A little while ago someone said to me that the thing they like least about our church is my preaching. And interestingly they said it in a generous tone. Kind of "I don't like it, I would like to tell you about it, so that maybe you can make some changes and I can relate to it better in future." I am always up for that kind of conversation in that kind of critical-but-not tone so we had a good conversation. I was grateful they wanted to chat.
The person hasn't been coming to us very long and the thing they objected to was when I say things like "as a result of this passage we must do x or y." In other words the pointed application. I asked why the objection and they said "there is no compulsion in the Bible. We are all adults listening to your Bible advice, we are free to interpret how we like. It is inappropriate for a preacher to tell grown ups that there are imperatives and commands to be obeyed."
It made me appreciate that there are people in all our congregations who have yet to figure out what the Bible is and yet to figure out that believers entirely and exactly think that it is authoritative and commanding. I asked "do you think there are facts and absolutes in life? For example in medicine or jurisprudence?" Clearly they did. "But you don't think there are facts and absolutes in the Bible?" Clearly they didn't. It was a book of wisdom from which to pick and choose.
Several things interest me here:
1. I suspect this person has attended other churches where they have never been helped to understand the Bible. I have to realise that and deal gently with it
2. There are clearly people in our congregation who have yet to submit to God's word as the authority over their lives, and I have to bear this in mind. I think I will start to say things like "you may not be a believer yet, but I think you will see here is how the Bible says Christians must live. And how you must live if you become one. In other words I mustn't assume a Christian doctrine of scripture from non-Christians
3. Rather alarmingly I am not sure it is always simple to assume a Christian doctrine of scripture from Christians either. If I want to teach the scriptures for obedience then it is essential that we regularly state what the scriptures ARE as well as what they say. Otherwise there is no epistemelogical basis for obedience (or for listening to preaching). Let all preachers nail this for the benefit of believers and non-believers in the congregation: the Bible is not "advice" and neither is preaching
4. Lastly when someone says something like "I don't like your preaching", it is all too easy to assume that the fault lies with them and not with me. It has really made me think "Are they wrong, or are there times when I am bolshy, too direct and in your face, or insistent beyond where people yet have faith to go." Its been a good spur to examine myself and make sure what I do is full of grace and truth, seasoned with salt