How can you preach with confidence while feeling like a hypocrite? That’s like asking how to run fast on a broken leg. The truth is… you can’t!
What do you do if you are a preacher and you feel like a hypocrite? The way I see it, you only have four options:
- Ignore the feeling
- Quit the ministry
- Understand hypocrisy
- Deal with it
Let’s start with the first:
1. Ignore the Feeling
You won’t do that long unless you are a genuine hypocrite. Genuine hypocrites are the only people in ministry who can truly ignore the feeling and carry on in ministry as though nothing is wrong.
2. Quit the Ministry
Sadly, many do. Few who enter the pastorate retire as pastors. But to quit the ministry only adds to the pastor’s pain. I happen to believe that if you are a pastor, it is because God created you to be a pastor.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”1 That “long ago” was before you were born. Before God created the heavens and the earth, He imagined you—He created you in His own mind to do the good things He planned for you long ago.
To resign from the ministry is to resolve to live life against your inner passion and calling. It is to resolve to not be the person you were created to be.
3. Understand Hypocrisy
More than likely, those feelings of hypocrisy are pride parading as humility. You feel humble for feeling like a hypocrite. To declare that you are not a hypocrite—that sounds like pride. You’re caught in a dilemma; what can you do?
The dilemma exists only in your mind, not in God’s word. Are you really a hypocrite? Hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means to act, or to wear a mask. In ancient times, an actor would put on one mask to portray a particular character, then change his or her mask to portray another.
Jesus used this same word, hypocrite, to describe a person who wore a mask—they, with great intentionality, pretended to be someone they were not.
Your shortcomings and failings don’t disqualify you any more than your goodness qualifies you. Your only qualification to lead is that God in mercy and grace has declared you righteous by the shed blood of His own Son.
Unless you have intentionally set out to deceive your congregants, you are not a hypocrite.
- The fact that you fail in many ways, as we all do, does not make you a hypocrite.
- The fact that those who attend your church think more highly of you than they should does not make you a hypocrite. That they think you are better than you are comes with the territory. (I’ll tell you how to deal with that in a moment.)
- The fact that you preach on sins that you yourself struggle with does not make you a hypocrite.
- The fact that you do not say every time you preach on a particular sin, “And I do that one, too!” does not make you a hypocrite, even if you struggle with it.
A hypocrite is someone who intentionally deceives others, someone who pretends to be someone they are not.
Now that you have a good understanding of what a hypocrite is, you are in a good place to deal with hypocrisy. And most of us struggle or have struggled with hypocrisy on one level or another.
4. Deal with Hypocrisy
There is a story told about a certain zoo that had a reputation for its large array of animals.
When a favorite attraction, a gorilla, died, the zookeeper hired an actor to put on a gorilla suit and pretend to be a gorilla. One day the actor was playing it up, walking along the wall dividing the gorilla from the lions, and he fell off on the lion’s side. The man in the suit instantly started yelling, “Help! I’m going to die! Help!” The lion came over close, got in the man’s face, and whispered, “Shut up or you’re going to get us both fired.”
The sad truth is, if you don’t deal with it, you will either quit or get fired.
How to deal with hypocrisy in your own life and ministry:
The apostle Paul said, “I don’t want people to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my messages.”[efn_note2 Corinthians 12:6b (NLT).[/efn_note] But sometimes I do. I even said once, “I’m not going to try and deceive anyone, but if people credit me with more than I am, that’s on them and I’m OK with that.”
That attitude should have revealed my need for praise and my propensity toward pretentiousness. Not long after that, I was preaching and used a word because I thought it made me sound smart. Later I had this sinking feeling that I had used it incorrectly.
I looked up the word in a dictionary and sure enough, I had used it improperly. The following week I confessed that I had used that word wrongly, but more importantly, I confessed, “I used it to sound smart.” I asked my congregation to forgive me. That was a humbling moment.
It was the right thing to do and it went a long way in making me rethink what I truly wanted from my preaching—to be praised or to be used?
Confessing the struggle means telling your people from time to time, “I struggle with the same things you struggle with.” And, “You people think way too much of me.”
Confessing does not mean that every time you preach on sin you stop and say, “But I don’t do it perfectly, either.” That is nauseating to the congregation. They already know you don’t.
Be quick to share your struggles. Don’t just illustrate with your successes. Let those in your congregation see your failures. I love what Craig Groeschel says at the end of his leadership podcast: “Remember, people would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right.”
Know What Truly Makes You a Good Preacher
We tend to think our talent, gifts, and hard work are what make us good. They are not. I’m not downplaying the need for diligent leadership or for skillful preaching. We should work hard at both.2 But when it comes to powerful leading and preaching, there is no substitute for sincerity. Dan Reiland describes it best in his article, “The Top 5 Traits People Look for in a Pastor.”
In 2 Corinthians, Paul describes his preaching as an aroma of a life-giving perfume to those who believe and an aroma of death and doom to those who are perishing. Then he asks what we all wonder, “And who is adequate for such a task as this?” Obviously, it is those who are without sin, those who have their act together. It is those who never preach on a sin that they themselves have not overcome. Right!? No. Not at all. Paul says, it is only the sincere. This is awesome. The word sincere means, “unpretentious.”
You can’t preach with confidence while feeling like a hypocrite. Your feelings of hypocricy will undermine your faith in Christ’s finished work. Understand what hypocrisy is and deal with it.
Confess any time you catch yourself pretending, accept God’s forgiveness as one who has been delivered from all condemnation3, and preach boldly, confidently, knowing God is using you, a fallen, but forgiven preacher who is genuine, sincere, and far from perfect.
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“You may be good. You may even be better than everyone else. But without a coach you will never be as good as you could be.” Twitter @Andy Stanley, December 12, 2018.