AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
The Holy Spirit is God Almighty, not your subordinate. It seriously irks the Holy Spirit when you try to tell Him what He is supposed to preach on Sunday morning, or what He’s supposed to teach in your small group or Sunday School class. Just because you’re in the mood to talk about some particular passage in the Bible doesn’t mean God is. Just because you’re impressed with some famous pastor in the Church doesn’t mean God shares your lofty opinion of the man. Many of the bestselling books we’re regurgitating from the pulpit are nothing more than foolish dribble. Popular doesn’t mean correct. And even if a book has some useful points in it, today might not be the day that the Holy Spirit wants to make those points to your particular audience.
“What should I teach about?” The moment you turn to human sources to answer this question, you are heading in the wrong direction. You’re not teaching a cooking class, you’re teaching about God. There’s no room for simply copying what someone else said or repeating what you read in a book. You must receive specific instruction from God about what He wants to say through your personal lips before you open your mouth.
When you teach about God, you are representing Him. God takes major offense at you representing Him as some halfwit moron who sits around repeating what he heard someone else say because he wants to be “cool.” God has no use for being cool in the eyes of human specks. God wants to instruct, correct, and mature His people. God treats us all differently because we all have different needs, so when you assume God wants every church in your area to teach the same dribble week after week, you assume incorrectly.
As a leader, you have a very important responsibility before God. You have no wisdom on your own, which is why you must rely on the Holy Spirit to tell you how to instruct His flock. But you do have a free will, and God expects you to use your will to teach the flock how to approach Him correctly. God demands reverence and submission from all of His servants. He demands all of the glory for what He has done. As a leader, it’s your job to model these things to the flock. So are you?
When you get up and announce that you’re starting a six week sermon series on faith, are you modeling submission to God? No, you’re saying, “I’ve decided for God what He’s going to say for the next six weeks.” You’re modeling bossing God around. This is garbage. If you really do feel like God wants to teach about faith for the next six weeks, and you’re not just trying to follow some carnal trend in the Church, then you need to be careful about the language you use with the flock. By now you should know that God frequently changes course, so how can you say for certain what He’ll want to preach next Sunday? Instead of trying to come across like the captain of your own ship, you need to come across like the servant that you are.
“We’re out of time today, and there is a lot more we can discuss on this topic. We’ll see what God has in store for us next week.”
Now some teachers are uncomfortable claiming that their words are from God. If this is how you feel, then you have no business teaching. If you can’t be 100% certain that God is controlling your mouth in a sermon and that He is the Source of the words you’re saying, then how dare you open your mouth and represent Him? And if you are certain in your heart that God is the Source of your sermon, why would you try to dissociate Him from it? Are you trying to take the credit for the things He’s done? You don’t want to go down that road. Take a page from Moses’ book and don’t shy away from crediting God as the Source of His own words. The flock needs to be reminded that you aren’t just casting out your own useless thoughts. But at the same time, don’t try and use God’s Name to intimidate the flock, either. False teachers are famous for saying “God told me this” and “God showed me that” every other sentence. You don’t want to be like that. If you’ve been called by God to teach His flock, and you’re staying in alignment with the Holy Spirit, then He’s going to give you words to say. Say them and be confident about it. Then if someone challenges you, you can say, “I said what God told me to say. If you have a problem with it, talk to Him.”
The flock needs to understand that God is the One you are serving. They also need to understand that part of putting God first means being ready to drop everything and change course at a moment’s notice. But what happens when we commit ourselves to a series of lessons ahead of time? We invest God’s money in a bunch of lesson materials and advertising campaigns. When He then says He wants to do something different, we refuse to listen to Him because we’ve lost sight of submission.
God leads, He never follows. When we try to lead God, He turns our brilliant ideas into messes and becomes angry with our willful defiance. As a leader, you need to be modeling reverence and submission. When you start marketing your sermon series, or when you insist on doggedly preaching through the entire Bible verse by verse without ever moving around, you are trying to lead God. Many pastors get sucked into these carnal routines with good intentions. Some denominations insist on a orderly plow through the entire Bible over and over again as a way of making sure nothing is left out. But who are you to play the role of God’s supervisor? Who are you to tell God that He has to come up with something to say for every verse in Ephesians? Maybe YOU want to go through the whole book of Ephesians line by line, but that’s YOU. God is not you, and God enjoys being unpredictable. Today He might want to talk about Ephesians, tomorrow He might want to jump to Numbers, and the next day He might want to address a topic that the Bible doesn’t even discuss. The wisdom of God is far too vast to be compressed down into a single book. As soon as we hold up some physical object as God’s syllabus, are we exalting God in the eyes of the flock? No, we’re teaching them to view God as some dusty old recording who can’t ever say something new. The Holy Spirit is not a book, He is God Almighty. No one chooses God’s teaching topics for Him.
Religious holidays pose another problem. As soon as December starts, we tell God He has to talk about the birth of His Son for the next four weeks. Well, maybe He doesn’t want to talk about that. Maybe there is some other urgent issue that He wants to address based on what He knows is happening with certain souls in your congregation. Okay, so it’s Easter. But did you really check with God before you launched into another Palm Sunday sermon? God doesn’t care about our manmade traditions and routines. He is going to move all over the place with His subject matter, and if we refuse to track with Him, we’re being rebellious.
Pastor Big Stuff preaches a sermon at his church of millions, and the next thing we know, hundreds of smaller churches are regurgitating everything Pastor B.S. said. And by the time we’re done posting a human’s name and using his graphics and copyrighted logos, who are we exalting? A mere mortal instead of God. Are we modeling submission to God? No, we’re promoting the blasphemous notion that serving God is simply a matter of copying popular trends and exalting fallen flesh. All of this outrages the Holy Spirit. How dare we so grossly disrespect Him in front of His flock? How dare we use the appointments He gave us to steer His lambs astray?
Discernment is a critical skill that the flock needs to acquire. We’re supposed to be helping them get there by teaching them that God is the only Source of truth they can trust. We’re supposed to be teaching them to test everything with the Holy Spirit and to rely on Him to separate truth from error. But when they see us reading our lessons out of Sunday School curriculum books that some total stranger wrote, or when they see us passing out some cheesy Bible study workbook that some fool cranked out in order to promote himself, what are they learning? To blindly trust in certain brands and names. Or worse, to trust in any published work. This is garbage. As leaders, it is our job to teach the flock to rely on God alone—not to rely on a bunch of humans instead of Him.
Now maybe you come across some material that you think sounds inspired and you feel God is authorizing you to use some of it. Fine, but you’d better make sure you introduce the material in a way that makes it clear you aren’t just trusting in a brand.
“God wants us to depend on Him to guide us in life, no one else. I came across this description of dependency that puts it very well.”
You then read your excerpt and go on with the points that God wants you to emphasize. Don’t be exalting the human instrument whose paragraph you just read. Leave names out of it. As a leader, you can’t afford to be promoting any specific individuals. We are servants, not salesmen. Even if you think some particular teacher is brimming with brilliant insights from God, it is totally inappropriate for you to promote them from the pulpit. We do not point the flock to people, we point them to God. We do not teach them that there are safe human guides who they can totally depend on in life. Instead, we teach them to be on their guard because even good shepherds can turn bad.
Whenever someone else’s materials are on display, we should be encouraging the flock to question and think critically. We should be the first to point out errors in the material and show how the author went astray. Such exercises can be useful in teaching the flock how to practice discernment, but for the most part, marketed materials are only going to get in your way. By the time we buy a glossy book with someone’s airbrushed face and bragging bio on the back, do we really think we’re going to be reading inspired material? When we use published works to promote ourselves in this world, God isn’t going to bless our work. Instead, He’ll dull our minds and have us put out foolish dribble, which is what we find in most Christian teaching aids today. Even among our most trusted brand names, we find incredibly stupid statements which show how the authors have lost their grip on faith and discernment due to years of defying God.
God refuses to share His spotlight with others. When we distribute material to our flock which glorifies human beings, are we not insulting God? We know that He finds the glorification of human beings highly offensive, yet as His leaders, we’re endorsing this practice. No, this is total rubbish. Teaching for God has nothing to do with reading off a script that someone else wrote. God might use bits and pieces of other people’s works to educate and inspire you along the way, but He is going to put together His own lesson for you every time.
One of the most obnoxious things we do in the Church is appoint people into teaching positions who are clearly not called, and therefore not authorized to speak on God’s behalf. Many of these souls even vocalize how unequipped they feel, yet we stuff some idiot’s lesson plan in their hands and say, “Just follow this script and you’ll be fine.” No, they won’t be fine, they’ll be angering God, and we’ll be on His list for shoving them into it. It doesn’t matter if you think the materials are fabulous—you are not the Holy Spirit, and you don’t get to decide what He’s going to say to children’s church unless you’re the one He has appointed to man that particular post. Maybe in your church, you know that God hasn’t appointed anyone to man certain teaching posts yet, and you’ve got a bunch of unauthorized stand-ins doing the work because you don’t want to look bad as the leader of a church with no Sunday School. Well, you’ve got two options: you can either look bad now in the eyes of other snobby Christians who have decided that all churches must have certain programs, or you can look bad in front of God in eternity because you put the approval of people above His own. There’s no wiggle room here—get those stand-ins out of there! Don’t think that God won’t notice what you’re doing just because the whole Church has made a mockery out of leading the flock. This role is extremely serious to God, and you are going to be held responsible for how you handled it according to HIS standards. NO ONE should be standing up and teaching on the subject of God without His authorization. And once we have His authorization, we don’t open our mouths until He actually gives us something to say. This is what He demands. We can whine and fuss about this if we want to, but we’re going to be paying for our rebellion on the other side. God will not be mocked.
Now and then some idiot rises up in our midst and says, “Hey, here’s a thought: let’s have all the churches in our area synchronize their sermons so that this whole geographical region can be on the same page.” And instead of labeling this idea as the garbage that it is, leaders bob their heads and say, “Wonderful! Let’s do it!” What is wrong with us? How can we possibly decide that God wants to say the exact same thing to thousands of souls every single Sunday? And of course when we do this, we’re always following a script that some other human put out—usually based on some new bestselling book. And now that we’ve got a whole region full of shepherds who have parked their brains at the door, we then turn around and tell all the teachers in each church that they also have to conform to our nauseating program. Every small group leader and Sunday School teacher is forced to synchronize their lessons with what’s being said in the big church Sunday morning. And should anyone protest, we accuse them of not being team players. It’s amazing how swift we are to label evil as good and good as evil.
Let’s be honest about what we’re doing when we participate in such carnal games. We’re trying to be cool. We’re trying to be popular. We’re also trying to suck up to some popular leader in the church—the guy whose book we’re regurgitating. Such behavior outrages God. How dare we make such a mockery out of our callings in front of Him and the flock? How dare we try to ban the Holy Spirit from our midst and tell Him to stuff it until we’re totally finished going through our glorious program? Do we really think we can get away with dishonoring God like this? Do we really think the God who says, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” is going to sweep our willful defiance under the rug? When we make a public mockery of God, He makes a mockery of us later on. Jesus warned us that many who think they deserve to be first in Heaven will be last. There will be different ranks and degrees of honor on the other side. We will not all be greeted with the same enthusiasm by God. When we refuse to repent of our rebellion on earth, when we use God’s Name and Authority as a means of promoting ourselves and trying to coerce His flock into doing what we want, we are only going to bring His vengeance down on our heads. God has many ways of retaliating against shepherds who rebelled against Him on earth. How foolish do you have to be to choose the fleeting popularity of men over the eternal commendation of God?
Assuming that God has actually called you to shepherd His flock and you’re not just playing games, you need to realize what a serious position you are in. Certainly it is a great privilege to be chosen out for such a task, and there is great joy to be had in it. But it is on us to make sure we are walking in total submission to God and doing what He calls us to do. When we get to Heaven, God isn’t going to discuss the size of our churches or how many souls we baptized. He is only going to talk about how well our souls responded to the convictions we received from the Holy Spirit. We will be judged solely by the activities that went on in the secret world of our own souls—activities that only God can see. What we did and said and how brightly we sparkled in the spotlights—all of these things will fall away as meaningless. Did our souls earnestly seek God? Did they listen to His convictions and align with His will? Did they yearn for Him alone to be exalted? Did they long to be pleasing in His sight? These will be the only questions that matter. It really isn’t hard to be a great success in God’s eyes. It only seems hard when we are worshiping other things in His place. If you know that you’re not where you are supposed to be as a leader of God’s flock, ask the Holy Spirit to get you back into alignment with Him. Ask Him to make Himself your First Love in life, and ask Him to have His total way in your life. No matter how far we’ve gone astray, God can get us back to where we need to be.
Preparing a Sermon that Honors God (Guidance for Pastors)