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Are You Preaching Like a Pharisee and Don’t Know It?

I have a growing fear for preachers today. I’m afraid that if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up becoming like the Pharisees.

Here’s what I mean.
Preaching, when done correctly, should unburden people. As preachers, our job is to challenge people, yes, but not to burden them.

When describing the Pharisees and what they did to the people through their teaching, Jesus said: They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders (Matthew 23:4).

What’s interesting is that when we read that, we automatically despise the Pharisees and assume they had bad motives. But if you study their history, their motives were actually very good. What they were trying to do by creating all of the rules they are now infamous for was make the Law applicable to people’s lives.

They’d read a command like, “Keep the Sabbath holy,” and their concern was that everyone could actually do it. So they’d create applications like:
Items used for work can’t be touched on the Sabbath.
You shouldn’t take more than 500 steps on the Sabbath.

Their driving motivation really was to help by giving people things to do. But in their desire to make the Bible applicable, they actually created burdens that weighed their people down.

Here’s how I think this happens today. We do a sermon series on marriage, which in itself is great. But then we say things like “you need to do these 15 things with your spouse to have a great marriage.” Or we do a series on joy, and we then give them the 7 steps to attaining it. We’re trying help, but without realizing it, we’ve actually burdened people who were already carrying such a heavy load.

And we’ve become the group we all love to hate on – the Pharisees.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t give our people applications or practical next steps. Of course, we should. Jesus did it many times. But I am saying that we need to be careful. When we stand up to speak to our churches, our goal should be to unburden them. To emulate Jesus’ teaching when He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

And we do that by simplifying rather than complicating. By pointing to God and all that He has done. Not just at our people and all that they need to do.  

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Steven Furtick is the founder and lead pastor of Elevation Church, based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Elevation Church meets at eight locations in the Charlotte area, as well as one location in Toronto, Canada. The church has been named one of the Fastest-Growing Churches in America by Outreach Magazine for each of the past six years.