The reason many of us pastors keep returning to the same few quotes is that they are definitive for us. They so imbed themselves in our consciousness that they manage to define who we are.
Somewhere I read–wish I could remember where–of a friend who accompanied Abraham Lincoln to church. Afterwards, the friend asked how he had liked the sermon. The future president’s answer was something like: “He may be a good man, but he’s not a good preacher. A good preacher would have asked us to do something great, and he didn’t.”
(If I’m able to run down the exact quote, I’ll insert it here.)
Sometimes a preacher needs a comeuppance like that from a layperson–calling us back to reality, insisting we remember our calling, that we not get so caught up in the minutiae of our work that we forget to issue the clarion call to God and righteousness.
It might even be appropriate to call Lincoln not a layperson, since that implies he’s an active member of a church other than the clergy, but an outsider. He never joined a church, claimed to have a deep reverence for God and Scripture, but always seemed to see no personal need for involvement in a local church. So when we analyze a critique of a preacher from him, it’s coming more from the outside than within the body.
But this is not about Lincoln. It’s about his comment, and his excellent statement that a good preacher calls on people to do great things.
I completely agree, and am betting most pastors would also.
Now, my opinion is that the typical pastor does not call on people to do little things in place of “great” ones. That’s not what Lincoln heard, I’m guessing. The pastor did not issue an invitation for people to sign up for janitorial work, volunteer to teach the 3rd grade boys, or bring casseroles on Wednesday nights.
Instead of being that specific, that detailed, and that minor, the preacher did something else.
He issued a broad invitation to do general things without ever making himself clear on what they ought to be doing.
One of the cardinal sins of sermons is to issue fuzzy calls for people to do nebulous things.