interesting.
The problem that Paul Washer mentions is even worse now (they are not so interested in songs or T-shirts anymore). I have been thinking about the cause and cure of the problem of people not being interested in Christian doctrines. The short answer is that even though I am an absolute enthusiast for the Bible and Christian doctrine, I must admit that even I find most sermons BORING! Before you get offended, please read the entire post. My entire ministry as an apologist is devoted to helping people listen to their pastor’s sermons and to apply the truth’s from the Bible. “Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27: 17)
I also have preached and taught Christian Apologetics in the USA (in English and Spanish) in Cambodia (in English with translation and in Cambodian), in Japan (with translation) and in Thailand (in English). So, having been on both sides of the pulpit and lecturer's desk since 1999, when I preached my first funeral with one day notice, allow me to share my potentially unique perspective.
It is important that we define the term “doctrine” from Scripture. “For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that uses milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrew 5:12-14)
Christian doctrine is like a top quality beef steak. However, just as steak needs to be skillfully seasoned, grilled, and plated by a chef, pastors also need to take care to teach doctrine in a way that is understandable, accurate, and transformational. I am not a chef, but I am an expert eater. I also worked for a short time in catering. I am not a pastor, but I have heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime. Here are some tips from my perspective as a missionary, Bible school teacher, English teacher, and Christian Apologist, which I believe will help pastors preach and church members study and learn more effectively.
1. Don’t overcook the meat. The vast majority of doctrinally based sermons I have heard are “overcooked.” A good doctrinal sermon will be as “rare” as possible. It should be red or pink with the sacrificial, loving, blood of Jesus Christ. It should also be as “juicy” as possible with the guidance of, the attributes of, and the work of the Holy Spirit. To do this, it is important to teach what the Bible says (with accurate historical context and accurate interpretation of the text based on the original languages). It is also essential to let the Bible speak for itself instead of being processed through the words and ideas of your favorite theologian. If you mention more famous theologians' names than Jesus Christ in the pews I will feel like you are serving me ground beef instead of steak.
If your sermon does not inspire (not shame or pressure) people to worship, evangelize, serve and repent, you may not be serving beef steak at all, you may be serving pork or chicken. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
2. Don’t forget the seasoning. Another problem is that many doctrinal sermons are not applicable to people’s lives. Skilled chefs know how to season steaks so that we can fully appreciate the natural flavors of the meat. Likewise, pastors should season their doctrinal sermons with evidence (apologetics) which helps the people of the church to become increasingly confident that the Word of God is true. If they trust the Bible, they are more likely to apply its teachings. I do not blame the pastors for this weakness, instead, I place most of the responsibility on the curriculum Bible schools and seminaries. Most Seminary and Bible school students spend at least 95% of their time answering the question, “What does the Bible say?”. However, little or no emphasis is placed on answering the question, “Why is the Bible true?” I am pleased that this trend is beginning to change. I teach Apologetics at a Bible school and a seminary in Cambodia.
Once in ministry, pastors are often too busy to do independent research into the question, “Why is the Bible true?” Because it wasn’t emphasized in seminary or Bible school, most pastors assume that it must not be important to answer this question. However, the members of their church who must interact with non-Christian (anti-Christian) people and challenges in their workplaces, schools, media, and social networks, will not be interested in the answer to the question, “What does the Bible say?” until they are confident that the Bible is True.
The entire truth of Christian doctrine and the Gospel of Jesus Christ depend on the truth of 1 Corinthians 15: 14 & 20-22 say, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain….But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Notice how the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and Adam are both mentioned as true historical events. Therefore if your doctrinal sermon does not directly or indirectly lend support to the conclusion that the resurrection is not a historical event, then you need to be careful to listen to this warning, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5)
3. Keep the main course the main course. There are two levels of doctrines: 1. Primary (salvation) doctrines are doctrines which one must believe in order to be truly saved. For example, if you don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are not a genuine Christian. 2. Secondary (sanctification) doctrines are doctrines which are important for sanctification and a victorious Christian life but if you are wrong about these doctrines you are still saved. Differences between Christian denominations usually fall into this category. Sadly, most sermons emphasize #2 doctrines over #1 doctrines. As a result they often fail to preserve Christian unity for which Jesus Christ prayed before his crucifixion. “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23)
Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormons wrote this, “My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.”
Even though different denominations have legitimate differences on secondary doctrines, they all agree about the primary doctrines. It is sad that Joseph Smith did not hear the same Gospel of Jesus Christ from all three churches. Pastors, you never know whether or not some other person with the leadership skills of Joseph Smith will hear your sermon whether in your church or on the Internet. Please make sure they hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of only hearing you criticize other Christians.
How to answer the question, “Why is the Bible True?” 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia=defense=reason) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”
Here are some questions you can ask yourself (or you can ask your pastor).
1. What is the evidence that God exists?
2. What is the evidence that Biblical Creation is true and evolution is false?
3. What is the evidence that the Bible is true and is the inerrant inspired word of God?
4. What is the evidence that Jesus Christ really lived, was crucified, and rose again?
5. Why is Jesus Christ the only way to be saved?
If you are in the US, I would recommend these easy to read and understand books by Lee Strobel, an atheist journalist who became a Christian.
The Case for the Creator www.amazon.com/Case-Creator-Journalist-Investigates-Scientific/dp/B00HRF0HXG/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1539922123&sr=1-3&keywords=case+for+the+creator
The Case for Christ www.amazon.com/Case-Christ-Journalists-Personal-Investigation/dp/0310339308
If you are in Cambodia, you can order Christianity: Reasons for Faith by Darryl Record and Dr. Doug Collins (English and Khmer $6.00 from Fount of Wisdom Publishing House) www.fountofwisdomph.com/product/reasons-for-faith/
4. The Top Chefs Put More Effort Into Training Amateur Chefs Than Into Feeding Professional Eaters! Just as physical obesity is a problem when countries become wealthier (I know...I have looked in the mirror. ;-)), in countries which are blessed with religious freedom, large churches, and a wealth of Christian materials (books, websites, and other media), there can be a problem which I will call, "secondary-doctrinal-obesity" or "head-knowledge obesity." In other words, people learn a lot about what the Bible says, (this is good, especially if they also know, why the Bible is true) but if they don't apply, use, or share what they have used to bless, encourage, evangelize, and disciple others outside of the church services and building, they can become "head-knowledge obese." Before I suggest a cure for this "obesity" let's take a look at a couple of key Scriptures. 1. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, " For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." 2. James 2:15-17 (I recommend that you read James 2:14-22) says, "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." So we can see from these two passages that works or actions do not save us, only God's grace does that. However, if we are truly saved, that will cause us to apply our faith into meaningful actions.
I was inspired to update this blog post by a conversation I had with an 18 year old Cambodian man who is overseeing a cell group of 50 people, with the help of 4 assistant leaders. He said, "I want to lead leaders not followers." It reminded me of a passage in Ephesians 4:11-13 which says, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
I have heard many pastors preach on this passage, but most of them spend 90% of their time trying to explain and apply the various roles mentioned in verse 11 to the local church. One day, I looked down at the next verse and I was struck by, "to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Too many church people become "obese" because they are fans of the pastoral team and not players. To many pastors think of themselves as players or performers when instead they should be coaches! If pastors and other church leaders mentioned in verse 11 see themselves as coaches, then they will Equip HIS people for works of service. Once they do that, then Sunday sermons are not longer the, "main game of the week." Instead sermons are supposed to be the pre-game training for the church members who are players (amateur chefs) and not spectators (professional eaters). The pastoral team (coaching staff) then equips the players to go out and bless, encourage, evangelize, and disciple others outside of the church services and buildings in their own families, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces and then invite those people to come to the main church services/sermons/coaching sessions to become equipped for works of service themselves. This will lead to unlimited growth, because it does not solely depend on the pastor and church leaders.
I hope this article was encouraging and challenging. I encourage you to eat a steak. If you can't cook it well you have my blessing to go to a nice restaurant and buy one.
A Christian Apologist, Author, Missionary, Husband, and Father. Darryl has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University (CA), an MA in TESOL from Azusa Pacific University (CA), and a BA in Political Science from Truman State University (MO).