Preaching Idols & Ecclesiastical High Places
Idolatry is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. The Canaanites worshiped their false gods on the tops of mountains and hills. According to Deuteronomy 12:2, these sanctuaries, or “high places”, were epicenters of idolatry, vanity and sinful preoccupation. For this very reason, the Israelites were instructed to destroy them when they entered the land of promise.
The elevated location of these “high places” gave worshippers a sense of being close and almost at one with their gods. Further, the vistas overlooking their farmlands gave them a sense of power and virtue. Baal, one of the principal gods, was often portrayed sitting on top of hills and was often called “rider of the clouds.”
Worship in high places occurred among graven images of the gods, sacred groves and large stones or pillars that marked the place of the alleged earthly visitation of a god. The primary purpose of these ritual events was to increase fertility among the people, their livestock and their land. As a consequence of these efforts, ritual prostitution was common.
Despite Moses’ commandment and commendation in Deuteronomy to destroy these Canaanite “high places”, the Hebrews tended to let them stand. In their arrogance and their ignorance, they would even attempt to incorporate them into the worship of The Lord. (I Samuel 9:19-24; 10:5-6; I Kings 3:2). In First Kings 11:7, we see they most often used these high places for “idol” reasons and purposes. Occasionally, there were leaders who brought revival by cutting down the sacred groves and pulling down the idolatrous pillars. (2 Kings 18:4). But it would take just one or two generations before the reforms were forgotten again and the ‘high places’ were once again erected. By the time of Jeremiah, so many high places had been erected that the prophet remarked that Judah had as many gods as cities. What a travesty! What an indictment! Are we any different?
In ministry, we are prone to set up our own “high places.” If we are not careful we, too, can extinguish the fire of revival and reformation when we erect our own idols in our own ‘groves.’ As Moses commended the Israelites, let us commend one another to destroy these ecclesiastical ‘high places’ that God may be the center and circumference of our Worship, Life, Ministry and Proclamation.
What are some high places and idols that need to be destroyed in ministry? In my view, there are at least four:
1. Believing the Hype
I believe that the best thing to do after preaching a great sermon on Sunday, is to forget about it on Monday. No…don’t forget WHAT you preached. But please forget you had anything to do with the its success in the hearts of the hearers. Too often, we can be guilty of reading our own press clippings. Someone came up to us and told us we were the greatest preacher ever known to mankind. Someone else whispered in our ear that we can preach circles around the current preacher. Maybe they are correct. So what? Get over yourself! We are charged to preach Christ and Him crucified; after that…stand up to be seen, speak up to be heard; and please sit down to be appreciated. This applies to both pastor and associate minister alike. Pastors may be surrounded by an inner circle that is wooed by his charisma. For this person, self-awareness and a spouse or children who know how to be blatantly honest with you are more precious than gold. At the other end of the spectrum there is the associate minister who may not get very many preaching engagements, but this minister has built an arsenal of sticks that preach well. It is good for this person to be aware that preaching occasionally can be a much simpler task than preaching every week. Whichever group you are in, learn not to play into any comparisons, aside from who God made you. Either you will become discouraged when you look at all of the preachers you think are ahead of you; or you will become vain and conceited when you look at the ‘little preachers’ who are behind you. God called you; and He called them. That’s enough.
There is absolutely, in my view, nothing worse than a conceited, puffed-up preacher. Nothing. That’s my argument and conviction. We must all realize that we are not celebrities; we are called to be servants. In our Western context, we are guilty of equating the preacher to the NBA player, the Fortune 500 exec and the Hip Hop Mogul. Please note, I am not a preacher who is disparaged by the minister who receives a nice compensation, lives in a big house and is able to provide the wants and needs of their family. But we must be careful with regard to entourages, ministry groupies, playing into favorites, etc. You are NOT the star, even if you are an apostle, a bishop or a prelate. At the end of the day, you are a servant. If you pastor a mega church, to God be the glory. If you have 4 members, your feet are as royal as a Billy Graham. Too often, we can be guilty of making our idols the numbers and the crowd. But be mindful, the bottom line is not always the BOTTOM LINE! I know preachers who are great proclaimers of truth who will never be on TBN, the WORD Network or any stage where they preach to over 100 people. But they are called, chosen and they will not sell out. Again, I repeat: you are NOT a celebrity.
While being puffed-up is wrong, so is thinking too lowly of yourself. You are gifted! Guess Who the gift-Giver is? It is God Himself! It is demeaning for any of us to spit on the gift God gave to us; and only us. Because of my insecurities, I found myself at one point in my ministerial life wanting to be a Ralph West and Manuel Scott, Sr. Somewhere I discovered, I can never be them and they can never be me. My insecurities are often a recognition of my deficiencies. But I am so glad there is a place in the kingdom for the deficient, the handicapped and the under-achievers! Sure…you may think you have nothing to offer. God IS attracted to people like this. But remember the words of Paul that remind us in Philippians chapter 4 that we can do something when Christ is working on the inside!
I struggle with being lazy. That’s my confession! I relish the opportunity to go off to some clear water and, with my wife (forget my boys) and do nothing. Please remember, Sunday is coming! The best thing for any preacher and pastor to do is to have 10 or 15 sermons that are already prepared. Another great thing to do is to master the art of visitation. Visit the sick that are in your church. If you don’t have any sick people that you know, go to a nursing home and talk to them. Get a dog and go for a walk in the park. There are sermons everywhere. What makes this more meaningful is when you already know where you are going at the beginning of the week. Somehow, the Holy Spirit will begin to point out things that connect to the text you’re dealing with. Another point is the get enough rest and exercise. It is so important for the preacher to take care of their physical bodies. If you fall short of making this a priority, then you will find yourself in a place where ‘Saturday night specials’ become routine and ritual. Physical fatigue is what makes you vulnerable and susceptible to immoral ways and a lifestyle that doesn’t please God. A person of strength, who preaches FROM victory and not FOR victory, is better equipped to guard his or her life.
It is my hope and prayer for every pastor and preacher that God would use your life, ministry and preaching to bless and impact a generation traveling in the wrong direction. To be sure, good preaching and great preachers with excellent characters are needed in the 21st century. I would love to know what you would consider to be idols in ministry. What are your thoughts? Please take a moment to share and also to subscribe. Thanks for reading!