Open Letter to Pastors and their Churches

Dear Pastors/Leaders:
When visiting your church, please don’t make me walk into a dark auditorium without the ability to read the bulletin you passed out at the door nor without the ability to see those sitting near me so I may greet them or they may greet me.

Please don’t make me listen to a wall of sound coming from a band performing on a stage singing words I cannot understand. And, for those words I do understand, please don’t use arrangements that are so harsh and “angry” sounding that it’s no different than the grunge sound so prevalent in today’s pop music.

Please don’t try and entertain me with humor referencing your groin area (“fly check”? C’MON!).

Please don’t make me watch video clip after video clip (I stopped counting after 4) in an effort to illustrate one point. And, if you do use video clips, please don’t show ones that are potentially offensive with a gladiator lunging a sword into his opponent.

Most importantly, please don’t throw up just a few Bible verses on the screen and spend 20 or more minutes telling me what you think they say when in fact the inspired author of Scripture had no such intention, as the context and genre clearly portrays. Even if your point is a biblical one, please spend enough time in Scripture to find texts that clearly illustrate your point, rather than read into a passage something that’s not there (Hint: You may want to distinguish between historical narrative and ethical instruction).

Instead, please take worship of the living God seriously by using humor sparingly and always in good taste.

Please take worship of the living God seriously by asking the band to choose songs that are contemplative and reflective of Scripture and performed in ways that are more dynamic in style (Hint: Along with full instrumentation, why not just use an acoustic guitar and/or piano + vocal on occasion?). I understand that styles of music are subjective. But, just as with humor, because it’s subjective is all the more reason to make your selections carefully and prayerfully.

Please take worship of the living God seriously by spending long hours laboring over God’s inspired Word so you understand, apply where possible, and proclaim the mind of God in the power of the Spirit. If there is only one point you wish to convey in your sermon, use Scripture responsibly by unpacking it in a systematic way so I understand and am moved to action. [Hint: You may want to read Haddon Robinson’s fine book Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages).

This video sadly portrays so much of my experience in finding a church so please watch it with a careful eye, an open mind, and an honest heart and ask some penetrating questions about what you’re doing with God’s church.

Finally, please, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, take this to heart. That’s all I ask….for now.

14 thoughts on “Open Letter to Pastors and their Churches”

  1. So if the lights were brighter, the music softer, the preacher’s exposition better, and the comedy subtler, THEN it would be the perfect worship service? Then the living God would be honored, but otherwise, He isn’t?

    Really? Let me be frank: You’ve all spoken like consumers of church, not worshippers of God.

    God looks at the heart, and you have no idea what the hearts of the people leading the service are like. Was there some gross and obvious sin being committed? If there was, then go and confront the sinner, one on one. Or was this a matter of personal taste? Then keep it to yourself, because if the lights are too low for you, God can see just fine. If the music was too loud for you, then put your finger in your ears and sing your own song of worship to the Lord. Offensive video clips? Have you read Judges 3? The Bible is not a tame collection of Precious Moments. And if the exposition of Scripture was inadequate for you, and you didn’t “get” anything out of it, be assured that the Gospel never returns void and spend your time praying for the souls in the pews around you, that they would be saved, and that their hearts would be changed.

    Because even the best song on earth pales to the songs sung by angels. Even the best preaching pales when you hear a parable of Jesus. When we offer anything to God, we’re like little children making a ridiculous breakfast in bed for our parents. Sure, the coffee was made with cold water and the toast was burned, but the parents are pleased at the effort, and the children have done it out of love.

    1. Kevin D:
      Not sure where to start or to end with your comments. I suppose I’ll just sum it up by saying that God is never pleased with poor exposition of his Word (contra your parents in the analogy).
      Enough said.

      1. I’m rereading my words and they sound too harsh. Please forgive me, especially because I can’t convey my tone through text alone. Know that I am brokenhearted with what I’m reading, not angry. I will try to clarify here:

        I fully agree: Most assuredly God is not pleased with *intentionally* poor exposition, and I don’t know which service this was or to whom you’re referring, but can you know be sure the speaker did anything else except his best in preparation? In other words, if you firmly believe that the preacher was intentionally lax in preparation, being cavalier with the Word, and not making his sermon preparation prayerful and Spirit-driven, then you should go to him — one on one — and explain where he has sinned. Isn’t that the way to do it? I don’t know if posting a blog entry about it is effective, and if it’s sinful behavior that you are attempting to correct, then I’d venture to say this is not the biblical way to go about it.

        There is something more serious for all of us to address as well. If you read the rest of the comments here, do you see a pattern? Everyone is saying, “You’re right! The American church is full of entertainment! We want a church that is relevant to Jesus Christ!” Fine, then if that’s the case, let’s seek revival and do whatever we can — personally — to preach the cross in our own spheres of influence. Otherwise, if all we do is complain and air bitterness, then we are sowing dissension. Am I completely off-base, or isn’t that what’s happening here?

        1. Hello Kevin D…
          Thanks so much for your thoughtful words here.

          Dane Ortlund recently admonished that we should not be too eager to criticize lest we become graceless and, as you suggest, appear to sow dissension. Yet, I would argue that there is a difference between sowing dissension and genuine biblical lamentation when God’s people do not seemingly take God’s Word seriously enough (see Jeremiah, Haggai, Malachi for just a few examples of the latter). I don’t think Haggai could be charged with sowing dissension or merely airing his bitterness simply because he wrote about it. At the same time, you’re absolutely right that revival is what is needed. When I believe God is calling me to that task for a specific church, then rest assured that I will remain at that church no matter what.

          What I struggle with is that the recent experience I annotated here typifies so many of our visitation experiences at so many churches! Way too much time is spent showcasing a production rather than serious, relevant, and responsible exposition of God’s Word. An extremely sad example of this is “setting up a dirtbike track in your sanctuary”! Good grief!!

          As I read the tenor and tone in which others respond on this post, they are saying that God’s Word is to take priority in worship; when it’s not, then they take issue and with that I cannot disagree. Moreover, I don’t see that we are called to remain at a church under any circumstances; there is a bottom line for what a church should be doing.

  2. The Word is enough!!! We don’t need entertainment, which is what a lot of services have become.

    If anyone is ever in Birmingham, AL and looking for to hear the clear teaching of the Word without shame, then I strongly recommend my faith family, The Church at Brookhills. Paul I look forward to taking you and Patty in a couple of months. I am confident you will be blessed.

    1. Zac:
      Indeed, God’s Word is quintessential to our growth!

      After the ETS/EPS annual meetings in Atlanta, then hearing David Platt preach along with spending lots of time with you and your awesome family, I think we’ll just stay there and not come back! Will likely not recover anytime soon in this “arid” AZ desert.

  3. Thanks to all for your comments. The fact that you resonate, at some level, with the concerns that I raise speaks to the state of the church in America I fear. Although the details I recorded in this post were from a specific worship experience at a specific church, so much of it typifies our experience in so many other churches that are caught up with similar “flavors” of the faith. The Bride of Christ deserves better; the Word of God expects better; God’s saints long for better; God’s glory IS better than the circus antics portrayed in today’s churches.

  4. Excellent letter, Paul! I certainly can relate to much of what you detail here. It is a sad state of affairs for many of the churches in America, but we are not without hope. He always has a remnant.

    May the Lord raise up preachers of the Gospel who are not afraid to preach a crucified Christ to a lost and dying world.

    Praying that you and your family find a church.

    Blessings to you!

  5. Good post, Paul. You have included the preaching of the Word under the category of “worship,” an idea that has frequently been buried under the notion that “worship” only refers to the “music” portion of the service, while song leaders have become “worship leaders.” Thanks.

  6. Bad comedy distracts. Poorly executed illustrations disconnect. Too much of one thing overwhelms. Worship leaders must lead their people into the presence of God. “Excellent preaching makes people confident that biblical truth lies within their reach, not beyond their grasp.” – Brian Chappell.

    Thanks for the timely post Paul. Let’s connect soon on the Skeptics Club. Have some exciting news.

  7. Wow! I’ve been in churches like that and choose not to attend them. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way many churches are going these days – not relevant to Jesus Christ. It seems to me it’s time to get back to the Cross and self-denial as the heart of our worship, our service and our mission.

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