Don’t preach to the converted

Most people have heard the quote, “Don’t preach to the converted,” or a variant of it, and yet it seems to be one of the “faithful” aspects of Christianity.  If you’re a Christian, you can count on being preached at (for the most part) once a week.  What’s up with this?

To give some background of my thoughts, a friend at a church I’ve been attending for about 5 months asked me, “Are you coming to church this evening?  It’s supposed to be really great preaching.”  I’ve gotten many other phrases tossed at me like this before, and they’ve all been slowly getting on my nerves.  For perspective, John Calvin preached in one week chunks, beginning with the fall of man, and by the end of the week, preached the resurrected Jesus.  That’s preaching; giving the Gospel to people that haven’t heard and that want to hear.

“Oh no!  You’re supposing that maybe the preaching idea is broken in many churches.”  Yes, that is exactly what I’m suggesting.  Christians like to think that they need to be preached at.  No.  You won’t even find Biblical support for that.  However, we do need to be equipped.  What does that look like?

The Bible says that Christians should be in fellowship together regularly (Hebrews 10:19-25).  In fact, we gather to encourage each other.  No to have one person tell us how to behave.  This is the easy-to-manage-and-reproduce version of church, but it’s not very Biblical.  People often bring the early church ideas out of their historical context and into our modern church setting, and say, “See, this is Biblical!”  This is the early church in a nut shell: a community of Jesus-followers (or however you want to say that) that were close to each other, and delegated tasks to people who were best suited for them.  The task of the “pastor” (poorly translated version of over-seer) was simply to keep an eye on people and make sure no one leads them away from their beliefs.  Preaching isn’t even in the job description!

Acts 14:21-22 is a great example of Paul both preaching and encouraging:

After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Preaching resulted in disciples, and disciples receive encouragement.  What can a non-disciple gain from being encouraged?  And what can a disciple gain from being preached at?  A non-disciple cannot be encouraged when we preach salvation exclusively through Jesus Christ (if they remain outside of Jesus, they receive no salvation), and a disciple cannot change his/her mind with old information (they already received the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

So my point goes something like this (to sum things up): You are better off preaching at a street corner than you are at a pulpit.  Of course, the street-corner better be well presented, as you don’t want to make a mockery of your faith, or your God.


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