Today we complete a three-part series focused on the positive side of being negative.  Today’s subject is centered on the need to be negative in the work of pastoral ministry.  In the first week, the subject was evangelism and last week the focus was apologetics.  The goal of this series is not to perpetuate a pessimistic trajectory of life and ministry, but to point out the need to deal with negatives and point out negatives for the positive goal of glorifying God.

We are presently living in the sappy “Joel Osteen” mentality of pastoral ministry that majors on pragmatics, ignores doctrine, and does everything possible to please carnal people in order to….grow.  The words, sin, error, repent, obey, submit, accountability, and various other language centered on our responsibility to deal with sin (mortify the flesh) are often avoided like the bubonic plague.  Many sermons have the tone of Bob the Tomato rather than Jesus Christ.  It is true that the path to ministry success as a pastor is to avoid being negative and always be positive?  Is it required of pastors to be negative at times in their preaching ministry?

Preaching:  Pointing out the Negatives

If our goal in preaching is to make every text of Scripture a positive talk that oozes with sweet language causing every person in the sanctuary to swell with delight, we must to do fierce damage to the intent of holy Scripture.  The American church must come to a sobering reality that the chief end of God is not to pamper sinful man and make him perpetually happy.  Preachers are called to preach the Word, and not every sermon will be a sappy positive message.  That would be like eating a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for supper every evening.  Paul commanded Timothy to “preach the Word” and to prepare for people to depart due to the fact that he preached the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5).  Pastors must point out error, and this requires pastors to be negative at times.  J. Gresham Machen once said:

Again, men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end… It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of the truth. [1]

Preaching:  Focus on the Cause (not symptoms)

When we go to the doctor, we don’t want to be under the care of a physician who wants to treat cancer by applying a Band-Aid to the surface of the skin.  We need a doctor who would dare to go beneath the skin and cut the cancer out.  The same thing must be true in preaching.  By the functionality of expository preaching (verse-by-verse), the pastor must deal with the text and make applications to his congregation.  That means when preaching through Romans, he will explain and expound on the meaning, effect, and problem of sin.  Like a good doctor, he will not leave the person on the operating table.  He will point them to their healing in Christ alone.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.” [2]

Answering Important Questions

How did Jesus Preach?

When reading about Jesus’ earthly ministry, it’s fascinating to realize that He came unto His own and His own people did not receive Him (John 1:11).  In one instance, Jesus went into His own hometown, and after preaching, they literally ran Him out of town with intentions of murdering Him by throwing Jesus off of the cliff (Luke 4:29).  Nevertheless, Jesus preached with boldness and called out sin consistently – to the point that He was confused with John the Baptist (Mark 1:22; Matt. 23:33; John 4:16-18; Mark 6:14-29).

How did Peter Preach?

Peter’s sermons were not “seeker sensitive” (to use an old descriptive phrase).  From his first sermon at Penetcost, Peter was not seeking to tickle the ears of the people.  In fact, he did just the opposite.  Acts 2:37 provides us the response to Peter’s sermon, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'”  The phrase “cut to the heart” in the Greek literally depicts the stamping of the ground by the hooves of horses.  Peter’s sermon packed a punch.  It was likewise saturated with doctrine – even in an evangelistic sermon, Peter loaded it down with weighty truths.

How did Paul Preach?

When Paul preached, he often found himself in jail.  With greater intensity than he used to persecute the church, Paul labored to preach the gospel.  The preaching ministry of Paul was filled with passion, zeal, compassion, and doctrinal depth.  Not one time do we see Paul backing away like a coward or dumbing down doctrine in order to please carnal God-haters.  Paul preached with the Richard Baxter mentality, “I preached as never sure to preach again and as a dying man to dying men.”  Paul did not approach his post as a preacher with the mindset of a “gospel ventriloquist” or a “gospel comedian.”  His aim was not to please man – it was to please God.  Paul would preach the Word and trust God for the results.

By means of conclusion, it’s essential to remember that none of us possess the perfections of Jesus, few of us possess the intellect of Paul, and most of us possess the lack of patience of Peter – quickly running to the sword.  We must faithfully preach the gospel, evangelize the lost, and defend the faith while never condoning sin.  However, we must learn to approach each situation with careful sensitivity and discernment before acting.  In the end, we are called to speak up.  The most hateful thing the church can do is to affirm sin in attempt to please sinners while calling that love.  To love sinners is to address the negatives, sometimes with a negative tone, but always with a positive gospel-centered goal.

Without addressing the negatives, the lost will never be saved, the faith will be perpetually mocked and blasphemed, and the church will never be discipled.  The pastor must always remember that the chief end of preaching is not Veggie Tales.


  1. Cited by Ernest Pickering, Biblical Separation, (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Regular Baptist Press, 2008), 97.
  2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 88.