Preaching Hell Washed in Tears

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A particular church in a hierarchical denomination had become well known as a graveyard for ministers. The internal conflicts of the church usually resulted in requests to transfer the pastors after a brief residence. A new bishop arrived on the scene and immediately sent to this church one of the brightest and apparently most capable ministers in the district. True to form, within a year the chairperson of the personnel committee called the bishop and informed him that the church wanted the minister moved on to another setting.

“What’s the problem?” asked the bishop. “Well,” came the reply, “all he does is get up every Sunday and tell us that we are going to hell.” Reluctantly, the bishop arranged for the transfer of the minister to another church. This time he sent a much older person to be the minister of the church and settled back in partial contentment that he had eliminated one of his problems in his headache churches. But alas, within six months, the chairperson of the personnel committee was back on the phone to the bishop.

“This preacher’s no better than the rest of them. All he does is get up every Sunday and tell us all that we are going to hell.” Totally exasperated, the bishop decided to fight fire with fire. He sent to the church an aggressive, young, recent seminary graduate who had been known for championing every cause from abortion to draft evasion. The bishop grimly dug in his heels and waited for the thunder and lightning to strike. But three-and-a-half years passed and he never heard a word. The annual reports indicated that the congregation had grown substantially in attendance and budget and had embarked on a few social programs. The bishop’s curiosity peaked and he called the chairperson of the church’s personnel committee.

“How do you like your minister?” he asked. “He’s wonderful,” came the reply. “I don’t get it,” said the bishop. “I thought that certainly this minister would prophetically tell you that you’re going to hell if you don’t change your warp.” “Oh,” said the lay person, “hardly a Sunday passes that our minister doesn’t tell us that we’re going to hell, but he cries about it. The others were glad about it.”6
~ J. Alfred Smith, Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, ed. Michael Duduit (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1993), Kindle Locations 10393-10411.

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