"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

21 June 2009

The Needs of The Preacher (moved)

Several weeks ago, I posted "A Sermon Listener's Bill of Rights" and promised, nay, more likely threatened, to post a Preacher's Bill of Rights shortly thereafter. Thankfully, I got busy and didn't get any such thing posted. In reality the preacher has no rights. Ministry is all about emptying ourselves of our rights in favor of our responsibilities. But the preacher does indeed have a responsibility to preach, and the congregation does have an impact on how well we are able to do our work. So, while the following are by no means rights, the road of responsibility goes both ways. As my responsibility is to preach, yours, o beloved congregation is to allow God to form you. What follows are helpful hints, perhaps, in how to be formed during sermon time... otherwise entitled:

How to Love a Preacher

1. A preacher must preach, but it is helpful if we do not feel that we are preaching to the walls around us. I described one former congregation as being "like preaching to a rock-pile." Preachers need feedback, either after the service or even during it. I said earlier that raising your hand and asking a question in the middle of my sermon is perfectly acceptable by my standards, but even with other preachers, asking questions afterwards or even showing discomfort is helpful. Granted, not all preachers like feedback, but we all do need it. And as much as we're supposed to make eye contact with you, be expressive, look alive; we kind of like it when you do the same for us.

2. A preacher must be heard. We really need to be freed from your preconceived notions and ideas. Let us challeng you with the Gospel. If I'm worried that you'll go off in a huff, if I think you'll be easily offended, I'm likely to hold back some truth that I have a duty to deliver to the congregation. Perhaps the hard words are not for you, but then again, maybe they are. If you are not willing to submit to the Gospel, why bother to show up on Sunday mornings?

3. Don't shoot the messenger. Do you think we like telling you that you need to change your lives? Do you think we like upsetting the apple-cart? Any of us who have had even a minute of pastoral care class will think twice before reminding you that God hates sin (including your sin no matter how harmless and perhaps even cute you think it is). We get taught NOT to step on toes, and if there's any doubt in what becomes of prophetic preachers, we have Scriptures to give us plenty of case studies. But sometimes we must step on toes indeed. It's because we love you that we do not withhold the truth, even when it hurts us to preach it.

4. Be willing to change. This is probably the twin brother of point two, but I can't state it firmly enough. People come to the church because they want to feel good. They say they want the church to grow, but they don't understand that even a little growth, be it personal or church-wide, means change. Sometimes a sermon's entire job is to root through our corporate or even personal lives and pull out what doesn't belong.

5. Recognize the preacher's authority. We speak in the name of God (which means we should be speaking the words of God, discerned through prayer and Bible Study and faithful service) and we stand under the authority of our bishops and the Holy Spirit. We have a duty under that authority to broach sensitive topics and you have a duty to respoind appropriately.

6. Read along in your books. Yes, just like when you were six and listened to books on tape. In this case, open up your Bible while I preach. If for some reason my own ability fails, the Scriptures can still get the point across, but if I'm preaching it right you'll want to look at the "real" words on which I'm basing the sermon. Ask yourself the questions I've asked all week: what is the context of this passage? what's going on? what cultural background can shed some light here? who are the major players? how does this fit in with the overall message of God to mankind? Then, if I don't answer one or more of those questions to your satisfaction, you can do a great job of living out point one by asking me those questions when the time is right.

7. While we're fallible, more often that we care to admit, we are supposed to be representing God when we preach. Would you put a stopwatch on the Almighty? 'Nuff said.

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