How should layfolk react to "aberrant preaching?"

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Or to put the question better: how should layfolk react to an objectively measurable declines in preaching metrics, changes that usually first become apparent to congregations as "boring preaching"? I focus on declines in metrics, because in these situations the issue is clear. A change for the worse has occured in the preacher, not a change in congregational expectations.

I launched the thread on lay responses to "boring preaching", in an attempt to come to grips with this particular issue. But because I didn't make the comments and ask these questions below at the start of that thead, it has gone in a completely unanticipated direction.

Before I do anything else, let me say one thing: I did not intend the thread original thread and do not intend this thread to be an attack on pastors. Rather, I believe that if congregants can learn what and what not to do when confronted with "boring preaching," 'boring" pastors and the churches they serve can only be helped.

I believe that "boring preaching" is usually a straw man. I believe other problems, either in the preacher or in the hearers lie behind boring preaching and it is these issues that I suspect congregations will have to address from time to time. In my experience, while "boring preaching" may be how an individual or congregation initially perceives the problem, dealing with it as if "boring preaching" was the only problem misdiagnosed the situation that I (and the congregations I then attended) experienced. Since our misdiagnoses did not always address the real problems involved, I think further analysis may be profitable.

In each of the three times my fellow congregants and I experienced "boring preaching," boring preaching was not really what we were experiencing: what we were experiencing was "aberrent preaching" and more specifically an objectively measurable decline in preaching competency and effectiveness of men who had previously been far less "boring" and far more effective. (Men can start well and decline for various reasons: one of the three men I saw experience this problem was called "the finest preacher, I ever heard bar none" by a man who has himself been in the ministry now for over 20 years.")

And I suggest that we also put "aberrent preaching" in quotes because, in each case that I saw, the "aberrant preaching" was what counsellors call a "presentation problem." Other problems in the pastor's lives were significantly influencing the declines from more than competent to aberrant preaching. Yet my fellow congregants and I were not aware of these hidden problems: when we began to experience an awareness that something was wrong, our first thoughts were something like "Hmm...Pastor X's preaching has been boring lately." So I suggest that recognizing "boring preaching" should be seen as the point from which a congregation starts becoming aware of a problematic situation, not necessarily the real problem itself.

I believe pastors are usually not well placed to evaluate or address a sustained decline in preaching when it arises. Most congregations are single pastor churches. A decline in average preaching level takes place over time and is not experienced by an infrequent visitor to a congregation, who may see nothing more than "an off day". It takes regular if not continuous exposure to a man's preaching to see patterns of change in it. How pastors in multi-pastor churches, who are well positioned to identify this problem, should address it if they see it, belongs in Pergy's parallel thread, not here.

I would like to see our discussion focus on 3 questions:

1) My own experience taught me that a pastor may preach well for some years and then experience an objective decline in his preaching level.

So question 1 is: What are the objective marks of such a decline?

The first mark of decline that congregations I was in observed was considerably less application of the Word in the preaching, both to the congregation in general and to specific groups within it. A seond marker was a narrowing of the preaching focus from "the whole counsel of God" to an overextended overemphasis on one (unapplied) theme. I believe that it is important to emphasize that trends need to be independently observed by more than one person and properly reported, in concern, to the sessions or session equivalents of the congregations as the first step in understanding what is going on.

Has anyone observed any other changes in the preaching content that should be mentioned as indicators of a decline in preaching level?

2) It is important that we recognize that objective declines in preaching level may be a "presentation problem" pointing to another condition affecting all aspects of the pastor's life, not just a problem relating to the preaching. In the situations I saw, poor recovery from a new and not fully understood medical operation, declining powers due to age, and a psychological condition, later successfully treated, were among the causes of the conditions.

Yet, I must also note that the decline in preaching level can also be the result of sin in the preacher. One English congregation (evangelical of the older Whitfieldian type) recently came to attribute the reason it had been experiencing "boring preaching" to this cause as the pastor resigned, divorced his wife and entered a homosexual relationship. In one of the situations I was involved in, I still suspect that sin on the part of the pastor may have also been a factor, since I (and others) suffered clear cases of pastoral malpractice (the pastor's counselling techniqe had anticipated some of the worst tendencies of the notorious Ft. Lauderdale "shepherding" movement.)

So question 2 is: has anyone observed any other underlying problems in a preacher's life that can lead to a decline in preaching level?

3) Finally, before bringing a percieved decline in preaching effectivenss to a pastor's attention, it is essential that we layfolk must examine ourselves to ensure that our own sins are not prompting God to discipline us by causing a "famine of hearing the word of God" to occur in our own lives. Even if we have been clearly sinned against by pastoral malpractice, we dare not omit this step. Two of my three experiences involved percieved pastoral malpractice: as noted above, one would almost certainly be judged as malpractice by everyone here, the second did not, thankfully, affect me directly and was also in hindsight not as clear cut as I thought at the time.
If I had tried to address perceived "boring preaching" by talking with the pastor in either of these situations without reconizing and pulling the beam (if my own sinful reactions) out of my own eye first, I would have made bad situations worse. (Actually for various reasons I perslonally took no interpersoanal action in both cases).

So question 3 becomes: how should we examine ourselves to ensure the "boring preaching" we experience is not God afflicting us personally with a famine of hearing his word?
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I think there are several manifestations of boring preaching. One is a decline in church attendance and the other is a decline in the numbers of parishioners who remain attentive during the preaching. If no one takes notes and the majority of people are nodding off or gazing into space, then the preaching is boring.

If a pastor used to be engaging but then turns boring, sin in his life is, to me, a prime suspect. It may not be overt, gross sin but perhaps merely a resentment of God for a particular difficult providence. Lack of a passionate love of God will make any Christian boring when speaking of spiritual issues, preacher or not.
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