Grandstanding is a ploy that reminds people of their fear while reassuring them that the one using this tactic is their savior from this fear.

It makes speeches that appeal to the lowest common denominator in the crowd—our joint fear. It repeats time-tested clichés. It casts doubts about anything “new” because the “old” is always more dependable. It is closed to new viewpoints from the outside. It sweeps issues under the rug with generalizations. It seeks to appear conservative while actually being more in keeping with the ways of the world. It postures itself as the safe position. It even quotes Scripture.

This may be the bad yeast that has gotten into the pulpit of our day. If a pastor wants to solidify support, grandstanding is the surest route to popular acclaim. Just tell the congregation members exactly what they want to hear, relieve their fears, castigate all dissenting opinions, and secure them in a religious bubble. Salary increases will certainly follow.

Many preachers have become anything but prophets cut from the cloth of the Old Testament. Isaiah called out the greedy practices of the rich. Amos recited the list of national wrongs topped off by those of his own government. Hosea likened the relationship between God and his people to sexual infidelity. These men spoke truth, as did godly women of courage. They brought as much affliction to the comforted as comfort to the afflicted. They disturbed the peace. They unsettled their congregations. They challenged the status quo.

We have endured a generation of seeker preaching that has left us with a gospel less than honest. While the seeker movement taught us to converse with the current context, it may have declawed the gospel’s estimation of that context. There is a way to speak the truth in love, treating people with respect. But if being liked is the goal of the preacher, the speech is more likely to be grandstanding than world-shaking.

Having served as a pastor for most of my adult life, I am well aware that people approach the church as consumers. They consume worship, sermons, youth programs, crisis care, and so on. They are even willing to concede that they should drop something in the plate for the consumed goods, probably not 10 percent, but something. It is a transaction:

  • “You keep my teenagers busy and out of trouble, and I’ll help you buy a van to haul them around.”
  • “You teach my children some memory verses and put them in a Christmas musical, and I’ll help you out with your holy work.”
  • “You give me an entertaining sermon, and I’ll show up as often as it is convenient.”
  • “You do Mom’s funeral, and I’ll tip extra next week.”

I understand how this works. And congregations are being built today on delivering these goods better than the church down the street—and making sure church is fun.

I listened to a megachurch pastor on TV. He owns the airwaves, sells books, and packs civic centers. He tells people what they already believe, confirming their best intentions. God was not mentioned in the sermon, but seven stories about his own family were. His latest book was being promoted at the bottom of the screen every thirty seconds. People laughed a lot. No one could have been offended by anything he said. It was like a kind cajoling for us all to do better. And it packs the pews, which says more about us than him. We prefer a church without prophets. (Lest I be judged guilty of enemy making, I actually prayed that God would use the broadcast to help someone.)

We all want to be liked. We want people to go home happy. To relieve our discomfort with the poor, we make a big deal about the turkeys at Thanksgiving. Token deeds for the poor. And we never have to talk about our checkbooks and world hunger. To avoid the issue of homosexuality, we select the worst poster child of the gay lifestyle and attack him in a sermon. Everyone says, “Amen!” and we’re done with the homosexuals for a while. To salve the social drinkers, we wink at the issue. We would not want to be judgmental. A holy conversation about abstinence never happens.

Grandstanding is how we keep people like ourselves in the pews and solidify our current worldview. We say what they already believe and affirm it as a community truth. The radical gospel of the kingdom of God never penetrates this protective shield with a new vision of the world.

Grandstanding speeches are like a narcotic that turns off the brain and causes everyone to live happily ever after. We root ourselves in the status quo and yearn for the good old days when this was not an issue. But read the faces of young thinkers in the room. Read the faces of those wrestling with the issue. You’ll see pain. You’ll see hope draining from them. You’ll see resignation to the reality that no one cares enough to think it through. This generation is on the way out the door. They stopped by to see if the church that birthed them might want to have an honest conversation.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. So true. This is why we have attended for years Southside Fellowship church (now named Fellowship Greenville, SC) with Dr. Charles Boyd as our Directional and Teaching pastor. He teaches on whole books of the Bible and he teaches the Truth from God’s Word. The Body there is very mission-oriented both in the community and globally. The church provides “Read through the Bible guides” and Dr. Boyd encourages us to get into the Word for ourselves and to develop our own personal realationship with Jesus/ to be in love with Jesus /and to be part of His purposes and mission. The Body there is very large and growing, however, everyone is encouraged to be part of a “community group” for further study of the Word/the Truth, and for encouragement and fellowship, as well as for service to our Lord Jesus, as a small group.

  2. Rodger Allen Jones says

    Every pastor and titled minister should read this. In their meditative silence if they would search their own purpose of ministry, revisit the ‘calling’ and seek for true boldness we would become the ‘Church Universal’ once again. The mission would have enough workers in the field. A true representation of His church.

    Equally the body has to rediscover their part of their own ‘life on mission’. It would require them to also ‘seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’ Be blessed Dan and thanks for the challenge.

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