The Pastor You Have
This month I begin my 22nd year as what is often called the Senior Pastor (a title I do not like, my preference is simply Pastor). In these 22 years, along with another five years in associate positions in the local church, I’ve learned a few things about the role. I’m no expert at every aspect of pastoral ministry, but I am somewhat an expert on the pressures and temptations for the man in the Pastor’s shoes.
One thing I know is that, human nature being what it is, the people in the pew are no different from the pastor in that we are both quick to lose interest. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a Pastor tell me, “It’s time for me to move on.” Just as many times I’ve heard a church member of some other congregation confide in me, saying, “I think our Pastor needs to move on.” Sometimes “move on” is the right thing for the pastor to do. More often, however, what is needed is a growth of either congregational maturity, pastoral maturity, or both.
I hope your pastor is a mighty man of God. I pray that he studies the Word, wants to preach it in truth, is a man of private prayer, has a heart to protect his flock, and honestly longs to give a good report before God. I’m sure, however, that while your Pastor isn’t good at everything in ministry, he’s better at some things than others.
When a church has had a pastor strong in leadership, they want a pastor strong in pastoral care. When they have a pastor strong in pastoral care, they long for improved leadership. If he is strong in the pulpit, they want him to be a joy in fellowship. When he’s the best man in town to have at the fellowship, they wish he was stronger in the pulpit. In the end, no man can meet all these expectations.
My talent is teaching. I love to study, and I love to communicate what I’ve studied. I yawn at leadership conferences. I get drained in fellowship settings. I always bite off more than I can chew, and I chew for a long time before I swallow. For some, I’m the church’s worst nightmare. For others, I’m her modern-day knight. I’m most appealing to those who like expository teaching. That crowd is somewhat of a small niche of society, and thus I’m not likely to get the fastest growing church award anytime soon. Over the years I’ve become comfortable with who I am, what I can do, and even with the fact that I won’t appeal to everybody.
But I have also learned about a great danger. I know what people like and I can deliver if I want to. People who appreciate my teachings enjoy a barn-burner of a sermon that spits and sweats, calls out the sinner (especially if it’s the sinner somewhere else), and shouts fire and brimstone. In my circles, if I preach an anti-government sermon (as I did recently), I’ll get the applause of man (literally). This is dangerous because I could easily become an anti-government preacher. If I did, I would get applause every week, my church would grow, and my speaking invitations would multiply.
But I cannot be an anti-government preacher and be an expository preacher. I can’t preach a soul-winning evangelistic sermon and an expository sermon every Sunday. I can’t make every single Scripture so riveting that the audience arises in spine-tingling acclamation at the sermon’s conclusion. To do so would mean I would have to subvert the underlying text and cater to my listeners rather than accurately preach the Book.
Many preachers have learned the tickle point. They know what the people like to hear. Maybe it is application, maybe it is humor; maybe it is hell-fire. Preachers can deliver, and when they deliver, the crowd will grow (and so will the offerings). I recently attended a Baptist convention meeting and saw this time-and-again: the speakers speak to their audience. They know what the audience wants to hear, and they deliver. When they do, the audience applauds loudly, and the preachers in the audience learn by example: give the people what they want and you will garner approval and secure invitations to speaking engagements.
My audience for this article is the man and woman in the pew. You can help your church grow in the Word and in spiritual maturity when you applaud the preaching of the Word. Encourage your Pastor in his studies. When he preaches a long (and possibly dull) sermon that explains a text that isn’t front-and-center in the needs of the congregation nor filled with practical application, would you thank your Pastor for being faithful to preach the word” and “be instant in season and out of season?” You need to do this, because when your Pastor preaches the barn-burner topical sermon, he will hear so many people say, “This is the kind of preaching I like to hear!” Others will tell him, “I wish you preached like this every Sunday!” Some will make it more spiritual, saying, “The Spirit was really moving this morning.”
Your Pastor can preach an exciting topic and a barn-burner this Sunday and every Sunday. In the end, he’s got a choice: preach God’s Word, or preach an exciting topic.
As for me, I’ll be preaching the Word this Sunday.