Monday, May 4, 2009

"Hard Preaching"

Recently while doing personal work, I have been reminded of a familiar phrase. Many people I come into contact with have either left the church, are struggling in their faith, or are perhaps are just not very dedicated - maybe not ever fully converted. They often tell me that they have in their past, been subject to a steady diet of "hard preaching." For some time now I have been trying to get to the true meaning of this phrase. Those who tell me about it usually give details. At this point I think I am ready to share what I have learned.

1. Hard Preaching is giving people an impossible standard.
Many feel like the pulpit has delivered to them a system of rules and regulations they can never keep. One of the reasons why folks never commit themselves to the Lord is because they are assured of their future failure. Paul said that Jesus came and delivered us from a law of this nature - "having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col. 2:14). Hard preaching offers little grace. It relies heavily on commandments and does not speak much of forgiveness. If the preacher does not offer the sinner any hope, then why would the sinner ever desire to make a change?

2. Hard preaching is harsh in tone.
Have you ever felt hated by the preacher? Have you ever been afraid of him? Have you ever wondered if his only desire was to make you squirm? Have you ever had to debate with yourself about whether or not the preacher loved you? Some preachers, in their desire to preach the gospel boldly, end up damaging their relationships with the hearers. I have heard some things from the pulpit over the years that were hard to swallow. When they were difficult to receive because of my sin, it was my fault. But when they were difficult to receive because of the demeanor and manner of delivery, it was not my fault. Jesus got angry for the right reasons. He was firm in what he taught. But mostly, He was gentle. His invitation was issued kindly - "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).

3. Hard preaching in not balanced in its scope.
People will perceive that they are receiving negative lessons if the preacher does not preach the whole counsel of God. People need to know about the reality of hell, the consequences of sin, and the work of the devil. They also need to know about the mercy and grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, faith, hope, and love. What I have found to be interpreted as hard preaching usually has nothing to do with these subjects. It is mostly the result of a preacher who hammers away at a particular problem that he would like to see resolved - worship attendance, dedication, weak members, et cetera. I will be honest, the preacher is usually more discouraged by the church than he is by the world. But I am learning that if we are going to motivate the brethren, honey is a better tool than a baseball bat.

4. Hard preaching is in the eye of the beholder.
Some people think that any preaching that challenges their way of thinking is unkind. Other people beg for sermons that will scare them enough to get their hearts right with God. There are definitely going to be times where the preaching is imperfect. Maybe the preacher is not on his game. Maybe the lesson is poorly constructed. Maybe the preacher is abusing the pulpit to let out frustration. In spite of the preacher's weaknesses, people who know the Lord and who are familiar with His word can glean the best parts of the sermon. It is all in our attitude. The preacher's responsibility is great, but the hearer's responsibility is just as great. We are all worshiping together. We need to make the most of every minute and give the glory to God.

Hard preaching is not the goal of any preacher who has the love of God in His heart. Our goal is to preach the gospel, plain and simple. The power is in the Word. It will change men. It will break hearts. It will comfort. It will save.

"but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ" ~ Ephesians 4:15


  1. Thank you so much for this excellent post. We all have the responsibility to be ready to hear the Word, but the preacher also must be Christ-like in delivering the message.

    This post should be widely read and taken to heart. I really appreciate it!

  2. I am 100% with you. Hard preaching makes healthy, normal people run for the hills. I think hard preaching has a certain appeal to a specific that is used to being abused and controlled. Everyone else sees the wierdness and runs...or should run. There is so much better out there if one will only look for it.

    I wish preachers could read this. I have an easy (opposite of hard?) minister and love to hear the word spoken from him.

  3. Hi Jeremiah, good observations about hard or harsh preaching. Ira North had it right when he begged for balanced preaching. Sometimes we have to be firm and stand against error but we must also seek to display the love, grace and compassion we find in Jesus.