Arrogance in the Pulpit

By David McKee

I have always been content to read the fine articles presented in this publication and have never felt compelled to contribute, but for the sake of our brethren I would like to get a word out to fellow-preachers: Please, lose the arrogance! This promoting of oneself is leaving the simple behind, creating followings out of opinions, and reducing your level of influence for good, as people are simply turned off by it.

Perhaps it is the most recent display that has moved me to express my disappointment. At a gathering of preachers, a young talented man was responding to a question concerning a young talented friend of his. His answer dealt with his friend’s location and the inability of his congregation to grasp the things that he said, as his sermons were above the level of this simple-minded group’s ability to comprehend. His punch line was, “He gets up there and discusses some issue and these folks, who’ve just come in from cutting their okra and picking their corn, don’t have any idea what he’s talking about.” The group laughed.

The preacher in that location must be relating it to his friend in such terms which indicates the opinion he has of himself. The friend in the group tells it, as if he sympathizes, and the majority laughs at those simple-minded dolts who can’t keep pace with this one of superior intellect. Why doesn’t the fellow go somewhere that is sophisticated enough for him and let some hillbilly come in there who might do them some good? Perhaps I was offended because half the folks I preach to cut okra and grow corn, as I do myself. I guess we are simple-minded also.

Earlier in the year, my family went to a local meeting where the speaker, for the first five minutes of the lesson, spoke of all the wonderful things he had done, the wonderful lessons he had prepared on other subjects, expressed his sorrow that we would not be able to hear them, but could if we came where he regularly preached. Later in his lesson, while making an important point about Christ, he stopped and castigated the group for not responding when he said, “Amen?” He proceeded to inform the group that we must be one of those backward groups that doesn’t believe in saying “amen.” After about five minutes of this, he concluded by giving us a dry-run or two on how to say “amen” when he would say “amen.” When he was satisfied, he returned to his point about Christ, what-ever it was, checking every now and then to see if we remembered our lesson with a quick, “Amen?” He bragged on the few who did respond on-demand. I wondered if he kept doggie treats in his pocket for such occasions.

A few years ago, our congregation held a meeting, and the speaker turned out to be one of those who feels no regrets about speaking for an hour and a half each night. Few men can speak that long and keep one captivated  he wasn’t one of those. Later in the week, as he was speaking, he reached a point where you surely though he was going to conclude, but instead went on for twenty more minutes. He told me later that he had thought of concluding at that point, but that, “I could see the gleam in their eyes, and I knew I had them right where I wanted them.” I wanted to tell him, that wasn’t gleam you saw; maybe pain, discomfort, even boredom. Even if he were one of those whose two-hour lesson seems like fifteen minutes, his statement revealed an opinion of himself that was a bit overrated.

While we all could go on with more such incidents, we need to be aware of what harm we are doing to the cause of Christ. Far from “adorning the gospel,” it comes across as distasteful in the eyes of many. Most would not tell the preacher, “I was turned off by your show of arrogance,” but will simply stop listening, or not return to hear him again. Even the simplest of us can see that this attitude represents nothing of the nature of Christ. Paul crawled so that Christ would be exalted. Too many today exalt themselves above a group they see as crawling before them.

Many brethren are taken with such a one, as he is revered, not only in his own eyes, but theirs as well. His word is taken for gospel truth. Problems arise and his opinion is gold, never mind what the Bible might say on the matter. Two revered ones clash over some self-exalted opinion and the fall-out is among the brethren who will divide over which side of the issue their man has taken. No one will confess wrong and nothing will be resolved because arrogance will not allow it.

The difficulty with rebuking one with such a mind is that he will either think himself deserving of such elevation, fail to see himself truly, or think such a rebuke comes from an underling who knows not whereof he speaks. Paul could say, “In nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles,” and it is great if God has blessed you with ability that sets you apart. But please bear in mind what Paul follows that with; “though I am nothing.”

Guardian of Truth XLI: 20 p. 6-7
October 16, 1997