Thursday, December 28, 2006

Forum: Friendship and fidelity

If you preach week-to-week with a congregation, you know the challenge of being both faithful to the incisive power of God's Word and cordial with the members. To be true to his calling of proclamation, a preacher must walk the fine line between simply being well liked, preaching comfortable words to make folks feel good, and preaching soul-piercing words of repentance, words guaranteed to make significant portions of the congregation want you to shut up and leave. (If you've read this post you'll know why this topic is on my mind lately). On the one hand, congregations will listen to a preacher only if they respect and trust him, and to a great extent the preacher must do his part in developing a warm relationship with the members. On the other hand, the truth a given congregation needs to hear, at least some of the time, is precisely what many members do not want to hear.

So I ask: What do you think? Through the past couple of years I've benefited from the wisdom of those of you who read this blog. Whether you yourself are a preacher or not, please share your observations and insights on how a preacher can stay on good terms with his congregation and still preach the transforming Word of God.

Update: If you want to see the real treasure of this post, have a look at the comments. Thanks to all of you who shared your insights.

11 Comments:

Anonymous brian said...

Obviously, a big difference is the attitude and tone we use when preaching the hard lessons.
If we approach and present it humbly, the Word is still sharp without yelling and being harsh, it will have the impact that is should without the people taking offense from the preacher (at least it should, some will always be offended).

good question, balance is definitely needed

9:07 AM, December 28, 2006  
Blogger David Wilson said...

Milton, first let me say I'm sorry to read of your dismissal. I survived a congregational vote one upon a time. Looking back after 13 years, I realize that I knew the Word pretty well at the time but didn't know the people well at all. When we come to a church, they have a corporate history and each has a personal history. Just because there's a new preacher with a fresh vision doesn't mean that goes away.

So my attempts to work on what an ER doc would say were the "presenting problem" were well intentioned and sincere, but not knowing the patient history, I did not have knowledge of how well the cure would be tolerated.

I've been here almost 8 years. I know these guys and they know me. Sermons are just one tool I have to help the Word shape their lives. My love for them is the most efficient and powerful tool I have. A question asked in private conversation can create movement where a statement in a sermon creates bitterness.

I also work hard in sermons at leading people to see the truth rather than sticking it under their noses.

It's a job way over my abilities.

10:20 AM, December 28, 2006  
Anonymous Colin Adams said...

Its an interesting question. Three things came to my mind:

1) We always need to travel down the road a text takes us, however hard that is for the congregation. This is where preaching through whole books is such a good thing: the preacher isn't picking and choosing topics. For example, recently our church studied through James and much of the in-your-face material was well received since it was part of a series.

2) I've found it helpful with hard hitting texts to say 'we' not 'you' in the application. Including myself among those that need to learn the lesson ('we can do better at this as a church') helps the congregation to feel less 'got at.' It shows that I am approaching the topic humbly.

3) Perhaps above all, if love and concern is our abiding attitude, it will usually shine through. People tend to know whether we are for them or against them when we tell them hard things.

That said, the next sermon series at my church is Jeremiah. But wasn't Jeremiah thrown in a cistern for speaking plainly the word of God?!

7:41 AM, December 29, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Good, helpful stuff so far, and thanks Brian, David, and Colin for your input.

I've found that this blog has some very mature, considerate readers, and some of you may not be commenting because, based on my recent experience of being sacked by my congregation, you don't want to stir up any more hurt for me.

But I'm OK. Carolyn and I have a pretty clear picture of what happened at our last congregation, and we're at peace with the job I did. This forum is not a soul-searching exercise for me, but a means for exploring an issue every preacher faces.

So if you have anything to add, please jump in. This forum open through Friday.

9:21 AM, December 29, 2006  
Anonymous Totem to Temple said...

Milton:

I believe that this is a two way street. It takes a preacher who develops respect and trust and being viewed as approachable and human like the congregation. At the same time, it takes a congregation who is open and willing to allow their preacher to preach the Gospel without hanging his job over his head.

I believe if a congregation is willing, humble, and obedient, that the minister can preach the uncompromising word and still be loved, admired, and respected because of the fact that the minister does preach that uncompromising word and refuses to allow society, the 'faction' within the congregation, the board, and/or the latest Christian megatrends to influence the sermon.

9:56 PM, December 29, 2006  
Anonymous Robert Talley said...

Tough question but the important questions usually are. I agree with everything written so far but would add some small things that I have done.
1. Warn someone that what I'm preaching isn't directed solely at them. It is impossible to preach practical, Bible-based sermons without knowing who the sermon "should" hit. I'm surprised that those who I think should get it don't and those who I think don't have a problem in a certain area respond to the sermon. I wouldn't say that is a good thing.

2. Let people know (both in the sermon and in other ways) what you are trying to accomplish spiritually and pastorally. I begin a series on Titus tomorrow based on controversy over leadership qualifications. The introduction states as much. People understand that tough issues must be dealt with. My biggest concern is that I don't show them up in dealing with the issues.

5:58 AM, December 30, 2006  
Anonymous Phil McAlmond said...

Milton, I have dropped by many times since you have posted this. I have also written several different responses, some of which I see now have in one way or another been written and I am pleased with this.

However, my hesitancy in writing anything, is that I felt there was simply too much to write and this seemed not to be the place to write it. SO I simply didn't.

I didn't want to over simplify the issue or at the same time over complicate it. In truth, I must have been over thinking it, so I didn't write anything.

Having been in this place before, I will add only one more thing to all that has been said. I would say, that for me, when I looked back, I realized that I had failed to take the time to build relationship with the new congregation.

I never earned the right to speak as I needed to speak into their lives, especially concerning the more in your face things of God's Word. Trust wasn't there but I had assumed it automatically was.

By earning the right I mean, I never gave them the time to get to truly know me and my heart before the Lord Jesus and before them. Nor did I truly get to know their heart as a congregation. I was simply in too much of a hurry. I assumed they would know this and understand that.

I also assumed that I needed to save time and get to it so we could get through the tough stuff and get to the fruit on the other side.

Anyway, this is my reflection. Relationship building takes more time than we are often, especially in a new church setting, willing to take. It is all about heart, respect, love and trust. We all too often presume upon these things instead of taking the time and effort to build them.

Blessings in Christ Jesus!

10:19 AM, December 30, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

T3, Robert and Phil: Thanks for sharing your insights. There's lots of good stuff here from all the commenters.

10:48 AM, December 30, 2006  
Blogger PamBG said...

I'm never really certain whether to comment on this blog, truth be told, but I shall give it a try from the point of view of "the person in the pew". Obviously, I have no idea of what the issues are for you, so I am simply speaking from my own experience of 49 years of listening to sermons.

1) I appreciate the sermon being delivered in a way that indicates some humility on the part of the preacher rather than in the manner of "I am the voice of God and no-one may disagree with me." I do think it's possible to be humble AND to deliver a specific message. I think it's possible to say "This is my most faithful reading of the scripture and what I believe it to be saying" without sounding like one is beyond contradiction.

2) When preaching about sin, I appreciate feeling that the preacher is preaching as one sinner to another. Someone mentioned the use of the word "we" and I think the perspective should always be "we" rather than "all of you", when it comes to talking about sin.

3) In my life, I have generally found that God is a lot more gentle and patient with me than human beings are. God has gently revealed some horrendous sins to me when I was ready to hear them whilst human beings have gotten very angry and intolerant about some of my more petty sins. (I believe that soteriologically all sins are equal, but ethically, I do believe in greater and lessor sins. That makes me a bad Protestant, perhaps.)

4) I don't know if I'm willing to state this is a "rule", but I shall test out the idea. I suspect that when preaching has as its main aim the changing of the congregation rather than the uncovering of the Gospel, that it probably goes wrong.

10:20 AM, December 31, 2006  
Blogger russn said...

Milton,

I'm not a preacher, so as a person not in vocational ministry here are my thoughts.

Humility: admit you don't know something and that some texts have a wide range of viewpoints from mature Christians who after much study, prayer, and thought arrive at a wide array of views. From the context of the text it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what is meant by the writer. I'm guessing like the rest of us, you don't have it all figured out yet... :-)

Transparency: talk about what God is doing in your life. Where is He challenging you? Where have you resisted His promptings? What lessons were learned during the resistance? Where have you experienced breakthroughs because of obedience? How do the answers to those questions bring you to preach on the passage/topic at hand?

Fellowship: I've been blessed to be part of a small group of men who meets regularly - one of the men in the group is our pastor. We share life - struggles, joys, hurts, questions, and random thoughts...seeing the non-pulpit side of my pastor has convicted me of the need to pray for my church's leadership much more diligently than I have in the past. Do you have a small group of people outside your family who you can be real with and bounce ideas off of?

Blessings to you as you wrestle with these questions

11:48 AM, December 31, 2006  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Good stuff, Russ. Thanks.

9:18 AM, January 03, 2007  

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