9 Evidences that We Preachers Have Made Preaching an Idol

I confess that these thoughts are not original with me. The idea for this post came from Lewis Allen’s book, The Preacher’s Catechism, where Allen lists the first three signs of preaching idolatry listed below.[1] At the same time, my lack of preaching opportunities during the current COVID-19 threat has forced me to evaluate my own heart. Thus, the remaining evidences of preaching idolatry are my own suggestions: 

  1. We can never read the Bible for our own soul’s profit. Instead, we’ve come to the place where we read the Word only with sermons in mind. Developing outlines for others trumps any personal application of the Word.
  2. We can never say no to a sermon. We always look for opportunities to preach, and we squirm in the pew when we’re not preaching. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to listen to a sermon without critiquing it.
  3. Our moods are dictated by our ministry. It’s a good day if we received positive feedback for our sermon; criticism, on the other hand, leads to rough days and sleepless nights. That’s because somebody has spoken against our idol.
  4. We spend most of our time in our study, giving little direct attention to the people we’re called to shepherd. Prioritizing our sermon preparation isn’t wrong, but isolation in the office may reveal a battle in our hearts. Sometimes it’s a battle with our ego—or a battle to be like our preaching heroes.
  5. We’re struggling right now because we’re forced to preach to a camera or an empty worship center. This crisis has required us to evaluate our own motives in preaching. If we’re disappointed because we don’t have any immediate crowds, we may be more interested in the recognition than in the message.
  6. We watch clips of our own sermons not to evaluate and improve, but to hear how good we are. No preacher I know would describe his heart this honestly, but some I know—beginning with me at times—live on this line. In our arrogance and idolatry, we impress ourselves too much.
  7. We linger after the service to hear more good comments about our sermon. When idolatry sets in, we want to know that we’ve done well with our gods. When we look forward to affirmations of our preaching—and even put ourselves in a position to hear more—we’ve crossed lines into ungodliness.
  8. We get jealous when other preachers are recognized for their preaching. It’s hard to imagine why they would be recognized over us. “If the people in charge would just listen to my sermons,” we think, “they’d know why I should be on that platform.”
  9. We have no time to give to our families because we spend so much time getting ready to preach. I’m a seminary professor—so I strongly believe in preparation and study. Sometimes, though, we spiritualize our excuses to follow our idols at the expense of our home.

Too many of these descriptions hit home for me. How about you? 

——-

[1] Lewis Allen, The Preacher’s Catechism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 126.

6 Comments

  • mark says:

    Some preachers just deliver a sermon without regard for the occasion or the audience.

  • cfcollins says:

    Concerning #5: my struggle in preaching to a green light (the camera on my laptop) is that it is more difficult to connect with the people–to touch their eyes with mine as I preach the truths of God. It’s not at all about getting strokes!

  • Al Hodged says:

    Good call! I’ve recently read some interpretations on ways God is tearing down our idols so we will come back to Him. “Money idols falling with the plunge of the Dow …Sports idols taken away with the closing of games and arenas.” But for me as a preacher, I note that “preaching” in and of itself can also become an idol. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Larry Ecton says:

    Excellent observations. One more that is quite serious is that we think so much of our sermons that we neglect the essential direct, personal ministry to each member of our flock, as well as relegating fellowship and corporate worship to a secondary (or worse) priority.

  • Neil Norheim says:

    There might be an additional temptation too. Some may think that their preaching is actually an audition for someone in a prominent position to hear and then be the influencer that invites the preacher to be the featured speaker at a conference, convention or a specialty clinic. Climbing the popularity or positional ladder has its own obstacles. We may be in our own way of presenting the truth because we are our own obstacle.

  • Phillip Hurst says:

    All good insights and right on the mark!

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