Last time we thought about the idea that godly preparation precludes the possibility of evaluation. This time let’s take an idea that is related to that:
2. If it bears good fruit then it is a good sermon.
This is a good follow up to the previous myth. Maybe you’ve had the experience of struggling through a sermon only to discover that someone else loved it. Fair enough, there is certainly subjectivity involved in hearing a message. But what about when the sermon you hear is not just not to your taste, but actually contains error, and then … someone trusts in Christ at the end. That can be perplexing!
So many things need to be taken into account here. You could have misheard the preacher. You could have been biased in your critical view of the message. Your evaluation criteria may be completely off. At the same time, the fruit that seems so surprising could be the fruit of other ministry rather than this particular message. Or the fruit could not be genuine. Or the fruit could be the glorious grace of God working despite a weak or flawed sermon (praise God for that if you are a preacher, you’ve probably preached some shockers too!) There are so many unknowns in this.
However, accepting all the multiple layers of complexity, there seems to be a double-edged bottom line here. On the one hand ministry will be judged by its fruits and this is right. Good, faithful, Christ-centred, biblically-driven, Spirit-dependent ministry will bring genuine and eternity-changing fruit over the course of time. On the other hand, there is not a one-for-one correspondence here: apparently positive fruit (conversions, feedback, etc.) does not mean this particular sermon was solid, neither does apparently negative fruit (no response, negative feedback, etc.) mean this particular sermon fell short. God does a lot of unseen work through messages while preachers press on in faith without knowing if it is making the slightest bit of difference.
How have you experienced this tension?