TEACHING WITH INTEGRITY
In our series on Success and Failure, I quote a disgusting executive who sold out his family to a worldly dream. But before you judge him too harshly, take a close look at your own ministry dreams. Is your dream to be faithful to God in your teaching, or to impress your students and grow your group, no matter what the cost? Some youth ministers compromise their commitment to family on the altar of "success" in ministry. But I want to home in on another compromise common to teachers: compromising the truth on the altar of effective communication. Here�s how we do it:
Preaching Other�s Sermons As Our Own
I heard of one preacher who had developed a sermon that was so effective that he preached the same sermon once a year to his congregation. But get this. One day a visiting speaker came to the church, preached a sermon that was not his own, not realizing that the sermon was the very same one that the pastor preached there every year! What made a bad decision even worse was that he presented the sermon as if it were his own. Many preachers are just as guilty. They�ve just never been caught in the act.
Now there�s nothing wrong with getting ideas and direction from other people�s study. As Spurgeon once said, "It seems odd that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what He has revealed to others." (C.H. Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries, reprint ed., London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969, p. 1) We need to learn from others and draw from their materials! It�s fine for a small group leader to lead from a curriculum that he has personalized for his group. It�s just as fine for a youth minister to speak from a curriculum that he has personalized for his group, even if he uses 90% of the curriculum. Just be up front by letting your group know that you are using a curriculum.
Sharing Other�s Life Experiences As If They Happened To Us
I heard of one youth minister who told his youth group about an incident that happened between he and his wife. Only the incident actually happened to another youth speaker, who just happened to soon speak at his church, and just happened to use the same illustration. The youth were not idiots. They knew that one or the other had lied. So the thoroughly humbled youth minister had to confess before the church that he had presented the illustration as if it had happened to him, in order to achieve a more powerful effect. Are you willing to compromise truth, risking your reputation for the sake of effect?
Not Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
One day I listened to a Christian radio program where a music professor shared with his audience the results of his vast research into the Contemporary Christian Music issue. The only problem was, everything he shared came straight out of the book I had written on the subject! I�m not saying we have to footnote our sermons like a research paper. People understand that we draw from other sources for our messages. But don�t claim someone else�s research as your own.
Watering Down The Truth
S ome issues aren�t popular in our culture. Some of us are so scared of running people off that we only share the "happy truths." Their blood may one day be on our hands. Jesus was willing to speak the truth, whether the crowds wanted to come back for more or wanted to come back with rocks. When�s the last time you spoke on an issue like church discipline?
Over-stating Your Case
One pastor told me that he was always dogmatic because people want a sure word. Perhaps, but the men and women of integrity don�t make their decisions solely on the taste of their audience. If God has chosen to leave an issue fuzzy, I dare not speak it with confidence.
Certain Old Testament prophets were condemned by God for saying, "Thus saith the LORD," when God had not spoken. (See Jer. 23:28-36) But do we not do the same thing when we declare with confidence, "These are God�s three steps to a happy marriage?" when God never said there were only three? Some desperate couple may try these three steps as a last ditch effort to save their marriage. But if their need was a fourth principle that you never thought to mention, they may see the failure of your sermon to deliver as a failure of God�s Word. Did God really say that these were the three steps? By putting words in God�s mouth, am I any better than the first century Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, "�their teachings are but rules taught by man."
Some might say, "The entertainment industry is the single greatest threat to biblical values." Maybe so, but God never made that statement. Perhaps it is number three, close behind Satan and his demons, the breakdown of the home, etc., etc. Just say it is a major threat. State a point with only the amount of dogmatism its weight of evidence warrants.
Are you a little unsure about your source for an illustration? Say, "I heard it said that�" rather than stating it as fact.
Some excuse it as "a comedian�s genre." You know, like the writings of Dave Barry or Lewis Grizzard. I�m sure that either many of the events they write about never happened, or by the time their creative pens developed the incidents, they only vaguely resemble the original event. But that�s okay for professional comedians and humor writers. We understand what they are doing. But unless a pastor has an understanding with his congregation ("When I tell some of these stories, please understand that I sometimes juice them up a bit to make my point") you can lose your integrity with your people. If they begin to doubt the accuracy of your far-fetched stories, they may begin to question your authority on other matters as well.
Fancy Outlining And Alliteration
I often see this in expository messages, where a preacher takes a single text and develops his sermon from it. Sometimes Paul�s letters don�t fit into shapely outlines, so we help Paul out a bit. "In Philippians chapter 1 Paul wants to tell us the four steps you need to find joy." But are you sure that this is what Paul is doing with chapter one, or is this just a convenient device for keeping your congregation with you? Did Paul really give four "steps," or just several principles? Does the Bible really say that these are "the" four steps to joy?
"Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar." (Prov. 30:6; cr. I Cor. 4:6)
"Not many of you should act as teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (Jms. 3:1)