Really Mean: When Your Teaching Isn’t Deep Enough

My parents don’t know this, but I nearly drowned once. I was at a friend’s pool party in the 5th grade and we were taking turns touching the drain in the deep end of the pool. It was only about 10 ft deep, but that was a lot farther when I was shorter.

I decided I didn’t need the head start that a dive from the diving board provided, so I plunged down on my own from treading water. I guess I didn’t take a deep enough breath or didn’t realize how much wind treading water had taken out of me, but I barely made it back to the surface. I sat on the side of the pool for a few minutes, terrified, but eventually went back in and decided that the shallow end was much safer.

Then my 4 year old cousin fell in the pool at my grandparents house. I was standing up in the 4 ft of water just an arm’s length away as my grandfather reached in and grabbed her. I’ll never forget the image of the top of her head poking just over the surface as she frantically tried to get above it.

I guess depth is relative.

That’s what’s so hard about being the main preacher at a church. What one can stand in will drown another. That’s a hard target to hit every week. I guess that’s why I find it so discouraging when churchgoers complain about the depth of the teaching. Some even use it as a reason to leave the church.

The truth is that they could mean so many different things when they say your teaching isn’t “deep enough.” In fact, it very well could mean that there is a possibility that you don’t give much Spiritual meat to chew on each Sunday. However, if you feel you’re killing it each week and still hearing this, here’s a few possible reasons why to help you address the issue with more precise clarity.

They have attached Spiritual growth exclusively to gaining new knowledge.

Of course, when you learn something new, it IS growth. No one is debating that. However, the belief that growth ONLY occurs when you’ve been presented with new information is a narrow view of learning.

Many churches are bashed for only teaching on marriage, money, sex, or parenting, but honestly, does anyone feel like they have totally mastered these areas? If so, please start a blog or something. For the rest of us, there’s usually something helpful in there for us if we will allow it to be.

If nothing else, being reminded of information we have long forgotten or being admonished to practice certain Godly qualities doesn’t hurt the ol’ Spiritual journey, either. I heard one pastor respond with “I’m still working on loving my neighbor as myself.” Do what you like with that.

Not to say that you aren’t truly bored. If you find yourself feeling that way week after week, by all means, try serving or teaching somewhere in the church and do something to get out of the funk. You may quickly find out you don’t know as much as you think. Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

They don’t consider application to be deep.

Some complain of the practical preachers that they are always asking congregations to “do” something. This is kind of the opposite of the previous issue, in that these view church as a school of some sort. After all, it’s called “Sunday School” not “Sunday Do” or “Hogwarts,” am I right?

Some just don’t consider practice to be part of the “going deeper” that they are always bemoaning pastors for expecting of them. Let’s apply that elsewhere.

Baseball players that want to be better hitters but do not want to practice batting. Marketing strategists that want to get sales numbers up but don’t want to read the latest trends. Parents who want to be Godly parents but don’t invest in a community that will support them as they do it.

Nope. Just, nope.

Application is part of deeper faith, and those who can’t see this could be the ones calling you a shallow paddler in the pulpit. So yell out “Marco” until they “Polo” and understand.

You always tell them what they should do, but never suggest how to do it.

Ouch, this may ring true. I’m not one that believes that just because you know something is true that you will practice it on your own.

We need steps, action plans, to-do lists, and goals. Sometimes churchgoers do not demonstrate life-change because they simply do not know where or how to start.

That’s where the pastors come in. We help them to see the first few steps and give them encouragement to take them. I personally don’t feel fully encouraged by “go, fight, win!” I prefer “Go over to your coworkers and strike up a conversation about church that might lead to a Gospel discussion and don’t be afraid to ask them what they think about Jesus!” But cheerleaders can’t fit that on signs to run through, so we have to get creative here.

Make sure every message has a “call to action” item. Give them something to do that is practical, even if it seems too simple. Maybe you should give a deep end and a shallow end suggestion. Remember, depth is relative.

The messages tend to be aimed at a group they do not identify with.

If you are a “hellfire and brimstone” kind of preacher, it probably doesn’t do much for the seasoned believer other than scare the bejesus out of them on a regular basis. I’m not suggesting we leave those bejesuses in there, though, so if screaming a Satan-shaped hole in someone is your thing, I’m sure there’s a market somewhere.

But if your congregation is made up of mostly those young in their faith, you may want to start with the questions they are going to have like “can I trust the Bible?” and “why doesn’t the current culture change the morality of Scripture? and “how does the Gospel impact my daily life?”

If they are more mature, focus on disciplines and JT English’s favorite, the “meta-narrative” of Scripture and challenge them with practical applications.

Basically, I’m saying “know your audience,” but also realize you’re not going to reach everyone, especially if that is what you’re trying to do.

They do not understand how the Gospel should affect them daily.

It gets all over me, and I mean ALL over me, when I hear people complain that all we ever do at church is talk about how Jesus died for our sins.

I know it can be an innocent and ignorant thing to say, and that is where a kind and patient pastor comes alongside of them to mentor them into more mature thinking. But for the ones who know better and say it anyway, you mess with the bull and you get the horns.

Our faith is NOT built, I repeat, NOT built on knowledge or behavior but on an EVENT. THE Event! When Christ rose out of the tomb and appeared to hundreds of people, He declared to the world that there is life beyond this existence found in only ONE name, Jesus.

And that’s not a big deal? I believe that true discipleship is the process of becoming more conformed to the image of Christ while on this rock. Why? Because doing so is a giant blinking neon sign pointing to the resurrection event (or even MORE exciting, the second coming event)!

Because Christ is resurrected, we can have courage to face our oppressors. We can give to those who need it or take it freely. We can love the unlovable because Christ loved us when we were unlovable. We can tell Chuck Norris jokes without being sued and we can call our friends to theology that is Biblical.

Maybe our people do not understand just how much the Gospel should affect our daily lives. If that is the case in your church, then the burden to teach them otherwise is on you, my friends. For what other purpose do pastors do what we do than to make disciples of Jesus Christ? Sure, at the end of the day, you could give them both theological barrels and watch them scatter, but a pastor’s aim should not be to impress his people with his knowledge, but to guide them lovingly towards a Christ-like life.

What other reasons could you be accused of not being “deep enough?” I’m sure this isn’t an exhaustive list. Let us know in the comments and let’s help each other out!

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Showing 3 comments
  • John Miller

    Homerun, man.

    I recently preached that if our congregation wanted to grow spiritually, they don’t need to focus on Greek or Hebrew, read commentaries or Christian classics. They don’t need conferences.

    They need to focus on the basics: Loving God and loving others.

    They could spend their whole lives learning to do those two things. That’s where the real spiritual depth is, plumbing the practicalities of love.

    • Seth Muse

      I see the books and conferences like a container and loving others like the water inside. The water is really what you want, but the container gives the water its shape. I think you need some degree of both. To ignore one or the other could create either a legalist with no heart or a sociopath without a brain.

      • John Miller

        Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE spiritual classics, new teachings, and connecting/worshipping at conferences.

        But while I enjoy books and conferences, I don’t think neglecting them would turn us into legalists or sociopaths. We don’t need those things to love God or love others. We need Scripture, we need the Church, we don’t need books or conferences.

        I’ve enjoyed them both. I’m an avid reader and go to 2 conferences a year – but they aren’t necessary for me to be spiritually mature.

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