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Why preachers must stop preaching what people want to hear

By Dr. Francis Akin-John

“FOR the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but want-ing to have their ears tick-led, they will accumulate to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to my-ths” (II Timothy 4:3-4).

  1. Ear-tickling sells.

Anyone doubting that should stand outside a ty-pical church on a Sunday morning and listen. “I like the way he preaches.” “He makes me feel good.” “I don’t like what I hear.” “I’m not sure what it is about that preacher, but I don’t like him.” I like, I don’t like, I feel, I don’t feel.

What I want in a church. What we’re looking for. Why we’re considering leaving.

On and on, ad infinitum. People want what they want. And with the availa-bility of churches of all stripes and colors–variet-ies of sizes, architecture, programs, music, preach-ing, doctrine–no one need stay where they are un-happy. So, they keep mov-ing.

And so pastors keep stu-dying “what people want in a church.” And lay lead-ership keeps polling the congregation: “What you want in a pastor.”

  1. God help us.

In the Peanuts comic strip, the children were writing an assignment about their summer vacat-ion. Linus was hard at work. He wrote something like, “Even though I had a lot of fun this sum-mer–at the beach, going to movies, playing ball, and vacat-ioning with my family–I could not wait to return to the hallowed halls of learn-ing. I missed my amazing school, my wonderful books, and my outstand-ing teacher. I’m so happy to be back.”

He handed in the paper, then stood there while the teacher read it. He says, “An A-plus? Thank you very much, ma’am.” As he leaves the room, he re-marks to another child, “As the years come and go, one learns what sells.”

Many a pastor has figured out what sells and has det-ermined to offer a steady menu of that to their con-gregations.

This is powered by a lot of things: personal amb-ition, job security, drawing crowds, increasing the budget, and getting notic-ed.

The flesh craves what it wants. The Gospel of Ear-tickling says pastors should speak nice words, never rock the boat, and choose only those doct-rines that the locals agree on. Or even better, avoid doctrine altogether and stay with topics sure to draw in a crowd. “How to be a winner in a losing world.” “How to overcome your low self-esteem.” “How to be popular and still please God.” “How to romance your spouse.” “How to have perfect children.”

  1. Sometimes the Message We Preach is Unpleasant

In his final warning to the church–specifically to young Pastor Timothy, but through him to us–Paul implies that sound doctrine may be unpleasant to the ear. The truth of God preached by a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus does a lot of things…

–It rebukes our self-centeredness.

–It holds us to a higher standard.

–It is like surgery or medicine in that for the short term it can be painful, but the result of which is health.

This is why only courageous leaders should be chosen by churches. They understand these things a… Read more


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