A View from the Pew

Preaching is not easy.

Having grown up in a preacher’s family, I observed the profession up close and personal for most of my formative years.  The preparation for preaching requires focus and attention to the message, and sometimes, at the expense of dealing with your family.  I guess there were times I felt left out, and I saw in other preachers’ families that there were problems.

I’ve even done a little preaching myself, if that is what you can call it.  I’m a teacher by trade, so I feel more like what I do is teach.  Whether you call it preaching or teaching, it takes a lot to get the job done.  While reciting facts and learning how to work problems in a classroom can be important, there is something that seems of even greater moment in teaching in the spiritual arena.  If you are a believer, the things that you present need to be singularly accurate so that you don’t lead someone off the right path.  The consequences may be eternal.

James told his readers that not many should seek to be teachers.  That’s a good thing.  But it doesn’t take the responsibility off those in the pews.  In fact, there is practically as much responsibility in being a learner as in being a teacher.  Why?  Because while the onus if authenticity and truth is on the teacher, the onus of judgment and application is on the learner.  He or she must carefully weigh all that is presented and determine if indeed what is presented is accurate and true and not so much opinion or mutated doctrine.  Learners must be willing to meditate on the information presented and try to apply it as best they can.

But if a person chooses to preach, he needs to have a tough hide.  Not everyone will like his message, especially if it is constantly negative with virtually nothing to build up the faithful who populate the pews week after week.  Slamming all of the “denominational” error does nothing to help people deal with the real problems of life.  And we do have to live in the real world facing real problems, not just tilt at the minutiae of doctrinal variance.  Make no mistake, doctrine is important.  But you can’t have a nit-picky doctrinal debate while you’re facing a crumbling relationship, dealing with a serious illness—your own or a loved one’s, or need help in facing some frequent and serious temptation.

For many people, defining your beliefs by what you are against is unfulfilling.  Tell us what we are for, help us meet our personal issues and shortcomings, and give us a real arsenal in our ongoing battle to defeat temptations.

I recently heard a preacher complain about the trials of trying to evangelize a community.  People are rude, they slam doors in your face, they yell at you….That’s where the tough hide comes in handy.  But they would be well-served to use that tough hide to wrap a genuinely tender heart, not the kind that wallows in self-pity, but the kind that tries to put itself in the place of the person who just treated them abusively.

If you can’t handle being yelled at, why do you take to the pulpit three times on Sunday and proceed to yell at your audience for all you are worth?  When Jesus sat down on the mountain and opened his mouth to teach, there is no record of him yelling at his listeners.  Even after he had fed a multitude and tried to teach them about the bread of life, and many turned away, not wanting to consider his hard teaching, he seemed more hurt than angry, asking his disciples, “Will you also go away?”

I firmly believe that the message is more important than a loud delivery.  Shouting proves nothing.  Reason and calm serve more.  Shouting makes you appear angry.  Speaking displays confidence.  Yelling turns people off.  “A soft answer turns away wrath.”  Look it up.

Another thing I have often heard preachers declare before an audience is that if they are wrong, show them where they are wrong and they will change.  On more than one occasion, I have pointed out an error in some interpretation, and was met with less than jovial acceptance.  Relying on the narrow focus of the brotherhood’s own commentators is dangerous, and reinforces the sectarian bias that plagues so many groups.  Look at issues from all sides, and see how others in other faith traditions view the issue.  As my dear friend always used to say, we should always study the Bible with the idea that we may be wrong.  Remaining open to different conclusions allows us to judge the views of our own heritage more objectively.

Being willing to change is probably the harder part of that concept.  But if we are to be true disciples and not just half-hearted adherents to Jesus’ teachings, we must be willing to change when we are confronted with our own misunderstandings and incorrect views.  Like Apollos.  Like Peter.

I know how hard preaching can be.  But if one is to be truly effective, it takes more than shouting and canned outlines.  It takes a keen eye for what people really need.  And for many people, that’s going to be a hand up and a shoulder to lean on, not a shove from behind and a kick in the pants.

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One Response to A View from the Pew

  1. Max Ray says:

    From your preacher dad, AMEN!

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