Something pastors cannot do and we should quit asking

Those of us who counsel pastors and teach future preachers are known to caution them to “study the Bible for itself, just to receive the Word into your heart, and not to prepare sermons.”

We might as well tell Sherlock Holmes to enjoy crime scenes for the beauty of the occasion and stop looking for criminals, tell Mike Trout not to worry about actually striking at the baseball crossing the plate but to relax and take in the inspiration of the moment, or tell Hollywood beauty queens to forsake plastic surgery.

Some things you do because this is who you are.

When a pastor comes across a great insight in the Scriptural text, does anyone think for one minute that he is going to file that away in a personal-edification file, never to be shared in sermons?

Yes, he is blessed by it, and certainly it enriches his own soul. But if it does feed his spirit and call him to realign his priorities, you can bet that he will be off and running to trace out similar teachings in the Word with a view to sharing the results with his flock.

That’s how it ought to be. It’s not an aberration at all. He’s doing what he does, what God called him for.

At some point in a Sherlock Holmes story, someone complimented the sleuth on his brilliant deduction. He said simply, “Of course. It’s what I do.”

Think of it: through the years pastors preach two or three sermons every week.  The amount of material they go through is mind-boggling.  Every thing–every thing!–they read and watch and talk about and listen to is grist for their mill.  It has to be this way because without their being on a constant alert for insights and illustrations, they would dry up and fall into a destructive pattern of preaching shallow or repetitive or purloined stuff.

The sermon machine has to be fed, to put it crassly.

I’m remembering an incident from many years ago that caused tension between my wife and me because neither of us understood this fact.

Margaret and I were enjoying a sweet little routine that had been suggested by Charlie Shedd, a popular Presbyterian pastor and author we had come to appreciate.  Once a week, we scheduled a two hour lunch, usually a picnic under a favorite shade tree at the edge of town. In the intervening time, we each read and reread and studied one Psalm which we had chosen.  When we came together, we would talk about what we found challenging, insightful, frustrating, obscure or even troublesome in that Scripture.

It was wonderful.  To this day I recall how refreshing it was.  Time well spent.

My wife Margaret’s mind was so sharp, her perspective so different, and her instincts  so well-developed to see unusual insights in these scriptures that as soon as I got back to the church office, I would head to the typewriter (no computers yet) and type up everything on that Psalm I could recall from our discussion.  It was great stuff. Then I filed it away.

Well, you know what happened next.

The next time I was hard pressed for sermon material and the deadline was approaching, I remembered that file.

I began preaching our stuff.

But I did this without preparing Margaret.  Somehow, it never occurred to me that she would care.

The first she knew about it was the Sunday night I stood in the pulpit and asked everyone to turn to Psalm Whatever, and began expounding the fruits of our discussions.  I did not mention that many of these insights had come from Margaret’s and my weekly outings. That was irrelevant and unnecessary. No matter. Even so, she was offended.

“I thought we were doing that for us,” she said.

That quickly brought to an end our wonderful little picnics, sad to say.

Had I been smarter, more mature, and a lot more sensitive, I would have told her in advance that I needed to do this and how helpful it would be.  I could have made her a partner in the endeavor rather than spring it on her.

For the typical pastor who loves the Lord and treasures God’s Word, there is no difference–none, nada!–in reading Scripture for a sermon and reading for his personal spiritual needs. It all goes into the same vat. What blesses the sermon blesses him. And vice versa.

I suggest we quit burdening pastors with our perfectionistic requests, none of which are biblical, practical, or useful.

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