Ask RC: Should the pastor preach against the sins of his congregation?
Of course. And of course not. The sermon is that part of the service where God’s Word exposes our failures and proclaims Christ’s provision. The end is not the sin, but neither can the sin be ignored. We do not preach simply to tell the congregation, “Stop it. Try harder. This is the right way to go.” Rather we preach to tell the congregation, “Stop trying harder. Jesus already went this way.” That is, we want to face our sins, give thanks for the forgiveness of our sins, and in gratitude, seek to follow the royal law of love. As such we do indeed preach sin. The notion that we hide their sins from the flock, so as not to offend, to keep them from leaving the church, is pure folly. No church has enough musical skill, no pastor enough entertaining style, no coffee shop enough tasty coffee, to keep the crowds coming. What we have are the words of eternal life, which begin with Repent, and end with and believe the gospel.
Even in less seeker-friendly services though we can find the same problem. Here we are willing to preach against sin, but against the sins of those who are absent. We may fuss about the bad theology, or the bad strategy of the church down the street. Or we may thunder against the sins of the world. But it is the sheep of our fold that need to know and repent from their sins.
In what sense then is it wrong to preach against the sins of the congregation? Well, we are not called when we step into the pulpit to deliver a sermon inspired by Mr. Jones’s inability to make it to church on time, or Mrs. Brown’s immodest clothing choices. Now it may well be that someone needs to talk to Mr. Jones, or Mrs. Brown, but the sermon is not the time for that. We do not take up the time we have been given to open up the text of God’s Word in order to do private discipleship in public. We do not accuse the brethren in a context in which they cannot speak to their own defense. We do not abuse our opportunity to put someone in his place. That’s not our place when in the pulpit.
How do we avoid both of these failures? The preacher should preach to his own sins. It is likely that this will include the sins of his own congregation. But thankfully they don’t exclude the preacher. When we preach against our own sins we can address where “we” go wrong, and are in need of grace and repentance, rather than a situation where I preach against where “you” go wrong.
Preaching ought to convict. Otherwise it’s just wasted time. It ought, however, to also provide the solution to our guilt, in extolling the provision in Christ. May we preachers decrease, and the One we preach, may He increase.