In the absence of a union of Pew-Sitting Sermon-Hearing Church Goers (PSSHCG) to let pastors know how the congregation is receiving their sermons, we are hereby taking it upon ourselves to act on their behalf.
There being no PSSHCG union, sermon listeners usually resort to anonymous letters, hurried conferences in the foyer before and after worship, and murmuring in order to express their opinion of the preaching in their church. Such protests are frowned upon by pastors (with good reason), but with no acceptable way of registering their concern, sermon-listeners often have no other recourse but the anonymous letter, the quick foyer conference, or murmuring.
Until such a time as this group forms their PSSHCG union, we will (ahem) be glad to speak for them.
As the Apostle Paul once said, “I speak as a fool” (II Corinthians 11:21).
For what it’s worth, what follows are the Ten Commandments of Preaching as felt by the men and women in the pews.
Two or three years ago, when our denomination focused on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans for the annual Mid-Winter Bible Study, I taught the book in several places and wrote a number of practical articles which are posted on our website.
The thing about this being Holy Scripture however–and not just the writings of one apostle to a church–is that it continues to yield insights long after one thinks he has plumbed its depths. One of the traits of God’s Word is that it has no bottom, no place where one arrives and decides “that’s all there is.”
This book, your Bible, is unlike all the other books on your shelves. It’s a rare novel that you take down and reread for the fourth or fifth time, finding insights which you missed the other times. With most books, you read them once and you’re through. But, one could spend a full year on any one book of the Bible and never exhaust its riches.
It’s that deep, that multifaceted, that rich.
If the Epistle of Romans is like a gold mine–and it is–then chapter 8 of Romans is like a mother lode, a rich vein, in that mine. You can find nuggets laying on the ground which require no effort from you except to recognize them and gather them in and put them to work in your world. Romans 8 is strewn with nuggets.
But there are also deeper riches in this rich chapter which yield themselves only to those who spend time there, dig down deeply, study quietly and widely and thoughtfully, and who wait for the revelations from the Lord, who after all is the true Author of the piece. Some truths are so profound and so well-camouflaged they give themselves only to those who meditate and wait patiently at the feet of the Master Teacher.
Consider, based on Romans 8, the following outline: What God Does For Us We Cannot Do For Ourselves.
Often on Sunday morning, I’ll post something on Facebook to encourage pastors. I particularly love to encourage the ones who may be preaching to members of their congregation who despise them and are working to remove them from the pulpit.
I’ve been there, done that, in two churches. It’s a lonely feeling, one you would not wish on your enemy.
Today my little note encouraged pastors to remember why the message of Jesus is called “good news,” and to preach that.
That word was so elementary, such a no-brainer, that one might wonder why we said it or why it got such a large response from readers (aka, Facebook friends, many of whom are preachers).
Here’s why: We pastors sometimes feed our people fiber instead of protein, filler instead of nourishment. I suspect it’s not a conscious decision (“I will now cut corners on my preaching”), but something that develops as a result of neglect, fatigue, or discouragement.
Someone needs to recognize that this is happening and call us back to our God-given task of preaching the gospel. Again, you would think this would be a no-brainer. But I cannot tell you how many times pastors have told me they model their preaching after an Elijah or Jeremiah or Amos. One said his role model was John the Baptist. Personally, I don’t see it. We are called to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16), and not to address every sinful failing of Washington, D.C. or whoever happens to be the current occupant of the White house.
Having pastored for over 42 years, and having preached the message of the Lord for exactly a half-century, I am well aware of those substitutes for the gospel that have a way of creeping into our messages. Here are several I’ve seen in myself and noticed in you. (Consider that a friendly wink at the pastors who read this.)
Some issues never get settled.
Some truths never become fully known.
Some questions never yield their answers completely in this life.
That’s where faith comes in.
We go with the evidence that we have, make a faith decision as to what the missing evidence is saying, then go forward.
Hope that is seen is not faith. For why does one hope for what he sees? (Romans 8:24)
Here are five issues you will never know fully in this life, and may find yourself struggling with (occasionally) from here on in. The fact that we may never know them fully does not inhibit us from searching them out and trying to know all we can. After all, these are the big issues of life.
When Henry was elected a deacon, his family was elated. When he was ordained, they were proud. But when his phone rang late one evening with a church member on the other end of the line complaining about the pastor, no one but he knew it. When he was cornered after church by a sister with a complaint about church finances, Henry felt ambushed. When he received an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a member of the church with a serious charge against the youth minister, he was completely bamboozled.
Henry was completely unprepared.
He was learning that church members often see the deacons as a conduit to the “powers that be,” as a safe way to register discontent, as a means of getting their concerns addressed without their having to go public.
But no one had told Henry to expect this or how to handle it.
In teaching churchmanship to deacons and other leaders, pastors should prepare them for the unexpected barrage that will be coming their way. They should expect it, learn to recognize it, and know how to deal with it. In time, with a little experience, they may even come to welcome the criticism, the phone calls, the anonymous letters.
Here is my list of unexpected developments leaders should be prepared to deal with. You’ll think of others.
We pastors make many mistakes in our dealings with deacons, which is probably understandable.
In a lifetime of ministy, a pastor might log a half century leading as many as ten churches. That means he will encoiunter ten different arrangements of deacons–one per church–some good, some not so good, and hundreds of deacons of all kinds. The pastor who does this and emerges unscathed is a rarity.
Most pastors sooner or later find themselves facing one or more deacons for whom “servanthood” and “servant-mindedness” are not found in their lexicons. They are all about power and control, and right now this pastor is in their crosshairs and has been identified as the enemy.
Deal with a few of those and you will walk gently into all future gatherings of deacons.
I know they are few and far between. Most deacons are good and honorable men (and yes, women too, in some churches; but in our SBC they are relatively rare) who want only to bless and serve. But it just takes a few to create havoc.
One of the greatest mistakes we pastors make is to assume either that our deacons already know all they need to, or that they do not want to learn more. My experience is that a right-spirited servant of the Lord–deacon or not–wants to learn more, to grow more, to serve better.
Pastors should create opportunities to teach their deacons good churchmanship. Here’s what that means.
The Old Testament is saturated with references on loving God’s law.
Love a law?
Apparently it’s such a big deal with God that He had Scripture-writers to urge it everywhere. The First Psalm, for instance, goes: His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on that law does he meditate day and night. And the 119th Psalm mentions the law in each of its 176 verses. We’re talking serious affection for the law here.
Normally, in our minds at least, we substitute the word “law” with “the Word.” Meditating on the entire Word of God seems to make more sense, and is something I find myself doing easily and often.
But love the law?
Until two days ago, the idea made little sense to me. But then I saw something on the side of the interstate that has changed forever how I think about that.