Woe to the preacher who gets his affirmation from the approval of his members. “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:24). “Unto his master a servant stands or falls” (Romans 14:4).
This happened to me…
When the husband died, his wife of nearly 60 years was instructing me on how she wanted things done in the funeral.
She mentioned our associate pastor. “I don’t care for his funerals. He talks about himself too much.”
Okay. I had never heard his funeral sermons since he did these only when I was not available.
I said, “What do you think of mine?”
Dumb question. But I asked for it.
She didn’t hesitate to tell me.
“My husband was always very critical of your preaching. And I suppose you know this is why Roy and Natalie left the church and joined that other one. Natalie would say, ‘I left my garden and bathed and came to church for that?’ ” (Note: This couple had left the church 5 years earlier. Frankly, since they had been unhappy with me from day one, their leaving suited me just fine.)
She said, “My daughter says the difference in her pastor and you is that he tells some stories and uses lots of Scriptures. But you tell lots of stories and use some Scripture.”
That was more than enough.
I did the funeral and everything worked out.
A full ten years prior to that incident, I recall a church member giving me his unsolicited opinion of my preaching. He was most uncomplimentary. However, the fact that he was the number one lawyer in a huge firm and at the time president of our state Baptist convention added gravitas to his words and did not do my confidence any good.
In contrast, the negativism of the new widow did not carry nearly the weight of the lawyer’s words 10 years earlier. By this time, I had finally learned that whether they love your preaching or hate it, one does the best he can and does it unto the Lord, not to please men.
No one is always going to love your preaching.
Someone is always going to prefer the way another preacher does it.
Get used to it, pastor.
Not that the church members appreciate that. Some will think that the failing grade they give the preacher automatically makes him a loser who should find another occupation.
At the time of my journal entry, I was saddled with more than a few members who honestly thought their opinion of the sermons meant everything and was the ultimate judgment on my ministry.
It would be funny if it were not so sad.
What makes that even worse is that some of us pastors also feel the congregation’s assessment of our preaching tells the tale.
Some preachers who will read this are being daily reminded that their preaching does not meet the congregation’s standards. He doesn’t go deeply enough into the scriptures. He preaches too long. Or too short. Too many stories. Not enough stories. He should preach louder. Pound his fist and yell. Or, softer and gentler.
He should wear a suit and conservative tie like Charles Stanley. He should wear jeans and let his shirt hang out like Ed Young, junior. He should raise his voice and get red-faced like John Hagee. He should be funny like Jesse Duplantis.
He should preach more prophecy. Against sin more. Get into the Old Testament prophets. He should preach more on social ills–abortion, same sex marriage, transgender stuff, living in sin. He should make every sermon evangelistic. He should stress tithing more. Preach on missions more. Promote the program in his sermons more.
By now, the harassed pastor reading this is in tears. My heart goes out to you, my friend.
I have three suggestions:
1) Get with the Lord who called you into this business and make sure His orders are still valid, that He still wants you doing this. If so, recommit yourself to being faithful.
It’s always possible that the rejection you are picking up from people is an indication God is ready for you to move on to something else. Ask Him. And stay for the answer.
2) Develop a tougher hide. The only one you have to please ultimately is the Heavenly Father who called you into this work. All the rest is just so much static. Good or bad, try to let it flow off your skin. Thank the critic or the supporter, then go on your way.
3) Work at improving your preaching. No one does this perfectly. We are all imperfect souls at best, and yet we’ve been called to be spokespersons for the Almighty God of the universe. If that doesn’t drive you to your knees in humility and dependence, you’re not paying attention. If your name is Charles Stanley or Ed Young Jr. or John Hagee or Jesse Duplantis, you can still do better than you are now.
My name is none of those, and I’m forever trying to find a better way to preach the message Christ has given me. You too? Then, let us pray for each other and encourage one another.
Whatever else we do, however, let’s not go asking church people “How am I doing?” You might not like the answer.