Two Main Reasons Why Members Leave and Join another Church

Members come and go. Some leave because they relocate. Others are compelled to leave because of doctrinal errors. Some leave not because the church is at fault but because they want to look for a congregation where their worldly practices can be tolerated.

There are those who leave because they are fed up with church traditions that are not necessarily bad. But the problem is sometimes we (church leaders) place our traditions above the gospel. We unconsciously become legalistic in the way we deal with the life and ministry of our church. We become more concerned with our traditions than with the Scriptures.

Yet, I think, of all the possible reasons people leave, poor preaching and lack of love are the two leading ones. Two Main Reasons Why Members Leave and Join another Church

1. Poor preaching

Perfect preaching does not exist. Expecting our pastor to always deliver an A+ sermon every Sunday is not realistic either. However, if the preaching is poor almost every Sunday, most likely members will leave.

Here are some of the characteristics of poor preaching:

  • too doctrinal with almost no practical or personal applications
  • not engaging (preaching becomes like newscasting or reporting)
  • difficult to understand (too technical)
  • hard to follow (too unorganized with no clear direction)
  • too shallow

Now, sometimes a pastor does not preach well because he does not have enough time to study for his sermons, perhaps because of his other duties at home and at church. This is why elders need to protect the time of their pastor for sermon preparation. If you want to hear good sermons from your pastor, don’t overwork him.

2. Lack of love

Members want to belong to a congregation that they can call a “home church,” where they feel welcome and where the communion of the saints exists. When the love of Christ is not felt in a congregation, people usually begin to look for a new church where they can find such love and experience the care of other believers. The Apostle Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thess. 5:11–14). “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).

Sometimes even if preaching is not the strength of a church, but if the gospel is proclaimed faithfully and the members feel loved, they usually stay. But if the preaching is poor and love is lacking, don’t be surprised if one day members leave.  That’s why church leaders need to make a consistent effort to cultivate a loving environment in a congregation. Also, members are responsible to seek ways to become actively involved in the ministry of the church and to reach out to their fellow church members with the love of Jesus.





Revere the Lord as You Listen to the Preaching of His Word

Ultimately, God Himself speaks to us through biblical sermons. Who is this God who speaks to us? He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the most high and holy God, and the almighty Creator of all things. He created us and rules over us, and we owe Him everything we have to offer. So, of course, we should remember to listen to Him reverently. It is true that we listen to our pastor preach week after week, but our pastor is merely the instrument through whom God has chosen to speak to us. Above and behind the words of any faithful preacher is the Lord God telling us how we should live. As John Calvin put it, “When the gospel is preached in the name of God, it is as if God himself spoke in person.”[1] A Hearer of God’s Word

In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul says, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” Paul thanked God for the Thessalonians because when he preached the Word to them they recognized that it was not merely a word from Paul, but from God. This is how every Christian should receive the preaching of the Word: as coming from God Himself. When we remember this, it should motivate us to be reverent as we listen.

Ecclesiastes 5:1–2 exhorts all who approach the house of God for worship to “guard your steps,” to “draw near to listen,” and to “let your words be few.” To put it another way, we should be reverent toward God when we are gathered for worship. We do this by being respectful and quiet when God is speaking to us through His Word. This does not simply mean we are not talking. It also means we must make every effort to keep our minds alert and focused on the message being preached. For if we allow ourselves to drift off to sleep or to think about other things during the sermon, it is as if we are saying to God, “Lord, what you have to say to me now really doesn’t mean that much to me. I don’t think it’s very important.”

Another way we seem to “interrupt” what God says to us during sermons is by refusing to accept all the Bible says as being absolutely true. Sometimes we silently argue with God as we listen to a message, trying to persuade Him that His words are not true or that they do not really apply to us. I know that whenever I try to instruct my children about things they do not agree with, their favorite response to me is, “But . . . ” They will often say, “But Daddy . . . ,” and I have to respond with, “No ‘buts’—please just listen to me!” Yet we treat God this same way, saying, “But Lord, this can’t be true” or “Lord, that command isn’t really intended for me, is it?” Scripture reminds us that we must be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). We must listen to God! We have to allow Him to speak to us and remember that His words are perfect, true, and unchanging. Furthermore, He is good, loving, supremely wise, and—because He is all-knowing—He knows exactly what He is doing.


     [1] Cited in John H. Leith, “Doctrine of the Proclamation of the Word,” in Timothy Gorge, ed., John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of Reform (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1990), 211.


Learning to Adjust for the Sake of the Gospel of Christ

By God’s grace I’ve been preaching now for 20 years and I’ve had the privilege of preaching for different churches (usually Baptist, Presbyterian, and Reformed congregations). While these churches have many things in common, they also have their own distinct emphases in belief and practice. For instance, they differ in the way they worship God on Sunday. Some sing psalms only, while others sing both psalms and hymns. Some still pray in “Thee and Thou,” others don’t. Some have the so-called “catechism preaching,” others don’t. Some use instruments in their congregational singing, others only sing acapella. Some have specific dress codes for their ministers, others don’t. Some are used to a lengthy service, others are not. And the list of examples can go on and on.

Now, I think we preachers should be aware of and be willing to respect these different practices, as we guest preach for these congregations. Remember, we are only invited as guest preachers; and thus, we should be sensitive and respectful to their non-essential beliefs and practices even if we don’t agree with them. In doing so, we will gain their respect to listen to us when we preach the gospel to them. Let me then suggest that we consider the following points as we guest preach. Learning to Adjust for the Sake of the Gospel of Christ

1. Dress appropriately.

Of course, dressing appropriately in this context depends on where you preach. For some churches a black suit, a white shirt, and a black tie is the expected dress code for preaching. For others, it may be simply a suit and tie dress code, or in some cases ministers still wear a ministerial robe when preaching.

Years ago I was invited to preach in Canada for a congregation that was used to their preacher wearing a black suit and a black tie. The day before Sunday, the minister of this congregation kindly asked me if I brought a black tie with me. I said, “No. If fact, I never had one.” He then told me gently that they have some members who might be offended and thus lose interest in listening to me, if I don’t wear a black tie. Thankfully, this minister gave me a black tie, which I wore as I preached for his congregation. For the gospel’s sake I wore a black tie. As a result, I gained those people’s respect. They listened to the message.

2. Don’t preach too long, but don’t preach too short either.

Some churches are used to lengthy sermons; others are not. One day one of my friends, who is a pastor, phoned me, inviting me to preach again for their congregation. Over the phone, this pastor also told me how much he and his congregation appreciated me whenever I preached for them. However, he lovingly informed me that his congregation was not used to a long sermon and that he himself tried to preach for not more than 40 minutes. He then told me a bit of the history of his congregation. “One of our former ministers,” he said “only preached for 25 to 30 minutes.”

There are churches, however, that are used to long sermons. I’ve preached for a congregation where the average length of the message is 50 minutes (or even longer). Church members generally don’t complain listening to such a lengthy message. Children have also become used to sitting for that long.

Since some churches are used to long messages and others are not, I’ve learned to ask the congregation to tell me the average length of time their pastor preaches. If it is your first time to preach for a congregation, usually they don’t mind if you preach too long. Some preachers are, of course, uniquely gifted with rhetorical and oratory powers and thus able to hold their listeners’ attention. Charles Spurgeon was like this preacher. That being said, it shows consideration to make an effort to adjust the length of your sermon to make it comparable to what the congregation is accustomed to.

3. Pray considerately.

I remember being invited to preach and the pastor, who invited me, requested me to pray in “Thee” and “Thou.” Then he added, “We have members in our congregation, who will be offended if they hear the preacher addressing God in “You.” These members are convinced that to pray in “Thee” and “Thou” shows reverence to God and that to pray in “You” is a form of disrespect. Of course, this claim has no scriptural basis. The truth is just because you pray in “Thee” and “Thou” does not mean you are showing reverence to God. You can pray in this manner and still be disrespectful to God. On the other hand, not because one prays in “You” does it mean that he or she is not showing respect to God. I think this issue is a matter of tradition, or culture. In fact, in my first language, which is Filipino, it is more respectful to address God in plural pronouns (in old English, that is “Ye”) than in singular pronouns (like “Thou”). Filipinos use plural pronouns even if they know that there is only one God; and they do so in order to express their deep reverence to God.

Now, I did not grow up praying in “Thee” and “Thou.” But for the gospel’s sake, I prayed in “Thee” and “Thou” in this pastor’s congregation where the tradition is to pray in this kind of language. If I had not prayed in “Thee” and “Thou,” some of his members would have right away shut their minds before I even began to preach. By being considerate to their conviction and tradition, I gained their respect to listen to me as their guest speaker.

4. Use the congregation’s pew Bible.

Each church has a preferred Bible version. Some churches think though that the King James Version (KJV) is the only accepted version. One time I preached for a congregation that uses the KJV as their pew Bible. Aware of this congregation’s belief and practice, I preached from the KJV. However, as I don’t heavily rely on my sermon notes when I preach, whenever I quoted scriptural verses from my memory, I unconsciously quoted them from the English Standard Version (ESV), for this was the version I used for years in my former congregation. When this church invited me back, the pastor gently reminded me to use the KJV even when preaching. For the gospel’s sake and to respect the conviction of their congregation, I made more of an effort to not just read from the KJV, but to quote from it also. On the other hand, I also believe that pastors who prefer the KJV should also be respectful to congregations that use the ESV, NKJV, or other conservative versions. It can cause disorder and confusion if the guest pastor is reading from one version and the congregation is following along in a different one.


My point is simple: my fellow preachers, as we guest preach, let’s learn to respect other congregations’ non-essential convictions and practices for the sake of the gospel. In regard to tie and suit color, the pronouns used in prayer, or the Bible version, I am prepared to give up my Christian liberty so as not to create a stumbling block (1 Cor. 9:20–22). I am willing to adapt to their non-essential traditions and cultures, without sinning against God’s Word, in order to win them to Christ. But lest you misunderstand my point, let me emphasize that while I am willing to condescend for the sake of not stumbling anyone, I am not willing to compromise on essentials or offend God for the sake of winning people to Christ.



Exercise Patience as You Listen to the Preaching of God’s Word

Sadly, our culture has helped make us all far less patient than we need to be. We live in a world full of impatient people who demand instant gratification from those who serve them. I’m afraid this self-centered way of thinking has now become tolerated, or even accepted, in our local churches. As a result, we seem to want everything now—from short worship songs to brief prayers to brief sermons. We have this same mentality virtually everywhere we go. We want fast service at restaurants and immediate access to information on our smartphones. We evaluate every invitation to do something with others by how much time it will take for us to participate. Even as we worship God, we want things to be fast and convenient; if they are not, we are quick to complain.

But listening as God speaks to us is not always fast or convenient. It is challenging work, and it often constitutes the longest part of our worship services. Strangely, we seem to be able to watch a movie for hours or attend a long sporting event without complaining, but we want our worship services to end precisely on time so we can rush off to lunch and to the next thing on our schedule. If the preaching runs a bit too long by our standard, we are quick to complain to others in the church, and possibly even the pastor, that we feel that way. Don’t we realize the damage we can cause by having such a critical attitude? We don’t help anybody by trying to rush through our worship services, least of all ourselves. We need to learn to be patient!

We must remind ourselves that rich, deep, biblical sermons—sermons with substance that are able to feed our hungry souls, minister to our deepest hurts, and ultimately help us grow in Christlikeness—are rarely able to be delivered by a pastor in a mere fifteen minutes! According to Nehemiah 8:2–3, “So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard . . . from early morning until midday . . . And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Just imagine! Ezra read God’s Word to the people for hours, and they listened! In a similar way, we must remember to be patient as God’s Word is faithfully expounded and to not allow other things to distract us from hearing what God wants to say to us. Nothing in all the world is more important to us than hearing from God, so we must be sure to make that the top priority of our lives. This requires us to be patient listeners when our pastors open God’s Word and proclaim its truths to our hearts.

A Hearer of God's Word

Preaching Sermon

Come Prepared as You Listen to the Preaching of God’s Word

Because the preaching of God’s Word is the most significant and challenging part of public worship, it requires mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual participation from not only the pastor but also the listeners.

For the pastor, preaching is an exhausting process. In fact, some think that preaching just one sermon is the equivalent of a full eight-hour work day. Thus, pastors who preach two sermons are working sixteen hours in one day. While others may not agree with this somewhat exaggerated statement, preaching two sermons in one day takes a ton of energy out of the preacher. Pastors also have to labor for hours prior to preaching in order to prepare the messages God has put on their hearts. In his article “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?” Thom S. Rainer concluded that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.”[1] Obviously, good, biblical sermons don’t write themselves. Pastors must devote many hours to praying, studying, and writing out their messages (and hopefully getting some rest!) before they stand before the congregation. A Hearer of God’s Word

Because the preaching of God’s Word is such a crucial part of God-honoring worship, the congregation must also come prepared to receive what God says to them. But this does not happen automatically. It requires some planning and special effort on our part, and we will benefit far more from each worship service—and each sermon—if we prepare ourselves in at least two ways.

First, we must prepare ourselves spiritually. Receiving the preached Word of God is challenging work; it requires alertness and active listening on our part. Yet it is also one of the most important things we do as growing Christians! Just as physical trainers teach athletes to stretch their muscles and warm-up prior to intense exercise, so we should take some time to “stretch our spiritual muscles” before we participate in public worship. This means we must prepare our hearts and souls to receive biblical truth from God, truth that is sure to stretch us spiritually as we are clearly reminded of the awesomeness of God, the lostness of unbelievers, and even the lingering sinfulness of our own imperfect hearts. The glorious truths of Scripture should produce great joy in our hearts, but they are not always easy to receive, since they also call on us to confess sins and to change our lives in significant ways.

We should remember that prayer is the most important way for us to prepare ourselves spiritually for worship, as we ask God prior to each service to make our hearts receptive to whatever He wants to teach us. Another way to do this is to find out in advance what text is going to be preached (which is often posted in the church bulletin or on the church website) and to spend some time reading it and contemplating what it says, either the night before or the morning of the worship service. Take some time to pray over the specific passage of Scripture, asking God to help you understand it better as you hear it preached and to show you how to apply it to your own life. We can also prepare ourselves spiritually by singing hymns or listening to Christ-exalting music as we get ready for church.

Second, we must also prepare ourselves physically to worship God with our church family. It is easy for us to forget that our bodies are involved in worship too! We use our eyes to watch the pastor and read the Bible. We use our ears to hear the music and to listen to the preaching. We use our mouths to sing and to pray. Sometimes our legs are used for standing to sing or pray with our church family. Likewise, our mind is vital for all of these things and for contemplating the life-changing truths that are proclaimed to us from Scripture. Sometimes we try to distinguish the spiritual worship of God from anything that we do physically, but we can’t do that. When we worship God, we do so physically.

This means that when our bodies are exhausted, it is hard to participate fully in worship. We’re far less likely to benefit from the sermon if we are too tired to even listen to what is preached. We owe it to ourselves, to our church family, and certainly to God to be sufficiently rested prior to attending worship. Are we going to bed at a good time? Parents, are you making sure children get their sleep on Saturday night so that the entire family will have the physical energy to benefit from the church service? If you’re blessed to attend a church that has two services on Sunday, are you faithful to attend both services as often as possible, and are you trying to rest before attending the evening service? Sometimes the most pious thing we can do on Sunday afternoon is take a nap so that we’ll be physically prepared for the evening service. Whatever our particular schedule may look like, we should make every effort to limit our evening activities the night before we attend worship and to prepare ourselves physically as well as spiritually.

     [1] Thom S. Rainer, “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?,” June 22, 2013,

Note: This post is an excerpt from A Hearer of God’s Word: Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better


Preaching Sermon

Respect the Time Your Pastor Needs for Prayer and Sermon Preparation

One of the Calvinist Baptist ministers that came out of eighteenth-century evangelicalism was Samuel Pearce (1766–1799), who, in the words of Susan Huntington (1791–1823), was “pre-eminently a holy man.” He was the pastor of Cannon Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where he served faithfully from 1790 until his death in 1799. With God’s blessing, the Birmingham congregation grew spiritually and numerically (more than 300 souls were converted) under Pearce’s preaching. Sunday school, benevolent society to assist the poor, and sick society to care for the afflicted were established during his ministry. Samuel Pearce

When William Belsher was ordained pastor in the Baptist congregation in Worcester, Worcestershire, it was Pearce who gave the ordination sermon. In this sermon, based on Ephesians 4:11, Pearce urged lovingly the church members to respect and protect their pastor’s time for prayer and study of God’s Word—the pastor’s two primary ministries listed in Acts 6:4, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Pearce said in that sermon,

“I want to convince you that, for your own sakes, you should promote a studious habit in your minister; allow him every inch of time he wants; neither call upon him, nor expect him to call upon you for no better purpose than to gossip; especially let his mornings and his Saturdays be sacred—it is little short of cruelty to interrupt him then. As you love him, so, no doubt, you will feel a pleasure in his company; but let him choose his own times for seeing you; and do not accuse him of criminal negligence, if his visits are less frequent than you expect. Perhaps at the very moment of your disappointment, he was studying something against the Lord’s Day for your case—perhaps at the moment you are censuring him for his neglect, he is wrestling with God for you in his closet.”[1]

Commenting on Pearce’s message, church historian Michael Haykin (to whom I am indebted for my own study of Pearce) writes, “Here Pearce surely speaks from personal experience of the tension that pastors in the Protestant tradition have repeatedly faced: the need to devote substantial time to sermon-preparation and prayer while also caring for the souls of those in their churches.”[2]

Pastors of large congregations especially struggle with this tension. What is striking, though, in Pearce’s admonition is the fact that the church members are to respect their pastor’s prayer and sermon preparation time for their own sake. Now, if you are a church member, you might say, “How can this be for my own sake?” Well, imagine having a pastor who does not have sufficient time to intercede regularly for you. Imagine a pastor who does not have enough time to study for his sermons. You obviously want to hear good sermons from your pastor; but good sermons do not write themselves. Your pastor must devote many hours to praying, studying, and writing out his messages (and hopefully getting some rest!) before he stands behind the pulpit. In his article “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?” Thom Rainer concludes that “70% of pastors’ sermon preparation time is the narrow range of 10 to 18 hours per sermon.”[3]

Let’s just say that your pastor needs 15 hours to prepare for one sermon. If he preaches twice, then 30 hours of his time is spent just for preparation. He still has other duties such as meetings to attend, visits to make, members to counsel, emails to reply to, phone calls to make, Sunday School or Catechism lessons to prepare, a family to take care of, and other unexpected responsibilities such as a funeral. If you don’t respect your pastor’s time for sermon preparation, the entire congregation will suffer eventually by having a half-cooked sermon, which can result in spiritual malnourishment among the members.

If you are an elder in your church, you have the responsibility to make sure that your pastor is getting enough time for prayer and study of God’s Word. Remember, your pastor is to devote himself “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Unfortunately, some elders have unrealistic expectations from their pastor. As a result, their pastor burns out and becomes ineffective in the ministry, which in turn affects the life of the church.

Elders should regularly ask their pastor, “Are you getting enough rest? Are you still able to exercise? Are you still able to fulfill your holy duty as a husband and father? How is your prayer life? Are you still able to pray for us on a regular basis, not just on Sunday or during prayer meeting? Are you getting enough time for sermon preparation?” A pastor should honestly answer these questions, so that his elders can properly help him for the sake of their congregation.




[1] The Duty of Ministers to be Nursing Fathers to the Church; and the Duty of Churches To Regard Ministers as the Gift of Christ (London, 1796), 51–52. Italics in the original.

[2] The Piety of Samuel and Sarah Pearce (Joshua Press, 2012), 12.

[3] “How Much Time Do Pastors Spend Preparing a Sermon?,”

Evangelical Spirituality Ministry Prayer Preaching Samuel Pearce

Two Extremes to be Avoided in Preaching

Two Extremes to be Avoided in Preaching (new)

Extreme # 1: Preaching as if everyone in the congregation is saved.

Years ago I received an email from a member of a certain congregation. This person, whom I did not know personally at the time I received the email, was wondering why their pastor preached as if everyone in their church was saved. And because their pastor viewed everyone in the pews as regenerate, he did not see the need to call his congregation to self-examination. In other words, since in this preacher’s mind everyone in his local church was saved, he only delivered messages that address the believers.  In his sermons, there was no direct call for the unbelievers to repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation.

I have some problems with this kind of preaching. First of all, a preacher who preaches as if everyone in the congregation is saved has an idealistic view of a local church. The truth is there is no perfectly pure local church composed of only true believers. A visible church will always have both goats and sheep—a sad and painful reality for the ministers. And both the goats and the sheep need the gospel: the goats for their salvation; the sheep for their sanctification. Until Christ returns the congregations that we serve will remain impure (Matt. 25:31–46). Therefore, a pastor should keep in mind that as he proclaims God’s Word, there might be at least one unbeliever present during the preaching. Furthermore, a pastor, who does not see the need to call his congregation to self-examination on the basis of his assumption that everyone is saved, might create a false sense of assurance of salvation among the unbelievers.

We need to realize, too, that self-examination is not only for the unbelievers but for the believers as well. Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5). Here Paul is particularly addressing his fellow believers. That self-examination is also for the believers is seen in our “Liturgical Form for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper,” in which we are exhorted to examine ourselves before partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

That we may now celebrate the supper of the Lord to our comfort, it is necessary, before all things, rightly to examine ourselves….Let every one examine his heart whether he also believes this sure promise of God that all his sins are forgiven him only for the sake of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and that the complete righteousness of Christ is imputed and freely given him as his own – yea, so completely as if he himself, in his own person, had satisfied for all his sins and fulfilled all righteousness.

Here’s my point: Believers in Christ also need to examine themselves whether they truly believe in Jesus or not. And the purpose of this examination is not to make them doubt but to drive them even closer to Christ.

Extreme # 2: Preaching as if no one in the congregation is saved.

Some pastors preach as if no one in their congregations is saved (they do the exact opposite of what the previous pastors do). Or more accurately, these pastors assume that most of their hearers are unsaved and that there are only a minority among their audience who are truly saved. As a result, many members of their congregations—who are genuine believers—suffer severely from a lack of assurance of salvation. Imagine sitting under such preaching. Eventually, you (as a believer) will begin to question the genuineness of your salvation in an unhealthy way, and then fall into despair.

I remember several years ago, I met an old man who sat under this kind of preaching. This man was in his 90’s and had been a member of their congregation for over 50 years. And yet, sadly he did not know whether he was saved or not. This man went to church twice every Sunday for many years and served as an elder several times, but he had no assurance of salvation. Ironically, for this man the more you doubt the more pious you become. Thus, in his mind, doubt is a form of virtue.

Well, such thinking contradicts what Peter says, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Pet. 1:10). Here, Peter is commanding his fellow believers to make sure of their calling and election. And yes, it is possible for Christians to experience and enjoy assurance of salvation. As Canons of Dort says, “Of this preservation of the elect to salvation and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith…” Charles Spurgeon once observed, “Many a believer lives in the cottage of doubt when he might live in the mansion of faith.”

Pastors who commit the extreme # 2 in preaching should realize the damage they do to their members, namely, they foster a spirit of doubt and despair among those who are sincerely saved.


How can we then avoid these two extremes in preaching? There are many ways but for the sake of time, let me just give you one, that is, be faithful to your text. Don’t just read your text and leave it. Use it. Expound it. Preach from it. And don’t force your text to say something that it does not say. As a preacher, you are to tell your congregation what your text says. Suppose your text is Romans 8:28–29: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”

Obviously this text is for the believers, so use this text to address the believers in your sermon. However, in that same sermon, (even just in a few words) you can also warn the unbelievers by saying that all things are not working together for their eternal good, because the glorious promise found in this passage is only for those who love God.

Now, if your text is Revelation 21:8, then address the unbelievers in your sermon: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” With this passage, don’t hesitate to challenge the unbelievers to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. And as you do so, in passing you can comfort and assure your fellow believers that their portion will not be in the lake of fire but in the new heaven and new earth.

Now, of course you can also preach from a passage that naturally addresses both the believers and the unbelievers. Some of the parables of Jesus do this (e.g., Wise & Foolish Builders [Matt. 7:24–27]; Wise & Foolish Virgins [Matt. 25:1–13]; and Sheep & Goats [Matt. 25:31–46]). These passages allow the pastor to address both the righteous and the wicked in his sermon in a natural and balanced way.

Nevertheless, let me issue a word of caution here for those who listen to a sermon: you cannot expect your pastor to deliver a well balanced sermon that 50% deals with the godly and 50% deals with the ungodly. Depending on the text, sometimes the message can be geared more towards the believers and sometimes more towards the unbelievers. Therefore, if you want to evaluate your pastor, do so based on his faithfulness to his text. The question should not be whether he addressed the unbelievers or not in his message, or whether he addressed the believers or not. No! Instead, did he faithfully preach and apply his text to his congregation?








Six Pieces of Advice for Preachers

In her book The Great American Sermon Survey, Lori Carrell asks a group of listeners, “If you could get one message across to all preachers in the United States, what would it be?” The answers that she gets can be grouped into six sections:Listeners’ Advice for Preachers (picture)


1. “Make the message relevant and meaningful” (36%).

  • “I keep hearing about pro-life issues; there is no mention of how we can show Christ’s compassion in practical ways…”
  • “We get mostly nice little talks about what we should or shouldn’t do; most are superficial and bland.”
  • “We put a lot of stock in what you say. Be sure it’s biblical and God-directed.”

2. “Improve your relationships with listeners” (17%).

  • “Be real.”
  • “Get along.”
  • “Don’t show favoritism.”
  • “Get to know us and let us know you.”
  • “Be a real person in front of your congregation.”
  • “Don’t try to appear perfect and unable to make a mistake…”
  • “It’s easier to relate to a pastor who is ‘more like everyone else’ than someone who is very reserved and aloof.”
  • “Show your human side. We all look up to you but want to know that you also share the same thoughts and feelings as us.”
  • “Know your congregation—individually and as a group.”

3. “Attend to your own spiritual life” (17%).

  • “Be a model of a deeply spiritual person.”
  • “Pray more.”
  • “Don’t neglect your family.”
  • “Check your motives.”
  • “Preachers, you need a close relationship with God to be effective.”
  • “Work on your own spiritual life. It shows.”

4. “Get your sermons organized” (15%).

  • “Preachers, know your main point so we can too.”
  • “Do your research.”
  • “Use a variety of organizational strategies.”
  • “Make the message clear, simple, interesting…”
  • “Don’t harp on a subject over and over. Make your point and go on.”
  • “Usually there is too much to digest at one sitting.”
  • “Save those other points for another sermon.”
  • “Sometimes they start off well and then get lost or off target. Many miss the mark and I wonder what the speaker is trying to say. I wonder how much they prepared.”

5. “Work on your sermon delivery” (9%).

  • “Why doesn’t he know how regular people talk? He’s just trying to show us how much smarter and more spiritual he is.”
  • “Talk on a level everyone can understand.”
  • “Don’t talk down to your congregation, but also don’t talk way over our heads.”
  • “I can read too. If you’re just going to mumble through a manuscript, make copies to hand out and skip the sermon.”

6. “We appreciate your work” (5%).

  • “Thank you.”
  • “Don’t ever quit.”
  • “You make a difference.”
Pastor Preaching Sermon

Titling Your Sermon for Maximum Impact: The Case for an Integrative Use of Titles (Part 2 of 2)

By Dr. Jim Cowman (guest blogger)Why-Every-Sermon-Needs-a-Strong-Title_1643_245x169


This past summer, one of the former waitresses in my favorite restaurant stopped by to attend our Sunday morning service of worship.  I had invited her to attend our service of worship ten years earlier, and now, during the time when our church family turns to shake hands and greet each other, lo and behold, there she was with her grown son.  I slowly approached her.  When she saw me, I said, “Wow, what a surprise!  By the way, Linda, what prompted you to stop in? My 10-year-old invitation perchance? To which she responded gingerly, “Well, to tell you the truth, it had nothing to do with your invitation.  I didn’t even know you were the pastor here, but when I drove by church and saw the title of the sermon, I thought… that sounds like a message meant just for me!”

How atypical, yet typical!  How many people stop in to hear a sermon after reading the sermon’s title on the marquee? Not too many.  Yet, at the same time, who wouldn’t enjoy hearing a sermon that God tailor made just for them? (Something we would all agree that only the Holy Spirit can do.)  But, come to think about it, isn’t that why most people come to hear our sermons? I think most people listen to a sermon for one purpose: They want to hear a practical and personal challenge from God that is designed to encourage them to overcome their unique struggle/sin that keeps troubling them.

Sermon titles are important for many reasons, beyond arousing interest. Yet, even still, ironically, little attention is given to the topic of titling.

In his book, How to Preach More Powerful Sermons, Homer Buerlein writes, “I was dismayed to read in some books on homiletics that titling a sermon isn’t really important. One book maintained that a good title helps create interest in the subject, but no great effort should be expended in trying to come up with a catchy one.” (Buerlein, 1984, pp.22-25)

I concur with Mr. Buerlein’s comments. I believe learning how to title a sermon well is important. In fact, a memorable title is as indispensable as a handle to luggage. Thus, I re-submit the following operating premise:

In order for a sermon title to achieve maximum impact, it needs to contain the following five elements:

  • Like an individual’s name, it needs to specifically identify the purpose of the sermon.
  • Second, it needs to serve as a descriptive summary of the content.
  • Third, it should entice the audience in a variety of ways to pay closer attention to the sermon.
  • Fourth, it must be concise, and
  • Fifth, it needs to be memorable.


To keep reading the article, click here.



15 Pointers for Preachers

  1. Preach doctrinally. Don’t only teach Bible doctrines such as justification and sanctification in your Sunday school. Preach these doctrines also during your worship service.  preach-the-word

  2. Preach discriminatorily. Address both believers and unbelievers in your preaching. Don’t assume that everyone in your congregation is saved. But don’t think either that no one is saved.

  3. Preach applicatorily. Apply your text to your listeners. With the use of practical illustrations, help them apply your message to their daily life. Remember a sermon without an application is like a lecture. You are preaching, not lecturing.

  4. Preach clearly. Organize your thoughts. Avoid high-sounding words. Consider the children in your congregation. If you have to employ a big word (e.g. justification), explain it using simple words.

  5. Preach evangelistically. Yes, preach against sin, but don’t stop there. Preach about salvation too. If you preach the Law without the gospel, you will make your congregation despair. Further, don’t think that the gospel is only for unbelievers. Believers need it as well for their sanctification.

  6. Preach powerfully. Preach with the unction of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul did, “[M]y speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

  7. Preach prayerfully. Pray before, during, and after you preach. Humbly acknowledge that without God’s help, you can do nothing. Realize that God alone can change the hearts of your listeners.

  8. Preach expectantly. Remember nothing is impossible with God. Expect greatly that He will do wondrous things—saving sinners and sanctifying saints. Be confident that His word will not return to Him void. He can even use your worst sermon to accomplish His wonderful plan.

  9. Preach persuasively. Show that what you proclaim is God’s word. Announce, “Thus says the LORD.” Also, don’t be afraid to declare God’s truths, even if by doing so some of your hearers might be offended. You are not to please people but God.

  10. Preach passionately. Love not only preaching but also the people to whom you preach. And if you love your congregation, you will feed them with spiritually nutritious food.

  11. Preach faithfully. Be faithful to your announced text(s). Don’t just read your text, and leave it. Use it. Expound it. Preach from it.

  12. Preach seriously. Preach in this manner because the very word that you preach is sacred. The God who has called you to preach is holy. Your message is a matter of life and death, heaven and hell. Thus jokes have no place in the pulpit. Preachers are not called to be entertainers.

  13. Preach Christ-centeredly. Learn from Paul who says, “I…did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). In the words of the Puritan preacher William Perkins (1558-1602), “preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.”

  14. Preach exemplarily. Live what you preach. Demonstrate holiness, not hypocrisy. Acknowledge with Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”

  15. Preach soli Deo gloria.  Your ultimate goal in preaching is to glorify God. Never attempt to take that glory that belongs to God alone. Sing with Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915): “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”

Oh, Lord, help me to preach!


Preaching Robert Murray M’Cheyne