The Sermon/Song/Article Shot Round the World

The other day I posted a note on Facebook that went something like this: “It’s not a resolution for 2011, but my goal is to write an article for my website that gets passed around the world and is used of God to change everyone who reads it.”

That thought has lingered with me ever since, to the point that I really feel it’s something I need to try to do.

And yes, I have checked out my motives on this. I imagine this is not unlike a pastor wanting to preach a sermon that will be read and quoted across the globe. Or someone wanting to write a song that will top the charts. Are my motives pure? I think so. With all my heart I want to glorify the Lord Jesus and to bless His people. In no way is this about me.

As the subject burned in my heart, I began reflecting on what kind of article it would have to be in order to have that kind of effect. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

It would have to–

–touch a nerve. That is, connect with people immediately.

–meet a need. It can’t be theoretical but has to deal with genuine issues.

–tell a story. Stories connect better than abstract principles.

–give a formula. It needs to offer solid solutions to the problem it addresses.

Later, it occurred to me that this is also the description (prescription?) for a good sermon and for a great country song!

So, this morning, I went online and asked Mr. Google how to write a good country song. From several sites and articles, here is what I came up with. Now, remember–this will pertain to a great sermon or the article of mine which is to be ‘heard round the world.’

1) In a country song, you must set your hook early and often. That is, grab their attention immediately. Songwriters say it should hook the listener inside of 60 seconds.

2) “Don’t bore us; get to the chorus.” One writer said, “No one walks down Second Avenue humming a verse.” The chorus is what provides the solution to the problem you presented in the verse.

3) Keep it simple.

4) Tell a story. Here’s a great quote: “Country artists don’t sing songs. They tell stories.”

5) Speak to the pain.

One writer said if you write a song about how much your wife loves you and brings you breakfast in bed, that is not a country song. But if you write: “Woke up this morning/and you were gone,” that is pure country.

Subjects like divorce, prison, alcohol and drugs, bankruptcy, job problems, mama–those work.

6) The great theme of country music is love in all its forms. In country music, no love affair ends well, no marriage is peaceful, and everyone in a relationship is mismatched. So you write about a single who is searching, a married person who has been betrayed and victimized, someone who is burying his lifelong love. Tammy Wynette made a zillion dollars from “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”

7) Write a lot. Someone said, “In order to write a good song, you have to be willing to write a lot of bad ones. And in order to write a great song, you have to write a lot of good ones first.”

Okay. Does this apply to a pastor’s sermon? Does it pertain to my writing the article-of-all-articles that will fly around the world through cyberspace and change lives? It does. Sorta.

Basically, it means, SPEAK TO THE HEART.

This week, I think I found the subject for the article of articles. A minister friend confided in me the difficulties in his marriage. It hit me that the stresses he and his wife are experiencing are identical to the ones Margaret and I have struggled with for nearly half a century. In fact, they never seem to go away. (Wow. That’s depressing, isn’t it!)

So, what if we came up with the answer to this dilemma which besets most of the marriages of those in the Lord’s work? What if we found the story of all stories about ministers and their spouses solving the relationship puzzle? It would surely touch a nerve, meet a need, tell a story, and presumably give a formula for others to use.

Some background on this subject.

For 12 months in 1978-79, Margaret and I went through marriage counseling. We were living in a small Mississippi town without a marriage counselor and had to drive 90 miles each way every two weeks for the two-hour sessions. It was the hardest thing we had ever done.

It saved our marriage for two reasons. The first was that Margaret told me point-blank that if I didn’t go with her for counseling, she was leaving. The second was that we were able to unearth old hurts and slights and pains and deal with them and try to find common ground for moving forward.

In early 1981, at the suggestion of our church staff, we took an entire Sunday evening worship service to tell our story to the congregation. At first, Margaret had not wanted to say anything in the service, but after I took 45 minutes to tell our story, I asked if she wanted to add anything, and she took another 15 minutes. We thought that was the end of it.

We were way wrong.

Two things happened the next morning. The first was that the church phone rang off with couples making appointments to come to us for marital counseling. They had shied away from it thinking there was a stigma attached and wondering if the pastor would understand. Once they saw we were going public with our woes, it liberated them to face their own difficulties.

The other thing was that the Baptist Press called to ask if they could send a reporter down to interview us on our story. Unbeknownst to us, someone from their office happened to be visiting friends the previous weekend and heard us share our tale.

In May of 1981, Baptist state weeklies across America ran full page accounts of our marriage woes–the conflicts we had endured, the year of counseling, the lessons we learned–along with photographs of us in the backyard. Several dailies such as the Houston Chronicle also ran the story.

Letters began pouring in.

Somewhere in a box packed away is the forty or fifty letters we received. Most were from ministers or their spouses thanking us for the courage it took to go public with our story. Two or three thanked us for saving their marriage, saying this had emboldened them to go for counseling too. One letter criticized us for “airing our dirty laundry in public.”

These days, three decades later, our story would cause hardly a ripple. Today, we hear of established ministers divorcing and remarrying, and scandalous stories of God’s servants dabbling in drugs and adulteries and sexual perversion.

Still, the pressures on couples in the ministry who are trying to serve God honorably while maintaining a normal married life are relentless.

What is the number one issue in these couples? The chief issue that concerns ministry couples, the subject that divides them and burdens them with guilt and disappointment, involves the roles of the husband and the wife in the Lord’s work.

Here’s what I mean.

The wife says, “He’s gone all the time. I need him to help me with the children. There are matters around the house I can’t handle. I get tired and depressed. He walks in the house for dinner and the phone rings. Some other church member needs my husband.”

The husband says, “I take my off days as much as I can. She and I have our date nights. But I feel like nothing I ever do is enough for her. What she doesn’t seem to realize is that this is a real job. I have to earn a living by shepherding these people, the congregation.”

She answers, “I do realize that. I’m as committed to the Lord and to the church as he is. But the other people in the church, when they get off work, they go home and have a life of their own. We have no life of our own. My husband is on call 24/7.”

He responds, “We’re not a large enough church to have another staff member to take part of the load off me. Until we are–or until the Lord sends us to a larger church–we just have to make the most of it.”

Somewhere in there is Genesis 3. (I’m thinking out loud here.) I don’t know how it comes to play exactly or where it fits precisely. It’s certainly not the formula-of-all-formulas for ending stress in ministry families, but it pertains.

In Genesis chapter 3, where the Lord makes His pronouncements upon Adam and Eve, as well as the serpent, following the Eden disobedience, two things stand out:

–the husband’s focus would thereafter be directed toward his work. (Gen. 3:17-19)

–the wife’s focus would thereafter be focused on the home. (Genesis 3:16)

This is a fallen world and these conditions are the result of our fallen state. It’s not how things were originally planned to be, but it’s how things are right now. The husband is focused on his work and the wife toward the home. He goes out to earn a living and she stays home (ideally) to have babies and do what mothers and wives have done for thousands of years.

He needs her to do her “homework” well so he can rest up for his labors. She needs him to help her since the work of homemaking and child-rearing is more than one human can do alone.

Frustration is the normal order of things in almost any home on the planet. But in the home of the God-called minister and his God-called spouse, the stress is often multiplied.

Solve this one and you have helped a host of people who are trying to get it right.

That’s my assignment, it would appear. My 2011 work is cut out for me.

Appreciate the prayers.

5 thoughts on “The Sermon/Song/Article Shot Round the World

  1. I hear you buddy…hang in there,,,I mean in the Lord

    Pray for Thy Kingdom come, where there will be no husband and wife in heaven

    God Bless

    ps…c u @ d rapture

  2. I’ll be praying and I can hardly wait for the finished product! 🙂 Blessings to you and Margaret for continuing to share your story. Nothing is ever wasted, is it? 🙂

  3. Hey, you’re already there if you count the pieces from Disciple that I see cropping up in AMG India’s version of Pulpit Helps from time to time.

    In addition to that and to our U.S. subscribers, everything you do for us gets read by at least one person (in most cases several people) in Canada, the U.K., Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Romania, Myanmar, Spain, Thailand, Greece, Nigeria, The Phillipines, South Africa, Peru, Guatemala, Uganda, and Italy.

    Keep up the good work =)

  4. Just yesterday (literally), I shared major marriage struggles and how the Lord helped bring peace to the situation with a christian friend and she said I had lifted a million ton weight off her by sharing. Now, she knew she was not alone, nor the worst wife on the planet with the worst husband. I think the power of our stories are they provide hope and reduce shame.

    May God bless your Goal with more success than you can imagine.

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