7 Ways Preachers Can “Do Harm” to the Lord’s Church
Cliff Goodwin spoke at my graduation ceremony from preaching school.
He mentioned a “prayer for preachers,” and I still have in my Bible what he said. Before I preach, my mind goes over these three things, and these three things are usually included in my prayers to God.
- May my preaching be to God’s glory.
- May I be true and faithful to God’s Word.
- May I only do good and no harm at all.
I want to focus on that last one for a moment — “May I only do good and no harm at all.” This morning I was reading Conversations with Servants of God who Preach by John Waddey, and he emphasized the importance of doing no harm as gospel preachers.
He listed ways in which we as preachers can do harm — and we should seek to avoid these since our desire should be to help build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–16).
Discourage people by our preaching.
Preaching overly harsh, negative sermons that offer little to no hope can do tremendous harm to Christians — especially those who are struggling. Yes, sometimes “rebuking” is necessary in proclaiming the word of God (2 Timothy 4:2). But even when doing this, we must offer hope to those who need correcting.
If you read the Minor Prophets, you will find a scathing rebuke of sin in many of those books, followed by a beautiful picture of God’s love and hope for those who turn back to God.
Don’t discourage people by offering an incomplete picture of God.
Have no patience with young people or the “newborn” in Christ.
I’m afraid that sometimes we expect “newborn” Christians to behave like mature Christians. Would we expect our three-year-old child to act like an adult? Of course not!
We must teach and train these new disciples (Matthew 28:20) — they should not remain “infants in the faith” forever (Hebrews 5:12–14; 1 Peter 2:1–3). Our teaching and training must be done with “complete patience” (2 Timothy 4:2).
We will likely discourage them if we demonstrate no patience with a “newborn” Christian.
Failing to preach the whole counsel of God.
Paul spent three years with the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:31), and when he left, he said that he had declared “the whole counsel of God” to them (Acts 20:27). He proclaimed “the whole purpose of God” to them.
As preachers, if we “hold back” from teaching something from God’s Word that the church needs to hear, we are harming that church. A church that has not heard the “whole counsel of God” will likely be unprepared when “savage wolves” arrive (Acts 20:28–31).
Proclaiming something that is out of harmony with God’s Word — while it might be popular and well-received by our listeners — will ultimately harm the church.
Paul was deeply concerned for the churches in Galatia (Galatians 4:11) because they had been taught and embraced a perverted gospel (Galatians 1:6–9). Not only does teaching error like this bring a curse upon the teacher, but it can cause entire congregations of God’s people to “fall from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
So, as Paul told Timothy, “Preach the word!” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Failing to respect the authority of the elders.
The preacher is not the overseer or the shepherd of the local church — God has given that role to qualified Christian men (1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). They are the ones who “shepherd the flock of God” and have the “oversight” over the local church (1 Peter 5:1–4).
When a preacher fails to respect the authority of the elders and submit to their decisions — he does unfathomable harm to the Lord’s church. He might as well be spitting in the face of the Chief Shepherd — Jesus Christ Himself (1 Peter 5:4).
Even preachers must “obey those who rule” over them and be submissive (Hebrews 13:17).
Insisting on having things done “our way.”
This goes along a bit with the previous point, but if a preacher stubbornly insists on things being done their way — they can cause tremendous harm to the Lord’s body.
For one thing, if a preacher does this, he fails to demonstrate the love of Christ. Love means not insisting on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5). The “my way or the highway attitude” has no place among preachers — or any Christian.
Sometimes things will be done differently than we would have done it — and that’s perfectly alright.
God warns His church about those who cause division.
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10–11)
I’ve never been a member of a congregation where the preacher was the one causing division — but I have seen it done by other Christians. It’s a messy thing — and it profoundly harms local congregations. Some churches never fully recover from the damage done by a “person who stirs up division.”
As preachers — this should never describe us.
I appreciate the excellent work you do for God’s kingdom!
Hopefully, we’ve been reminded how important it is to “do no harm” to the Lord’s church — His bride (Ephesians 5:22–33).