A dangerous sermon and 'getting stuff off your chest'

September 2nd, 2020

There is a vast difference between a dangerous sermon and venting, which is attacking people from the pulpit and abusing people through the sermon because one has been hurt or angered and needing to get “stuff off your chest.” One of the tactics of choice is to preach a “white washed tomb, ye workers of iniquity sermon.” In this sermon, the preacher takes one of the “Woe” sayings of Jesus in Matthew 23, such as in verses 27-28 (NIV): “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” 

The preacher will wax long and hard about hypocrisy and hypocrites until it is painfully obvious to all that the preacher is talking about church leaders, people in the congregation, or maybe some politician, leader, or personality. When the preacher is confronted about the fact that the sermon was targeted, the preacher will respond, “I was preaching what was in the text.” Such hiding hostility behind the text is abusive and cowardly. Dangerous sermons are not abusive and cowardly. 

Surviving a Dangerous Sermon Preachers need places outside of the pulpit where they can vent frustration, hurt, pain, and anger. It could be many different kinds of support, but one source that was always critically important to me was a preacher friend whom I could call once I had finished writing the dangerous sermon to ask for feedback. That friend would be honest with me and tell me if I was venting, unloading my frustration, and taking my unresolved feelings out on the congregation. 

One Saturday night my tears flowed as this preacher friend told me that my dangerous sermon was negative. I had been deeply hurt and the wound of the pain came out in the sermon. In the midst of the tears, my friend said: “I will stay on the phone with you and you can say whatever you need to say, for as long as you need to say it, but in the pulpit tomorrow, preach the gospel.” This relationship was priceless in my life, and even though the truth hurt, it saved me from even more hurt. A preacher who has to vent in the pulpit can access spiritual directors, counselors, clergy friends, family support, and other support systems to express their feelings. 

I once exposed my raw pain in the pulpit, and my “enemies” feasted on my brokenness. When I heard the things that they said, the total disregard for my pain, I was even more broken. I learned that getting stuff off of my chest in the pulpit is not a dangerous sermon. Getting things off my chest is a matter of private and personal well-being and not the responsibility and business of the people. The church and people are not responsible for our personal well-being.

This article is an excerpt from the recently released book, Surviving a Dangerous Sermon. Copyright © 2020 Abingdon Press.

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