Not long ago, on a Sunday when I wasn’t preaching anywhere, I dropped in on a church service not far from my house. A luxury of being retired from pastoring and denominational service is that–with the okay of my pastor–sometimes I visit churches led by friends of mine.
That day, I saw something that struck me as precious and extremely rare.
During the sermon, listening to the preacher and watching the interplay between him and the congregation, it occurred to me how finely tuned the people and minister were to one another. In fact, I had the feeling that I was sitting in on a private conversation between the pastor and his flock.
It was as impressive as anything I’ve seen in a church in years.
I grabbed my pen and jotted down the following notes:
History. (They have a history together.)
Trust. (he has earned the right to talk straight to the people.)
The sermon is one part of a continuing conversation between them.
This is the best. It’s not a TV sermon.
So, today, I went to lunch with that pastor and picked his brain on the subject.
David Crosby is in his fifteenth year as pastor of the First Baptist Church of New Orleans. He arrived in our city on the first Sunday of June of 1996. Within five years, he led them to relocate from historic St. Charles Avenue where the church was in a decades-long decline to all new facilities on Canal Boulevard near the interstate. Two years later, after Hurricane Katrina hit our part of the world, David gave outstanding leadership to his congregation, the work of Baptists in the area, and the city as a whole. A large portion of his congregation moved away following the hurricane, forcing them to go forward without many who had been veteran leaders and pillars of this church.
He has earned the right to speak and to be heard in this city. He is respected by all who know him.
Last Sunday, as I write, I filled the pulpit for Dr. Crosby. At the beginning of my message, I paid tribute to this good man who was away preaching in Texas. As soon as I mentioned the esteem with which he is held, the congregation broke into applause.
So, today, Thursday, when we agreed to have lunch, I took along my notebook to interview my friend, Pastor David Crosby.
I said, “Your congregation last Sunday was as responsive as I have ever seen. They listened well and reacted immediately to everything I said. And that,” I assured him, “does not happen accidentally. It’s a tribute to their relationship to their pastor.”
I told him of this article I intended to write about the intimate connection I’ve seen in worship services between him as the shepherd and the people as the flock.
“What I want to know,” I said, “is how does this happen? A lot of young pastors would love to know how to build this kind of close connection with their people.”
“It’s not a deep dark secret,” he laughed. “It’s just basic relationship stuff.”
Here is what he said, from my notes.
I tell them about my daily life. I’m very personal in the sermon. I turn events into illustrations. I may talk about my children or my grandchildren. I’ll tell them about something a staff member said.
I tell on the staff. And sometimes I get in trouble because I tell too much. We laughed.
My face is a window to my soul. I can’t hide a thing. If something is wrong, they know.
I build relationships that are dear to me.
Every week I meet with some of our people for prayer. Years ago, when we started, I announced that I’d be praying every Wednesday at 7 am and anyone who wished could join me. A number of men did.
The membership in the prayer group rotates. It’s a very deliberate prayer time. We exchange prayer needs. We focus on our own personal needs. I tell them how I’m doing and what I’m facing and they pray for me.
Speaking engagements in other churches or platforms stress me out. So they pray for me.
Once we pray, then we go for breakfast somewhere.
If this subject fascinates you–and if you are a minister of the gospel, I sure hope it does–I have a few suggestions for you.
Find a pastor in your part of the world who exemplifies this kind of closeness with his people. Take him to lunch. Pick his brain.
Don’t imitate him. Find your own style, what works best for you.
If you don’t know any, ask around.
If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, check out Don Davidson at First Baptist Church, Alexandria, VA. If you are in the Montgomery, Alabama, area, Jay Wolf at First Baptist Church there has this thing down pat.
Take off a Sunday and go visit his church.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that pastor is going to be in the pulpit that Sunday so you’ll not waste a Sunday and make the journey for nothing.
Isn’t watching a video of the service just as good. A hearty “NO!” Not remotely close. What I hope you will see is the pastor greeting people prior to the service and chatting with them. See what he does prior to and after the service. What does he do when he’s not on the platform leading? (In almost all cases, I think you’ll find what he’s doing is worshiping.)
In particular, you will want to watch the members of the church as the pastor begins his sermon. See what they’re doing.
Now, imagine yourself preaching from that pulpit.
You would love that, wouldn’t you? Not so much to have those hundreds in your congregation but to have that kind of rapport with your people so that when you open the Book, they’re totally engaged and on the edge of their seats, ready to receive.
This requires several things from the minister…
–longevity. David Crosby is in his 15th year. Don Davidson is in his fifth, and Jay Wolf perhaps his 20th at their church.
–preparation. Stale sermons are audience killers. Feed them a few of those in a row and you can forget about them listening when you rise to preach. Only a fresh word from God on a continuing basis can constantly elicit the best response from your people.
–feedback. A good pastor listens to his people. Sometimes he may seek their response; more often, he picks up little comments and innuendos. He listens to his wife and seeks out the honest reactions of his staff members.
–prayer. No one has a greater interest in the pastor speaking well to his flock than the Great Shepherd of the sheep. So, seek His leadership and His will in every area of worship and sermon preparation.
Finally, remember one thing: this is all fluid.
The good communicator today can be a dull bore tomorrow. Never take for granted the blessed privilege granted you by God’s call by refusing to pray and prepare. Even if you have a wealth of experience and have read all the books on preaching, you must still do the basics of study, thinking, praying, planning every week if you would stay fresh and offer healthy spiritual nourishment to the Lord’s people.
Stay close to the Father and stay in the Book. Then stay close to your people. Do not listen to those who say you cannot have close friends in the congregation. They are wrong. You need friends. Choose carefully, however.
Here’s for better preaching and greater love in the church.