05 August 2008

"Play to the audience"? Absolutely!

by Dan Phillips

[This is actually an addendum to Things a Pastor Isn't: The Minister.]

Given, then, that the pastor is not The Minister®, to the exclusion of the congregation of believers; and...

Given that the pastor's ministry is the equipping of the saints at large for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12)...

It follows that our view of the transaction of the sermon must be affected. How so?

Common practice has the one man (The Minister) standing and, well, ministering. The saints, meanwhile, are his audience. He ministers, they watch. At best, they listen. We hope they learn something. We know that they are grading him, evaluating his performance. Was he good? Bad? Boring? Exciting? Amusing? Too amusing? Too lecturelike? Crabby? Happy? Too moralizing? Too theoretical? Too practical?

Knowing this, the pastor has his own temptation. Does he "play to the audience"? Does he do what he knows will please, amuse, and entertain them? Does he avoid humor to humor the sourpusses, or major on it to amuse the amusement-seekers? Does he avoid hard subjects or (equally!) confront them head-on, to please the various tastes of his visible, human audience? Or is he the ornery sort who takes positive pleasure in displeasing them?

And, of course, the pastor can't but notice their comporture — unless he does like one of my Homiletics profs, who never lowered his eyes from the rafters. So, how do they look? Rapt? Fidgety? Sleepy? Respectful? Are they mannequins? Partygoers? Trancelike? Podlike? What's going on out there? Is there any connection happening, any "spark" at all? Did he have them at "Albeit," or lose them at "Peradventure"?

Of should he not even care?

I know that sometimes when I write I hedge my bets, and give carefully-shaded and shaved dicta. Here, however, I'll be blunt and flat:

The pastor should absolutely
play to the audience!

Oh, and one more:

So should the sheep!

Surprised? Well, here's the kicker: the crux (no pun) here is the identification of the audience I have in mind.

If the church is an ekklÄ“sia, an assembly — before whom are they assembled? Are the sheep assembled in the name of the pastor, under his ultimate rule, and for his purposes? Hardly. No, sheep and shepherd alike are assembled before the same audience.

Hear how Paul charges young pastor Timothy:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
This isn't the place for a detailed exposition, but certain factors leap out at one.
  1. Can you think of a more attention-arresting summons than verse 1? The context for every aspect — and, here, particularly for the preaching aspect — of Timothy's pastoral ministry is nothing less than the Eschaton. The present presence of Father and Son, the sure eventuality of His irreversible and exhaustive judgment, and His sure and certain Kingdom. That is the ultimate consideration, the bottom-line. That is his audience. What follows, flows from that foundation.
  2. His distinctive ministry (apart from ministers of table, bulletin, funds, property, or various functions) is the ministry of the Word (v. 2) — a ministry exercised with the blazing presence and vision of God constantly in mind.
  3. Pastor Timothy is to persist in this ministry in the absolute certainty that many will find his ministry of the Word irrelevant, boring, repulsive, second-rate (vv. 3-4). He persists, he stays with it — because in the final analysis, they are not his audience. They did not gift nor commission nor charge him. It isn't they who he must please at any cost. They and he together stand before the same Audience.
  4. However, because of the truths of v. 1, nothing is to turn Timothy from his course of emphatically and passionately and insistently heralding the Word of God above all (v. 5).
There's the context of the pastor, the man standing up for the ministry of the Word.

Now, is it really that hard to see the other side of this coin, the sheep-side?

If God appoints an office to the charge and leadership of a congregation, and then urges upon those in that office to preach the Word first and foremost... what are His expectations of the congregants? Or, to personalize, if He holds your pastor to preach the Word to you, what is His charge to you? If your pastor is to preach and teach, are you not to hear and learn? "Take care then how you hear," our Lord cautions (Luke 8:18). If the pastor is commissioned by God to reprove, rebuke and exhort you, are you not to accept correction, admit error, and rise to action?

Who, then, is the audience in every church meeting?

The triune God is the Audience, of course. We — on both sides of the pulpit — are the performers; and He is the audience. He walks among the lampstands; He hears, He sees, He judges (Revelation 1—3).

So I ask again, and I ask both preacher and congregation: should we play to the Audience?

We'd better! Yes, absolutely we should focus on the Audience, and seek with all we have to please the Audience. Devotedly, single-mindedly, whole-heartedly, and with everything God gives us.

Dan Phillips's signature


J♥Yce Burrows said...

Created through Him...for Him...that in all things He might have the preeminence. Colossians 1

Amen: convicting and edifying, Dan.

Anonymous said...

Dan, you finally correctly defined the market-driven church. And Who is the market demographic we should be seeking to please? Why of course, it's not the people in the pews (or some other form of seating apparati) but rather the Lord of the Church, the Head of the Body, the Caller of the Called Out Ones. Our ministries should be driven by and focused on pleasing Christ, and Him foremost.

In fact, it seems that if a church is doing anything other than this, it may not really fit the definition of a church.

Al said...

Oh, The minister... why didn't you say so?

Excellent post Dan. Worship is a command performance. We perform our sacrifice at His command!

This should give us pause when the solo artist gets up to sing "Thank You" by Ray Boltz. It should really give us pause when applause are expected.

al sends

Al said...

or "is" expected... depending on if you are gooder at using the English.

al sends

Chad V. said...

Dan, I very much appreciate the post and the point you make.

Would you consider it wrong of me to say that I don't see it so much as God is our audience, but rather that we have an audience with God during worship, the singing of hymns, psalms, spiritual songs, the preaching of the word, participation in the ordinances and prayer and that the Pastor is the one who ministers the word to us and in doing so is just as much to take care how he hears as the rest of the congregation for certainly he preaches to himself as well.

So during the preaching of the word of God the congregation, including the pastor, are God's audience. He speaks to us through the preaching of the word. (I don't mean that at all in the charismatic sense of "a word from God" or anything like that).

Udarnik said...

I think that's right... there are a number of roles we play in the lives of others, which are served best when we serve out of obedience or, if you will, if we play out to the ultimate audience... our Lord. Parenting is one of those roles that comes to mind. We fill our role and the child is instructed in the Word how they are to fill their role. The results are left to a sovereign, just God.

Of course, this is not to say that we do this in a cold, mechanical way. We have a goal in mind in parenting, just as we do in teaching and preaching:

1 Timothy 1:5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

DJP said...

The Doulos — you're thinking along the same vein as I was, driving to work, going over the topic. May be worth a focused article, but: isn't Paul precisely commanding Timothy to go counter-market?

AlOh, The minister... why didn't you say so?

You know you're killing me.

Chad V — maybe it's my MTV attention-span, but I've read that long sentence aloud more than once, and I'm not sure I get you yet. I think I agree, but... could you re-word it, so I can re-chew it?

Bo, I agree. I came to think, as I wrote the series on pastoral success, that parenting may provide the closest parallel to pastoring. You want a given result, but you can't actually cause it. And your success/failure isn't determined by whether or not you achieve that result.

Chad V. said...

DJP Sorry about that. Let me try again.

What I mean is that rather than God being the pastor's audience, the pastor and the congregation together have an audience with God. In other words, we are God's audience and both the pastor and the congregation should take care how they hear since in a manner of speaking, it is God who speaks to them through the accurate preaching of the Word.

In corporate worship, the congregation including the pastor enters into the presence of God to hear Him speak. We are His audience.

DJP said...

Yes, I think there's a lot of truth in that Chad, and it's a good point. We all do want and need to hear God speak to us through His word, and we need His Spirit to move in and through us.

The main point I was making was that, in no case is any of us (properly) a passive spectator alone. We are all participants. And the great thing is not our evaluation of each other's performance, but God's evaluation of ours. And the great orientation we should embrace primarily is not the horizontal, but the vertical.

Now, the vertical takes us back down to the horizontal... but that's the subject perhaps of another post.

Chad V. said...

DJP I agree completely.

CR said...

I think the audience too is the angels from 1 Cor 11. Even though the angels understand authority and the functional subordination of the Trinity in the Godhead, yet, they still seem amazed to see it played out in the church.

Jay said...

Well-written and, for me, well-timed. Thanks for the food for thought.


Stefan Ewing said...

Dan: My first response was, "What's he on about?" But actually, your scripturally-derived conclusion comports with historical developments.

The earliest buildings for Christian assembly were synagogues. At the back of a synagogue (behind the pulpit) is an alcove for holding the scrolls for Scripture readings: the Torah, etc. As far as I can tell, this alcove (which is covered by a curtain) is a proxy for the Holy of Holies in the Temple (which contained the Ark of the Covenant, which in turn contained, among other things, the Ten Commandments). The Holy of Holies was the dwelling place of God on earth (insofar as He is omnipresent, but somehow especially present in particular places).

In a modern synagogue, the rabbi, cantors, scripture readers, and so on therefore stand in front of the place where God can be imagined to be present, and the congregation is directly facing the place where God can be imagined to be present. (I say "can be imagined to be present"—I would argue that even from AD 30 or 33 onwards until the destruction of the Second Temple, God had departed from the Holy of Holies. The Talmud itself alludes to this, and it comports with the once-for-all-time nature of Christ's atoning work on the Cross).

In a church, the preaching pastor, choir, worship leader, etc. stand, of course, in the same relative position as the rabbi, etc. in a synagogue—in front of a cross (hopefully) instead of scrolls—and the congregation is in the same relative position in both kinds of assemblies.


On a more mundane level, the preaching pastor should not think of himself is delivering a sermon that he hopes some will respond positively to, etc., but should think of himself as facilitating the work of the Holy Spirit (insofar as the Holy Spirit needs our help—He doesn't, really), Who will work in to quicken congregants' hearts and regenerate men and women who were previously dead in their trespasses.

Stefan Ewing said...

Excuse the typos. Trying to type a lot in a hurry. Gotta run now.

DJP said...

StefanMy first response was, "What's he on about?"

Dan Phillips: Master of Suspense.

I like it.

(Unless your point was "Master of Obscurity")

James Joyce said...

eaAmen Dan!

Tom Chantry said...

This is actually an addendum to Things a Pastor Isn't: The Minister.

And a very necessary addendum it is. I’m much less worried this week than I was last.

If we accept that the phrases in Ephesians 4:12 are subordinate and not coordinate - i.e. the work of the pastor is not 1. to perfect the saints, 2. to do the work of the ministry (presumably of the Word), and 3. to edify the church (though certainly he is not alone in this), but rather to equip the saints to do works of ministry/service so that the church may be edified - if we accept this, and I say the argument is by no means clear in either direction, then we must next ask the question, “In what manner is the pastor to accomplish this equipping?”

To which Dan appears to answer today: “By sound, applicatory gospel preaching.” To which I say, “Amen and Amen!” Preaching must engage; it must be imperative. Mere intellectual musings from the pulpit, be they ever so orthodox, will kill the church. Rather, the under-shepherd must communicate not only the promises, but also the commands, of the Good Shepherd. To the lost sheep, “Believe and repent,” and to those in the fold, “serve the Lord with gladness.”

I fear that there are many who find in Ephesians 4:12 - the phrases translated subordinately - authorization for the pastor to abandon his study, allow his sermons to prepare themselves, and to spend his time bouncing around the church trying to jump-start works of service among the various members. Preaching cannot be his top priority, he’s too busy “discipling” (Oh, how I loathe that particular buzzword!) his congregation.

By way of contrast, Dan has taken the currently-in-vogue approach to Ephesians 4:12, but in a manner which does not rob the preaching office of its power. The pastor described in this post isn’t the congregation’s personal trainer, or its little league coach, or its den mother. He is a preacher, but one who’s preaching is intensely applicatory, shining the light of the Word of God on the hearts and lives and priorities of his hearers. In other words, he is ministering the Word

DJP said...

Someone needs a hug.

Tom Chantry said...


UinenMaia said...

Very nice transition from the first article. And a great kick in the posterior area that I have been needing to see worship in the right way.

I could go on at length about market-driven obfuscation, but I'll settle for just saying what I immediately thought upon reading this: Thanks!

Kaffinator said...

You know when you hit a piece of metal with a hammer just so? And the metal rings for what seems like three days?

Dan, your post just did that to my soul. Awesome!

donsands said...

"who never lowered his eyes from the rafters."

When I saw, and heard, Sinclair Ferguson, he sort of looked up when he preached and taught the Word.

His teachings were truly inspiring, and I learned from this fine shepherd of the Lord.

I really am very grateful for the genuine pastors of Christ in my life.
They are gifts to us, the Body of Christ, and we need to be praying for them with our earnest prayers.

Thanks for the excellent post.

Stefan Ewing said...

In actual fact, the alcove I referred to earlier is called the "Holy Ark" by European Jews (or "Temple" by Middle Eastern Jews). And as the focus of worship, it's situated in such a way as to orient (etymological pun intended) the congregation towards Jerusalem.

The more it sinks in, the greater this post seems. Now I'm picturing the Lord God sitting on His throne, behind the altar, watching a service unfold, the ascended and glorified Christ sitting at His right hand, and the Holy Spirit filling the assembly, blowing where it will, like the wind, hardening some hearts and piercing others. (I hope and pray a word-picture doesn't count as a graven image.)

Solameanie said...


I hope you realize that continued anti-market posts such as this might well get you called up on the carpet at Fuller or Zondervan. Might want to read Luther's response to the papal bull "Exsurge Domine" for inspiration in case you get a summons.

olan strickland said...

Dan, from one pastor to another, thank you brother! This is a sure antidote and remedy to irreverence both in the pulpit and in the pew.

Warren Chua said...

thank you for this post! Christians must be reminded again and again of this fact. Churches tend to drift away from this fact unnoticed. great post!

Anonymous said...

Dan, I truly thank you for the timely post. Too often I sinfully want to be stroked after a message even though I know that God is my audience and the only true audience that matters. Yet, as a preacher of the Gospel it matters to me that in playing to the right audience (God) that I am being faithful to Him in my consideration of the flock that He has put under my care. This is not pragmatism, but a shepherds heart desiring to be a faithful steward...

DJP said...

I hear you, YR.

The one question I never, NEVER know how to answer after preaching somewhere is, "How did it go?" or, worse, "How was it?" What do you say? Best answer probably is, "I'll let you know within about fifty years." Or maybe even, "Sorry, haven't gotten my report card yet."

What I usually say is, "No casualties reported."

donsands said...

I remember telling my pastor a few years ago how blessed I was by his sermon, and I said, "I don't want you to get puffed up though".

He said, "If you're blessed, let me know, it's encouraging. And let me worry about the getting puffed up part."

Anonymous said...

What I usually say is, "No casualties reported."

Reminds me of the old joke about the kid who heard the pastor talking about those who had died in the service. The kid leaned over and asked his dad, "Was that in the early service or the late one?"

Seriously, my son (Bible college student) preached his first sermon even as an intern last summer. Afterwards he showed me his notes. Hand-written at the top was something to the effect of "the only audience and judge of my ministry is Christ."

Pierre Saikaley said...

Dan, I think your ideas in this post are a remedy for the consumer mentality that so easily pervades the churches.

How often do people "size up" the pastor, and become arm-chair pastors when they don't "like" his preaching? It is far too common.

Satan has found a foothold in the church when the spirit of criticism and accusation exist.

This is a serious re-orietation of perspectives-that of a God centered view versus a man centered view of ministry.


Steve Scott said...

I'm not sure I agree with the "God as audience" analogy of Sunday meetings. Audiences sit on their hands while actors pretend. (That this also describes all too many churches today is beside the point.) Because God is present doesn't mean that He is a spectator.

He is in our midst, audiences aren't. He is active in every aspect of our meeting. We eat his flesh and drink his blood (okay, Ozzy concerts notwithstanding). If He is Audience, does He heckle? "Hey, preacher boy, for that sad performance, you've just been traded to Cleveland!" or go to the bathroom during intermission? or buy tickets to the next performance?

Aren't we a body with Him as head? We interact with one another as we edify one another with a word or psalms or prophesy. Is piety an act of performance? Yeah, I guess it is in many churches. I should be more excited about the possibility of meeting with Him than acting in front of Him.

Dave .... said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave .... said...

Who is the audience? There is a certain reciprocity, I think. From our perspective, the Godhead is the audience and we give worship, in all it's biblical expressions. From God's perspective, we are the audience and He (They!) give grace through the singing of doctrinally sound songs (hymns and/or choruses), the preaching of the Word, the demonstration of the sacraments (at least 2), and the recognition that many members are the body of Christ. The worship of the congregation of the elect is a foretaste of communion with our tri-une God. Amen.

ezekiel said...

I can't help but wonder what He thinks when the music starts these days. Is He thinking "well done, faithful servants" or more along the lines of Isaiah 1:12 ff?

Charles e. Whisnant said...

We get so caught up in the useage of words that we miss the idea of the post. But the idea of the post is correct. Its called good blogging. It does get your attention.


JackW said...

Ministry and worship are two lanes on the same road only in opposite directions.

Jason Garwood said...


Messyanic Jew said...

If your pastor is to preach and teach, are you not to hear and learn?

Amen to that. My has told members of our church that it is sometimes easy to tell who has really heard what he is preaching. He served 10 years as a missionary in South Africa, and has made the analogy of throwing a rock into a group of chickens. The one that clucks loudly just after this is the one you've hit. I've sometimes observed who "clucks" in response to the "rock" that gets thrown when my pastor is preaching -- and on more than a few occasions have been the one "clucking" when I find some point he has made to be particularly convicting to me.

Dan, I think it can be said that the "sermon as entertainment" syndrome has infected churches at many levels. Not only do many pastors no longer preach anything resembling an expository sermon in which the Word is rightly proclaimed, but I would say many church members would have no idea how to listen to such a sermon in the first place. What a sad situation ...

Chris said...

Please provide more exposition. Paul writes, "I charge you in the presence of God..." to many, in my opinion, they seem to interpret this as if Paul is saying something to the effect of "I charge you, Timothy, as God is my witness ("in the presence of God")..." But he cannot possible mean that. Can he? We know God is present during preaching. Does Paul mean that he charges Timothy while God is present as he writes the letter or does he mean that he charges Timothy while God is present in the discharging of Timothy's pastoral duty that is preaching?
I am not sure if you understand what I mean. Great post. Thanks.