Half-filled Pews

I attended a church many years ago where they would publish the name of the pastor who was going to preach a week in advance.  Sadly, because the church was polarized around this one guy, on his “off weeks”, half of the church sat at home worshiping with “Pastor Sheets.”

Before I became a pastor, I was the worst (or best) critic of pastors and their sermons.    I would size up the preacher within minutes, judging his voice, his tone, his verbal fillers, his charisma (or lack thereof), his clothes, his manliness, his hair, his text or topic, his illustrations, the length of  his sermon, his points, his theology, the number of verses he quotes, and whether or not he includes an altar call.  If the pastor or his sermon were weighed and found wanting on Sam’s Scales of Successful Sermons, I too would be staying home or visiting another church the next time his name appeared in the bulletin.  The offering plate was my own personal tip jar where I could communicate my appreciation or disdain.

This is the reason you hear people leaving churches saying, “I just wasn’t being fed.”  By reason I don’t mean weak pastors or sermons, rather, weak judgmental Christians in the audience who refuse to look at the real problem–their own hearts.  Anyone who says or has spoke those words (hand raised as guilty) fails to realize is that you’re only supposed to be “fed” by someone else for the first years of your life.  Being fed beyond that is like watching a nine-year old ask for “nummies” from Mommy. It is both creepy and wrong.  Pastors and churches aren’t there to feed everyone, but to equip people to feed themselves.

That said, we all have to fight the temptation to dismiss the any pastor or his sermon because we think or feel 1) it isn’t what we need right now 2) it isn’t the way you would preach or teach it 3) it isn’t like what I’m used to 4) it isn’t like (or as good as) the church I came from or the pastor I podcast (from the church I wish I could go to).  That is not to say that we don’t use discernment and test what is preached by Scripture.  Notice, I said we test by Scripture, NOT by the theological school of which we find ourselves raised or affiliated in.  Scripture dictates truth, not tradition.  If we hear something that doesn’t accord with “what we’ve been taught”, we must be careful NOT to plug our ears or close our hearts to what God might be teaching us through this “heretic.”  In short, we must avoid using any form “righteous judgment” that causes us DISMISS truth, especially because of how or by whom it is communicated, in the name of discernment.  .

If we allow ourselves to be governed by a critical spirit, we may find ourselves working harder to avoid the truth rather than find it.  I believe that, whenever the gospel is preached, our hearts are working hard to avoid the truth.  As the Holy Spirit works to pull the veil from our eyes, we fight against Him and pull it back over ourselves.   

1Corinthians 4.1-4 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.


Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.

3 thoughts on “Half-filled Pews”

  1. I may be wrong, but it appears that you may be attempting to intercept a possible issue arising from sharing the pulpit with elders in the church.

    I have to confess that I don’t recall avoiding sermons for the reason you mentioned. And you’re correct, it must come from spiritual immaturity. Unless, of course, you’re getting a pastor that can’t wield the ‘sword’ effectively and responsibly. And in that case supporting his preaching would be foolish.

    I recall reading a story about Lee Stroubel (sp?) interviewing an important theologian/lecturer while investigating the Christian faith. The theologian took out HIS pad and pencil to take notes as well. Lee asked about this and he responded something about always learning something from his students and this shouldn’t be any different. What humility!

    Not only do we want to be fed, but we think that we know what we need to be fed. Pride and arrogance.

    Anyhow…I’ve learned the best way to combat the ‘entertain me’ attitude is to take notes like you’re in a college lecture. But this time I’m not worried about passing the test. Jesus has already done that for me.


  2. I agree. Without question, some men can wield the sword better than others. I simply hope we don’t limit responsible and effective handling of the sword as a certain type of fighting style. I really appreciate the story from Stroebel, I think that is the spirit of what I am trying to address.

    As for music and worship, I agree, another day–but soon.


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