How to preach so as to convert nobody

You don't want to be known as a negative preacher coming down hard on sin and making your people feel bad, do you? The world is too full of condemnation and stress as it is. What people need today is an upbeat message that reassures and gives some positive reinforcement to their lives. Here are forty-two tried and proved rules that are guaranteed to keep the sinners in your church comfortable and happy.

This article by the well-known revivalist Charles Finney is adapted from the Advent Review and Herald of the Sabbath of July 29, 1875. The old-fashioned language may betray how many years have gone by since it was written, but preachers who follow these rules carefully can be as certain of converting no one as were their colleagues of more than a century ago.

The design of this article is to propound several rules, by a steady conformity to any one of which, a man may preach so as not to convert anybody. It is generally con ceded at the present day that the Holy Spirit converts souls to Christ by means of truth adapted to that end.

It follows that a selfish preacher will not skillfully adapt means to convert souls to Christ, for this is not his end.

Rule 1. Let your supreme motive be to secure your own popularity; then, of course, your preaching will be adapted to that end, and not to convert souls to Christ.

Rule 2. Aim at pleasing, rather than at converting, your hearers. Aim to make your hearers pleased with themselves and pleased with you, and be careful not to wound the feelings of any one.

Rule 3. Aim at securing for yourself the reputation of a beautiful writer.

Rule 4. Let your sermons be written with a high degree of literary finish. Let your style be flowery, ornate, and quite above the comprehension of the common people. Give your sermons the form and substance of a flowing, beautifully written, but never-to-be-remembered essay, so that your hearers will say, "It was a beautiful sermon," but can give no further account of it.

Rule 5. Be sparing of thought, lest your sermon contain truth enough to convert a soul. Make no distinct points, and take up no disturbing issues with the consciences of your hearers, lest they remember these issues, and become alarmed about their souls.

Rule 6. Avoid preaching doctrines that are offensive to the carnal mind, lest they should say of you as they said of Christ, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" and lest you should injure your influence.

Rule 7. Denounce sin in the abstract, but make no allusion to the sins of your present audience. Avoid especially preaching to those who are present. Preach about sinners, and not to them. Say they, and not you, lest anyone should make a personal and saving application of your subject.

Rule 8. Keep the spirituality of God's holy law, by which is the knowledge of sin, out of sight, lest the sinner should see his lost condition, and flee from the wrath to come.

Rule 9. Preach salvation by grace; but ignore the condemned and lost condition of the sinner, lest he should understand what you mean by grace, and feel his need of it.

Rule 10. Preach no searching sermons, lest you convict and convert the worldly members of your church.

Rule 11. Do not make the impression that God commands your hearers now and here to obey the truth.

Rule 12. Do not make the impression that you expect your hearers to commit themselves upon the spot, and give their hearts to God.

Rule 13. Leave the impression that they are expected to go away in their sins, and to consider the matter at their convenience.

Rule 14. Dwell much upon their inability to obey, and leave the impression that they must wait for God to change their natures.

Rule 15. Make no appeals to the fears of sinners; but leave the impression that they have no reason to fear.

Rule 16. Make the impression that if God is as good as you are He will send no one to hell.

Rule 17. Preach the love of God, but ignore the holiness of His love that will by no means clear the impenitent sinner.

Rule 18. Try to convert sinners to Christ without producing any uncomfortable convictions of sin.

Rule 19. Flatter the rich, so as to repel the poor, and you will convert none of either class.

Rule 20. Make no disagreeable allusions to the doctrines for self-denial, cross-bearing, and crucifixion to the world, lest you should convict and convert some of your church members.

Rule 21. Do not rebuke the worldly tendencies of the church, lest you should hurt their feelings, and finally convert some of them.

Rule 22. Should any express anxiety about their souls, do not probe them by any uncomfortable allusion to their sin and ill desert; but encourage them to join the church at once, and exhort them to assume their perfect safety within the fold.

Rule 23. Preach the love of Christ, not as enlightened benevolence, that is holy, just, and sin-hating; but as a sentiment, an involuntary and indiscriminating fondness.

Rule 24. Be sure not to represent religion as a state of loving self-sacrifice for God and souls; but rather a free and easy state of self-indulgence. By thus doing you will prevent sound conversions to Christ, and convert your hearers to yourself.

Rule 25. So select your themes and so present them as to attract and flatter the wealthy, aristocratic, self-indulgent, extravagant, pleasure-seeking classes, and you will not convert any of them to the cross-bearing religion of Christ.

Rule 26. Be time-serving, or you will endanger your salary; and, besides, if you speak out and are faithful, you may convert somebody.

Rule 27. Do not preach with a divine unction, lest your preaching make a saving impression. To avoid this, do not maintain a close walk with God, but rely upon your learning and study.

Rule 28. Lest you should pray too much, engage in light reading and worldly amusements.

Rule 29. That your people may not think you in earnest to save their souls, and, as a consequence, heed your preaching, encourage church fairs, lotteries, and other gambling and worldly expedients to raise money for church purposes.

Rule 30. Do not rebuke extravagance in dress, lest you should uncomfortably impress your vain and worldly church members.

Rule 31. Ridicule solemn earnestness in pulling sinners out of the fire, and recommend, by precept and example, a jovial, fun-loving religion, and sinners will have little respect for your serious preaching.

Rule 32. Cultivate a fastidious taste in your people, by avoiding all disagreeable allusions to the last judgment and final retribution. Treat such uncomfortable doctrines as obsolete and out of place in these days of Christian refinement.

Rule 33. Do not commit yourself to much-needed reforms, lest you should compromise your popularity and injure your influence. Or you may make some branch of outward reform a hobby, and dwell so much upon it as to divert attention from the great work of convert ing souls to Christ.

Rule 34. So exhibit religion as to encourage the selfish pursuit of it. Make the impression upon sinners that their own safety and happiness is the supreme motive of being religious.

Rule 35. Do not lay much stress upon the efficacy or necessity of prayer, lest the Holy Spirit should be poured out upon you and the congregation, and sinners should be converted.

Rule 36. Make little or no impression upon your hearers, so that you can repeat your old sermons often without being noticed.

Rule 37. If your text suggests any alarming thought, pass lightly over it, and by no means dwell upon and enforce it.

Rule 38. Avoid all illustration, repetition, and emphatic sentences that may compel your people to remember what you say.

Rule 39. Avoid all heat and earnestness in your delivery, lest you make the impression that you really believe what you say.

Rule 40. Be tame and timid in presenting the claims of God, as would become you in presenting your own claims.

Rule 41. Be careful not to testify from your own personal experience of the power of the gospel, lest you should produce the conviction upon your hearers that you have something which they need.

Rule 42. See that you say nothing that will appear to any of your hearers to mean him or her, unless it be something flattering.

The experience of ministers who have steadily adhered to the above rules will attest the soul-destroying efficacy of such a course, and churches whose ministers have steadily conformed to any of these rules can testify that such preaching does not convert souls to Christ. If souls are converted in congregations cursed with such a ministry, it will be by other means than the preaching.

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This article by the well-known revivalist Charles Finney is adapted from the Advent Review and Herald of the Sabbath of July 29, 1875. The old-fashioned language may betray how many years have gone by since it was written, but preachers who follow these rules carefully can be as certain of converting no one as were their colleagues of more than a century ago.

November 1982

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