A Wrong Motivation for Preaching

A Wrong Motivation For Being A Preacher

Two times in my years of active ministry I had six or more months away from the pulpit.  One time it was for a study leave, so that I could research what became a book on the revival periods in the United States.  The other time, I was considering whether or not I would continue in ministry.  Each time I had to ask again, “What is my motivation for preaching?”  I realized that there are wrong motivations for being a preacher of the truths of the Bible.  That’s what this post is going to be about.

Searching your Motivations

It is important to look at the motivation that drives our preaching.  Why?  Because God, we are told, searches our hearts to determine the “why” behind what we do.  Here are a couple of passages that refer to this reality.  The first is a quote from David as he gives advice to his son, who is about to take over the kingdom.  This is what he says in I Chronicles 28:9:

David to Solomon

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.” 

God searches every desire and thought.  That’s humbling, isn’t it?  The next passage is from Romans 8, what I consider the greatest chapter in the Bible:

Paul to the Romans

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Again, God searches our hearts, to see if they are aligned with his will and desire.   And finally, this quote from Revelation 2.  Jesus is sending a letter to the church in Thyatira, and says that he has this against them, that they tolerate a Jezebel.  This is someone, apparently, who not only does the wrong things, but does them for the wrong reasons.  So, Jesus says that he is going to put all “her” children to death.

Jesus to the Churches

Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds,and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.  Rev. 2:23. 

In other words, God is not only looking at what we do in ministry, but why we do it.  We need to be reflecting on our hearts: is my heart caught up in a wrong motivation for preaching to God’s people?

Wrong Motivation Number One

I have written before of the struggle that I mention in this previous post in this blog.  There I reflect on the question: Who Gets The Glory?   That post refers to one powerfully wrong motive for preaching, to get the accolades that can come with a good or great sermon.

Recently, though, I realized that there are other wrong motives for preaching that go deeper into my soul.  One of those motivations is my need for approval.  Let me reflect on that a bit with you in the rest of this post.

Where It Comes From

Those of us who didn’t get enough approval as children crave it as adults.  My father was particularly bad at communicating approval.  He was overly critical.  My father would assign me a job, and then I waited for his evaluation of my performance.   The evaluation was almost always negative.

One that I remember was to use concrete to fill up a heating duct in our breezeway.  I was not given any direction on how to accomplish this task, and so I just tried to figure it out myself.  It turned out that just piling more and more concrete mix into the hole didn’t accomplish the goal of closing the duct.  Instead, the concrete just kept falling over.  Dad then evaluated my work and was overly critical, even accusing me of stupidity because I didn’t know (I was probably about 10 years old at the time) that you should have a frame for the concrete that you fill and then let harden before you remove it.

So, I grew up with a need for approval.  Sometimes, as I’m preparing a sermon, this need comes to the surface.  Instead of prayerfully considering how God will view my sermon, I try to make it interesting, funny and engaging, so that people will comment positively.  This need for approval sometimes has kept me from preaching on the tough subjects that the congregation needed.  This is a wrong motivation for preaching to a congregation.

In the next post I’m going to reflect on what I’ve done to move my motivation.  For now, here’s a link to John Piper reflecting on this issue in response to a question of how to deal with the need for approval.