I remember visiting a church years ago and thinking to myself, When is this pastor going to finish his introduction and get to the text?
Before I knew it, the pastor closed in prayer. His “introduction” was the entire sermon, sharing entertaining stories and therapeutic applications, only lightly (and vaguely) touching Scriptural truth. I attended church that day to hear from God, and I heard a message that could have been on Oprah. I felt conned.
What should a Christian do if they find themselves in a church that doesn’t preach the Bible? There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but we can exercise wisdom as we approach the situation.
Why Churches Need Biblical Preaching
The necessity to preach the Bible is built on four key convictions¹:
- The God who created the universe has spoken.
- God’s spoken Word has been recorded in the Bible.
- We are commanded to preach God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2).
- God’s Word brings life to those who receive it by faith (Isaiah 55:11; James 1:21).
Faithful communication of the Bible brings life to people and churches by bringing the very words of God to bear upon listeners. Preaching anything other than God’s Word not only keeps people from hearing and receiving the nourishment of the Word, but it potentially leads to spiritual destruction (see 2 Timothy 2:14-19; Jeremiah 23:9-40).
A failure to communicate God’s Word typically happens in one of two ways:
- A preacher adds to God’s Word, usually inserting rules or opinions/speculations.
- A preacher subtracts from God’s Word, not fully proclaiming what God has said. (Many do this today by not preaching a biblical view of sin and judgment.)
Thus, preachers are to “preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”²
Diagnosing the Issue
Before we jump to steps you can take if your church doesn’t preach the Bible, let’s look at what may be a complex issue.
If you told me your church doesn’t preach the Bible, I would ask you, “Why do you say that?” There are many preaching styles that present biblical truth in different ways (expository preaching through entire books, topical preaching, preaching focused on application of biblical truth). Some claiming their church doesn’t preach the Word may actually be observing that their pastor doesn’t preach in the same style as their favorite preacher they hear on the internet.
Others (and I suspect the majority asking the question this article seeks to answer) would say their pastor preaches his own thoughts, political talking points, popular ideas of the day, or motivational speeches.
Just because a pastor cites the Bible doesn’t mean he’s preaching the Bible. It’s easy to pull verses out of context to support our ideas. Tragically, many people did that to support slavery in the 16th and 17th centuries, and many do it today to support unbiblical views of sin and sexuality. Let’s not forget that Satan tempted Jesus with Scripture in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11)—and he certainly wasn’t preaching the Bible!
True biblical preaching explains and applies Scripture in accordance with God’s intent. It makes God’s Word the authority, not the preacher’s word. It exalts God, not man. And it aims to produce faith and repentance and lift high the risen Christ who alone can save.
If this type of preaching is foreign to your church, it’s probably time to leave.
What to Do If Your Church Doesn’t Preach the Bible
Because every situation is different, these steps are suggestions to be considered carefully.
God cares about your situation and desire to hear his Word each week at church. Ask him for wisdom and humility in deciding what to do. Ask the Lord to keep your sinful heart from wrongly influencing the situation.
2. Seek godly counsel.
Seek mature believers to help you think through your situation. If you speak to others at your church, speak cautiously as to not create unnecessary dissension or division. This may be difficult for you if your only Christian connections attend your church or one similar to it.
3. Talk to your pastor.
This step isn’t for everyone and must be taken in prayer, humility, and with much care. You might tread lightly in approaching the pastor with a question like, “What is your view on how the Bible should inform preaching?” or “Can you help me understand how your preaching communicates the Bible?”
Your pastor might have a great answer and help you differentiate between preaching style and content. Your pastor might also show his hand and say he doesn’t want to offend people with Scripture or that it is irrelevant to life in the 21st century.
Rejecting the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is a major red flag and a great reason to leave a church. Since pastors are sinful and (hopefully) growing in theology and ministry, God could use this conversation to encourage your pastor toward a more faithful ministry.
4. If you feel called to stay, be a godly influence in your church.
This means looking for opportunities to serve others and speak God’s Word in various settings like small groups, Sunday school, or interpersonal relationships. Every church member is called to ministry (Ephesians 4:11–14). The Lord may use you in the life of your pastor and church to move toward a more biblical model of preaching. (This isn’t easy and the Lord won’t call everyone to this.)
5. If you feel called to go, find a church committed to biblical ministry.
Unless you see major red flags in your church, you should not be quick to leave. If you do feel called to leave, you may find The Gospel Coalition’s Church Finder or the 9Marks Church Directory useful for finding a church in your area.
No perfect churches exist; so ensure your reason to leave is a good one. There are people who constantly bounce around to different churches, finding faults in all of them. In some cases the churches are fine, and the fault lies with the faultfinder.
When There’s No Clear Answer
Unfortunately, some reading this article may have no good options. If you feel stuck, let God know that. God wants his children to worship him at healthy, Bible-proclaiming churches (Hebrews 10:24-25) and will guide you where he wants you (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Let your longing drive you to pray for gospel workers (Matthew 9:38). Take advantage of great online resources for going deeper in the Word (realizing that listening to a sermon at home is different than attending church and not sufficient). For some, a deep longing for a Bible-proclaiming church in your city may be God’s call for you to enter full-time ministry and plant a church.
Unlocking the Bible realizes the sensitive nature of this article and is praying for you to find a Bible-preaching community of other believers where you can grow in Christ and use your gifts to help others grow also.