I know you lovingly and jokingly ‘hate’ on reformed churches. I spent half my life in a reformed Church, but after moving states, I’ve been called to a somewhat more ‘neutral’ denomination … But I miss the deep theology and resonance of a ‘reformed’ sermon. The sermons in my current Church lack luster … I love my current Church but I do miss my ‘reformed sermons’. A lot of young people in our Church are complaining that they are not growing / the sermons are not deep enough … What I’m trying to grapple with for myself is what really is at the heart of a reformed sermon? … Are ‘reformed’ sermons really scripturally deeper? … I’m trying to get to the heart of this myself so I can be more satisfied with the spiritual feeding my current Church is offering. I am supplementing all this with Piper/Keller/Driscoll sermons online, but I miss being excited about the sermon on Sundays.
Dear friend, thank you so much for asking this. Many of us love our churches but feel off about the Sunday sermons, and this is a much more common issue than you think.
I edited a lot of your original question, but you were very fair about your pastor and I appreciate your gracious tone. There are too many people who are overly harsh on this sort of thing, and you’re not one of them. I know it’s also a sensitive issue because you want to respect your leadership while also challenging them to a deeper level. But really there are a few simple adjustments you can make when you’re “not being fed.”
About Reformed Calvinism: secretly, I am indeed a Reformed Calvinist but I no longer self-identify as one. I do like to poke fun at us because I think we need to lighten up and no one really calls us out, but as far as the theology goes, I’m all there. I also very much love my Reformed brothers and sisters, even when they’re not always fun to hang out with (hah).
If you feel you’re not being fed on Sundays, please don’t leave the church yet. Here are some things to consider.
1) You are a multi-faceted person that prefers growth in certain areas which your pastor might be missing.
Every person’s learning ability is made of at least four sides: intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. We all lean towards one, and so does your pastor. If the sermon does not hit on your preferred learning style, then it will be extra difficult to grow — but you can still grow.
To break it down further:
- Intellectual: The mind. An increased knowledge and understanding of particular topics, especially systematic theology and grammatical-historical facts.
- Emotional: The heart. Being inspired, moved, convicted, and encouraged.
- Psychological: The will. The inner-workings of our motives, actions, behaviors, end goals, culture, and afflictions.
- Spiritual: The soul. A focus on spiritual gifts, abilities, Kingdom-thinking, evangelism, missions, spiritual disciplines, and other Christianese topics.
For some churchgoers, they confuse “bad preaching” with mismatched learning styles. A pastor who is highly emotional will hardly ever reach an intellectual person, and vice versa. Very rarely do you find a preacher who is the whole package, and even then, they will still tend towards one or two of these directions.
For this season of your life, you might want to consider adjusting your learning style. If your pastor is a blasphemous heretic, then of course you should leave — but if not, then it’s time to stretch yourself.
My first pastor was a very emotional/spiritual preacher, when I am more intellectual/psychological. But I dearly loved my pastor, and eventually, I found that I really did need emotional and spiritual encouragement because these were weak areas in my life. I had to stop looking down on my pastor’s sermons as if they were shallow or incomplete. In the end, this made me a much more rounded individual who could better understand different kinds of personalities. It will round you out too, if you let it. These days, I even preach a lot more like my first pastor and it’s helped me to reach others I never could have on my own.
On top of that, when you mentioned that you compensate by listening to Reformed podcasts like Piper/Keller/Driscoll, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this. We are blessed to have so many free resources, and you should never feel like you’re “cheating” on your pastor if you grow from other sermons. I also supplement, and a truly gracious pastor would be thrilled to hear that you’re listening to sermons throughout the week.
On the other hand, I would try to be very aware of your own learning style and then accommodate yourself to your pastor’s teaching. Unless he’s just a horrible preacher, he will say something that’s worthwhile and God-honoring, and we would be wise not to let our biased styles get in the way of God’s work. Embrace it and be open to other ways that God will speak to you.
2) Build on your pastor’s weaknesses.
One time I heard my first pastor preach a much more exegetical sermon than I’ve heard from him, and it was awesome. It reached my nerdy intellectualism. So after the service, I told my pastor how great it was to hear him do exegesis on a passage. It was a sincere compliment that I didn’t really think much of.
For the next few months, my pastor went on an exegetical trip and it was some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. Since my pastor was already such an emotional preacher, he didn’t leave behind the emotional people in the church either. I was so fired up. And it was all because of one specific comment towards my pastor.
The best thing you can do here is to find openings on helping your pastor improve. Pastors love vision. They love seeking ways forward. If you only deconstruct what they’re NOT doing, they will never know what you really need. But if you can tell them, “I would love more of what you just did there,” they will embrace that all the way.
3) Encourage your pastor, because he’s a human being like anyone else.
See: Most pastors on Sundays fall into pride or over-sensitivity, so that if you criticize them, you will get nowhere. Pastors are constantly on edge about their own performance, and if we approach them in a confrontational way, they will always take it personally. They’ll either be extremely angry or ridiculously hard on themselves.
It sounds like a game or something, and maybe sometimes it is. But let’s take a little extra effort to show grace to our pastors and let them know when they’ve done well. Almost all they hear is how bad they’re doing. This wouldn’t help you, either.
You might think pastors should be “above this,” but we easily forget that pastors have all the same fears and anxieties and hopes as you do, and they need encouragement like all of us. On Sunday nights when you’re relaxing with your family, the pastor is beating himself up over all the mistakes he made. I’m not trying to pull fake pity here, but so often we show grace for other people that we would never show to the pastor.
Pray for them, keep an open dialogue, encourage them after sermons on a particular point you liked, and be willing to share your issues so he knows what you’re going through. Your pastor, if he is a godly man, really does desperately care for you, and he will build himself in his lacking areas when he knows what to build.