A friend in-real-life was listening to one of my sermons recently and had a question. He wanted to make it clear that I was not going over his head but wondered if everyone in my congregation was always able to follow. I told him that some of points in the case I was making were repeated from things we had either studied or I had preached before. I kind of figured they would remember some of it. The other thing I pointed out was that my particular audience had a lifetime of experience; some of those church members had been at that church since before I was born. I would tailor my presentation for a youth group or a congregation with many new believers. You gotta know your audience.
That conversation got me thinking. A speaker should know their audience but at the same time a church congregation, men’s meeting, conference organizers or Sunday School class should know what to expect from a speaker. Here is what to expect from me personally.
I read a lot of scripture. It’s not uncommon these days, even among active church members, for the only Bible reading they do to be what the preacher reads from the pulpit. I used to apologize for sometimes reading a lengthy scripture passage but I don’t anymore. I always begin a sermon by reading a passage of scripture then identifying the writer and audience, define any words that need to be and talk about what God was saying at that time to his audience. Then we talk about application; what is God saying to us through this passage, what can you do this week after hearing this message? That is my understanding of expository preaching. I will preach an expositional sermon almost every single time and even a topical sermon will be presented in an expositional manner (an expositional sermon has a topic). The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible so I frequently use other scriptures to back up the points I am making. Obviously my sermons will focus on Advent and the Passion/Easter narrative when appropriate and during the year I will usually focus on missions, discipleship and at least one sermon on the last supper on a day we take communion. I find preaching sermons in a series liberating and often preach through complete books or at least portions of books of the Bible.
I preach from the Old and New Testaments. Some Bible teachers and even pastors use Old Testament characters to teach lessons about morality but that’s as deep as they go. Noah was obedient to God’s command to build the ark. Abraham demonstrated his faith by willingly offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice. I find it disturbing that sometimes those teaching or even preaching the Bible don’t understand how those stories relate to our story. I use Old Testament passages to underscore our understanding of the New Testament and vice versa. The Bible tells one story about how a holy God relates to people that are sinful, fallen and broken. At the center of that story is Jesus. If you spend all your time in one testament or the other you will miss some things. God is Near may only be 88 pages but it takes many weeks when I preach through that series.
Pastors do more than preach even though prospective pastors are almost always considered on the merits of their preaching. I have preached funerals, met couples for pre-marital counseling, conducted marriage ceremonies and baptised in an SBC church. I would almost rather visit a funeral home than visit family members in a hospital room but I have made plenty such visits of that type as well. Let me clarify (that last statement runs the risk of being misunderstood). If Bill is in the hospital I will gladly stop by and chat with Bill and pray with him before leaving. If Bill is sleeping or in surgery, and I end up sitting around with Bill’s family members that are not church members, I find that situation awkward. I’m not sure what those people expect of Bill’s pastor or if they even want me hanging around at all. I also enjoy meeting with men for prayer breakfast, working on a carpentry type construction project, playing church softball (or used to) and making mission trips with whatever age group. Driving a bus sometimes gets me invited to youth camp for a week, weekend retreats or special trips like Six Flags or the Creation Museum. I had 22 years experience in youth ministry, and taught school for nine years, before being called to my first pastorate.
True story: I once had a church deacon that was down with a bad case of gout. He was able to hobble around his house on crutches but that was about it. He and wife lived on a small farm and had been having trouble with beavers building dams in their pond’s spillway. They caught a beaver in a snare one Sunday afternoon but he couldn’t get any closer than their porch. His wife was willing to do a lot of things on the farm but could not shoot and kill the snagged beaver. That is not a call a pastor would ever expect but I gladly went out to their farmed, shot the beaver between the eyes and helped the wife load the it into the back of their pickup truck. This deacon had changed light ballasts and pressure washed playground equipment at the church, I shot his beaver with a .22 pistol. If you don’t live in the South or attend a small country church this story may sound like a work of fiction but it’s all in a day’s work in Plainville. The bottom line is I will do anything for you I can, some things I will be able to do and others not so much. I’m not as young as I used to be but I am not afraid of doing hard work.
So what about you? When has a pastor (or church staff, or volunteer) gone above and beyond your expectations? Or when have they fallen short? For those in vocational ministry, have you ever encountered unreasonable expectations? Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.