The Uselessness of Church Entertainers, The Second Act - by C. Matthew McMahon Ph.D., Th.D.Pastoral Theology and Expository Preaching Articles
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Jeremiah 3:14-15, “Return, O backsliding children,” says the LORD; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
The text of Jeremiah is very poignant for today. You might have already read my short article on the Uselessness of Church Speakers, which covers a short sound byte of information on that passage. If you’ve not, I’d encourage you to go there and consider some of the finer points of that article first. There you will find a more exegetical teaching on God’s action of sending knowledgeable preachers to teach his people the word of God.
This is an accompanying article that separates church speakers into an additional category of “entertainers.” All, “entertainers” are church speakers, but not all church speakers are entertainers. Church speakers have in them, somewhere deep in the recesses of their mind, a fear of men. As a result of this fear, and a self-conscious need to be liked, they turn preaching into church speaking, and placate the congregation with weak sermonizing Sunday after Sunday. In reality, such sermonizing is not sermonizing at all, its debauchery of the worst kind, for it indulges not only the whimsical nature of the listener in the pew who wants their ears to be tickled, (a passion that should never be cultivated in the church of Christ), but it also indulges the sin of the church speaker who continues to ride in the pastoral vehicle and office while simultaneously emptying that vehicle of its power, which in turn hinders the sanctification of the people of God. Many times, the church speaker does not know what they are doing, (as with those who placed him in such an office in the first place), and the congregation, being less than qualified to discern their theological right hand from their left hand, does not know it is even happening to them. Year after year they sit and think that preaching is, “just that way.” They are content to come week after week and accept this as “worship.”
Then comes another category of a church speaker that is even worse than the generic type. That is the, “church entertainer.” An entertainer is a person whose job is to entertain others. These people step up into the place of dread, the pulpit of the Living God, and they entertain the congregation, instead of expounding the Word of God.
What prompted this second act (or article) concerning “church entertainers,” is that across the US solid Christian families who move to a new area visit a local church, (say, in the Bible belt), whose denomination holds to the Westminster Standards. In visiting a given church, this Christian family finds out that the pastor has just recently resigned, and there is stated pulpit supply for a number of weeks. Now, let’s say the speaker for the church in which the family visited was so practically and theologically horrendous that the visitors had no choice but to literally get up and walk out of the church five minutes into the “sermon.” Could it be that bad? Yes, it could, and such church speaking happens all the time. Think this through, this stated supply fellow was ordained by a presbytery to preach the word of God, passed by the presbytery to be a preacher, had hands laid on him setting him apart, and made it so far in his presbytery that he was “sent” by them to preach to a congregation that just lost their minister. I believe actions like this hurt the church of Jesus Christ and hinder its sanctification. Christ desires (requires) his church to be filled with the Spirit, with a knowledge of the Word of God, and with zealous action for the Gospel ministry. We find the Scriptures filled to the brim with exhortations to this end (2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 4:31; Jude v. 3, etc.).
God says in Jeremiah that he would send shepherds according to his heart who would feed his people with knowledge and understanding. In this illustration of the visiting family to the local church, this fellow showed himself to have neither knowledge, nor understanding of his office or task. Interestingly enough, if you walked up to him and asked him if he thought he was doing anything wrong, he would tell you with a resounding tone, “of course not.” He would have thought he was doing the congregation a service in God’s sight, when in fact he was undoing much.
You might be thinking, “One cannot judge a man in one sermon.” I would, in a certain way, concur with you. (Although, you only have to hear one bad sermon to judge that a sermon is bad). But this fellow was in the “pulpit supply” for 4 weeks, and the visiting family heard him three times prior. He preached three times previously, and every time he was heard it was the same thing. What was it? What was so bad that the visitors were compelled to walk out on his fourth installment?
First, in our factual illustration, in the church bulletin, there was a printed text that the sermon was supposed to be about. In 2 of the previous 3 sermons, he never got to the text except to read it. The remainder of his time was storytelling about his old job, his grandfather, a flat tire, or some other nonsense.
Second, in his sermons thus far, he never started with the text. Without exaggeration, he literally would begin with at least 10 stories about either himself, or what he thought might “bolster” the text which he never really got to. In his first speech he did this 12 times before ever reading the text. Really. He gave twelve individual stories about a common theme concerning not knowing what to do when you are faced with a difficult time in life. Reading the text seemed to be a nuisance to the flow of his entertaining stories. From a speech perspective, it would have been better if he skipped the bible text all together and just kept his Joel Osteenesque focus on his stories.
Thirdly, entertaining was all he did. His stories were just that, short pithy stories that made the congregation laugh (mostly) or move with some emotion that had some connection to the printed text in the bulletin.
Fourthly, at no time did he focus on any text, or explain the text, or apply the text. His “sermonettes” were astoundingly devoid of exegesis and hermeneutics, as well as any connection to homiletics. In the 18 minutes, or 23 minutes, etc., of his previous speeches, the congregation learned a whole lot about him, his family, his father, his grandfather, etc., and nothing, explicitly nothing, about God or Jesus Christ. True Shepherds aid the congregation in knowing Christ in a deeper manner – this is a word picture about God’s heart for his people. True preachers bring the Word of God in its glorious might, focusing on the word of God, and screw truth into men’s minds. These true Shepherds are those whom God sends. They are those equipped to show a man his sin (Job 33:23), and enable the people to reconcile to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. This fellow was not sent by God. He was sent as pulpit supply.
Fifthly, sermons bring people closer to heaven or closer to hell. Non-sermons bring people closer to hell, and make them devoid of gaining any spiritual insight for the coming onslaught of the enemy for the upcoming week. Worship ought to energize Christians. It should prepare them in some way and in some manner with some formed and molded truth to their circumstance for the week ahead. Non-sermons devoid of biblical truth, or not saturated in the word of God, are like taking a butter knife into a medieval battle to swordfight against Goliath-like adversaries. Entertainers are totally useless in this way to the people of God.
Sixthly, church entertainers are Satan’s pawns to distract true Christians from worshipping God as God requires. Not only are they Satan’s pawns, but I believe they are also used as a test to the session and presbytery. 2 Cor. 2:11 says, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” If presbyteries ordain such church entertainers, and sessions allow such men to come week after week to speak to their people, one of four things is occurring here. 1) The presbytery and session are actively trying to water down the teaching of the word of God in the church, and are kinsman to the Devil and his devices against Christ’s church. They are opposed to Christ and the intentions of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to the people of God. Or, 2) The presbytery and session are ignorant of Satan’s distracting devices, and ought to be deposed from their office until they are educated and made aware of Satan’s devices. (There is much to be said here, but this short article is not the place to exegetically explain the characteristics of a true minister of the Word.). We need zealous, educated elders for God’s glory. Or, 3) The presbytery and session have an overpowering fear of men and so allow the fellow to pass through their ranks and ordination, as well as come week after week to fill their pulpit. They would much rather coast through on the status quo than stand up and object to distraction. This third point seeps into the fourth, 4) that the presbytery and session do not care enough, and are not zealous enough for true biblical reformation to, “overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place,” (Deut. 12:3). For some reason they are spiritually hindered from doing what, “was right in the sight of the LORD,” neither moving from such a strong biblical spiritual condition, “to the right hand, nor to the left,” (2 Chron. 34:2). They do not have Josiah’s holy zeal to, “[slay] all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars,” (2 Kings 23:20), or act like Jesus Christ who, “made a scourge of small cords,” and, “drove [all the money changers] all out of the temple,” (John 2:15). It was said of Christ, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” Complacent elders and ministers are devoid of such zeal.
In Calvin’s city of Geneva during the time of the Reformation, church entertainers were an extinct breed inside the walls of the Genevan city-state. If ever such men appeared in Calvin’s pulpit, he would have physically removed them from the pulpit himself. Farel, Couralt and Calvin were zealous for God and his word, and knew what was at stake. In dealing with the sheep of the church, Calvin was kind, tender hearted and pastorally sensitive. But to his elders, Calvin was of the opinion (and rightly so) that elders ought to know what it means to be elders, and he often dealt harshly with them on matters of grave importance, such as preaching, teaching and worship if they opposed God’s word in any way, or were ignorant of it.
The puritans were also zealous for having able ministers, even solidifying the Westminster Standards (which is the standard used by this church who had this fellow come and supply their pulpit). The WCF, which follows Scripture very closely, say in its Presbyterial Form of Church Government, the duty of the minister is, “To feed the flock, by preaching of the word, according to which he is to teach, convince, reprove, exhort, and comfort.” This church entertainer is ignorant of this, and everything he stood for, as he stood behind the pulpit, was in opposition to this. He was not qualified for this, as was apparent by his inability to expound the word of God, or lead the congregation in a manner worthy of the calling of minister. Westminster says, “He that is to be ordained minister, must be duly qualified, both for life and ministerial abilities, according to the rules of the apostle.” The key term here is “ministerial abilities.” How are men without ministerial abilities continually being ordained today? This tells us where the presbytery and sessions are at in their own understanding of both the Bible, and historical confessionalism of their standards.
What shall we say then to keep this short soap box to the point? Church entertainers abuse the people of God. They abuse their ears, their eyes, their hearts, and their confidence in the Word of God. They abuse their ears in that the congregation must listen to them speak about themselves instead of Christ. They expound stories instead of Scripture. They abuse their eyes because they are seen standing in the “holy place” of the pulpit, watering down the distinction that ought to be made between a true minister who is sent by God and a false one. They abuse their hearts because the people are not filled with the glory of God and of Christ, but filled with light-hearted entertainment that is gone the moment the entertainer stops speaking. They abuse the confidence which the people ought to have in the word of God because instead of hearing the preaching of the word, and being hermenutically guided by the text of Scripture, they are humanly guided by entertaining drivel that takes up 20 minutes of their life, just in time to get them out of the church for Sunday lunch.
(And yes, the visiting family heard this fellow say at one point from the pulpit, he would be quick so as not to let the people be late for their Sunday dinner…[SIGH])
What shall we do then? In a word, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9:38). Pray God sends true preachers to his church, and pray that the elders in those churches are wise enough to know the different between true shepherds and false ones so that they will protect the people of God from those who would distract the congregation from true worship.