Christless preaching is epidemic. What can we, the people in the pews, do about it?
Is it as simple as just going to a new church? I don't think so. At least, that should not be our first resort.
Here are some thoughts on how the laity can approach the problem of Christless, gospel-deficient preaching in their church.
1. First, are you sure the problem is as bad as you think? Make sure your problem is not that you don't like your pastor's sermon style or delivery. If it is not just a matter of preference, can you demonstrate that the problem is consistent, pervasive? Has he just had an off few weeks? Or is the through-line of the body of his preaching demonstrably not the gospel?
Be very clear in your mind and heart about the source of the problem; if you just don't like your pastor's personality or presentation, that is not reason to do anything.
2. Can you articulate the problem well? For instance, if you were to explain your concerns to someone, would it sound more like, "I just feel like he doesn't talk about Jesus enough"? or would it sound more like, "Two weeks ago, when he spoke on such and such, he had an opportunity to talk about Jesus' finished work, but he didn't, and this is a constant pattern"? Can you cite numerous and ongoing examples of errant teaching or of the absence of Christ-centered teaching?
Be able to mark the difference between your impressions/feelings and actual, documented failures to present Jesus and the gospel.
3. What is the spiritual temperature of the church? Are people growing? Are they serving? This is not about whether the place is full during the services; this is about whether the people attending are doing more than attending. If you don't have a reliable grasp on this aspect of your church's health, don't spend too much time on it and don't guess (ie. Well, the preaching stinks so the people must not be growing spiritually.). But if you're in a position to know (privy to leadership's analysis, privy to surveys your church has done of such things, in a position of leadership yourself to know, privy to the relative success of your church's community efforts of small group program, etc), factor actual data (not impressions) into this assessment.
3. Will this be a matter of conscience for you? Can you endure in good faith and in good hope? Without grumbling or being divisive?
Decide if you can stay in peace or if the matter is too great a pang in your conscience for you to be an asset to the body. If thoughts of leaving recur and won't let go, try to think more in terms of what is best for the body, not what is best for you. Without thinking arrogantly, would leaving be a greater detriment to the church than it would be a benefit for you?
4. Do you have small children or teenagers who are actively involved in the life of the body? If you're thinking of leaving, what will the ramifications of this be? Weigh whether it will be worth it. Weigh also whether the problem is consistent enough that you would think twice about your kids growing up into "inheriting" it.
5. What is the trajectory of the church's message? Is it better than it was five years ago? Worse? The same?
6. Talk about your concerns with fellow laymen generally and hypothetically. Instead of saying, "Don't you think Pastor Bob's message was Osteen-esque?", have general conversations about what sermons should be like, how they affect the life of a church (or don't), etc. When discussing your pastor's messages, stick to the sermon content, not to the speaker's character. Gossip and division are sins. Ask "What did you think of Pastor Bob's saying that God wants to bless us but we have to speak those blessings into existence?", not "Don't you think Pastor Bob is a heretic?" :-)
Be peaceful, be respectful, be concerned.
Don't say anything about somebody that you wouldn't say to them.
7. Talk about your concerns with church leadership. Get a meeting with elders or deacons, with ministers, or with the pastor himself. Express your concerns and be specific (see #2). Be respectful.
Don't give ultimatums or make accusations. Ask for explanations, be receptive and responsive. Ask if they share your concerns.
This is really important, because someone who has a problem with something but never addresses that problem at the source becomes a whiner to be ignored.
8. Blog. Seriously. Blogging is the grassroots voice of the new reformation. Same biblical rules of discourse apply (avoid gossip and division, be peaceful and respectful, let your words be full of grace and seasoned with salt). It would be wise to avoid talking specifics about your church and your pastor's sermons, but examine and explore the issues generally and thoroughly. Be another voice crying in the wilderness that something is not right and ask others to join you calling for change. If more are saying it, it will be harder to ignore.
9. If you lead a small group or teach a class, or if you're a part of a group or class, suggest studying a book on biblical ecclesiology or parts of Paul's letters dealing with what's most important for churches to do.
10. Go back to #3. Can you stay in good conscience? Then do so. Stay, and peacefully and prayerfully hope and work toward reform. Be salt and light within your body. This should be your first inclination.
11. If your conscience will not permit you to stay, pray and discuss with those close to you. If you decide to leave, do so quietly but not silently. By that, I mean tell someone who's in a position to care. I'm not saying they will care; I'm just saying they're in a position to be someone who should. Tell an elder or your pastor and explain you don't want to be divisive or contentious, but be honest. Don't make it an ultimatum (I'm leaving unless you do this . . .); make it your decision (I am leaving, and this is not an easy decision for me, but I believe it is necessary). Make it clear you wish the congregation the best.
Don't leave lightly. Breaking membership with a covenant community is a huge thing.
Make it clear you're not leaving in a huff and that it's not a rash decision but something you've arrived at prayerfully and deliberately. Make sure they know you're not asking them to do anything, just that you didn't want to leave without saying why.
They need to know, because if people leave without ever saying why, leadership will always default to an imagined explanation that puts itself in the best light (ie. They just didn't get what we do; They're too lazy to serve; etc). I say that as someone in leadership myself. :-)
12. Are you invested in your church? Do you have relational connections there? Does your pastor or do any of your elders know who you are? Do you volunteer and serve? Would your absence create a leadership or position gap in your church?
If the answer to all of those is "No," if you're merely an anonymous attender, don't worry about telling anyone anything (in fact, don't tell anyone anything). Just leave quietly and find another church to attend, one that preaches Jesus and where you plan to commit to serving.