Pastor, Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville
Recently I had all our kiddos with me leaving the 11 a.m. service. One of the boys asked, “Are there any snakes out here?” to which I replied, pointing to the driver’s side of the car, “There are no snakes on this side of the vehicle.” Immediately, two boys started tip-toeing and watching the ground on their side very closely.
When we got into the car and headed to lunch, one of the boys sitting on the passenger’s side asked, “Were there really snakes on our side of the car?” I said, “Who told you there were snakes on your side of the vehicle?” He said, “You did.” I said, “I never told you there were snakes on your side of the car. I said there were no snakes on my side.”
I know, I know — I can almost hear some of you saying my name reprovingly, including my middle name, like my Momma used to do when I was in trouble. But we all had a good laugh and a discussion about putting words into another person’s mouth.
We pastors are often surprised by what people think we say in sermons. Fortunately, I have recordings of my sermons and my sermon notes to say, “This is what I said, and this is what I meant to say,” but that doesn’t necessarily change people’s opinion of what they think they heard. More often than you might imagine, people will hear a preacher say something through their filters of pain, past experiences, or presupposition and read into the preacher’s sermon words that he never said or intended, and then get offended at the imaginary sermon!
Are we preachers capable of getting our tangues tungled? No doubt. Committing faux pas? Absolutely. Preaching almost a whole sermon with Jacob and Esau mixed up? Been there. But most preachers I know really do want to handle the Word of God well as faithful stewards and messengers.
May I offer some suggestions when listening to your pastor break the Bread of Life, especially when what he says makes you feel uncomfortable?
Pray for him. Really, pray for your pastor as he prepares and then stands to deliver the message God has given life to in his heart. A diligent preacher will labor in prayer and the Word many hours to preach a single message. Multiply that by the number of sermons he prepares in a week’s time (usually two to three and sometimes more), along with all his other ministry responsibilities. And don’t forget your pastor’s family (if he’s married). He needs your prayers.
Give him the benefit of the doubt. That isn’t trivial. Preachers make gaffes, but what you think you heard might not be what he actually said.
A man in my home church told his wife that he had a problem with what our pastor said in his sermon. His wife asked what he was talking about, and he said, “… the part about God wanting to give us a new wife. I don’t want a new wife; I love you.” The wife laughed; the pastor said that God wanted to give us a new life!
Don’t assume the worst about your pastor; give him the benefit of the doubt. It really will make a difference in what you hear when he preaches.
Be careful about wanting a pastor who tells you only what you want to hear. If your beliefs and worldview are never challenged or stretched, your pastor is either not preaching the whole counsel of God or you’re not listening. Most pastors know when they’re preaching uncomfortable or unpopular topics. But know this — your pastor cares for your soul (Hebrews 13:17). That’s why he’s willing to risk offending you to speak truth into your life. He’s accountable to God for what He preaches, so beware of itching ears
Be merciful if he doesn’t meet your expectations. Unless you’ve been in a pastor’s shoes (or a pastor’s family), you have no idea of the spiritual warfare he battles. Like everyone else, pastors have their vulnerabilities, doubts and struggles. But God’s grace is sufficient to keep fighting the good fight. You never really know the battles your pastor fought to bring you the Word come Sunday.
Participate in the preaching by actively listening. But don’t stop there: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Nothing causes the Word to take root and bear fruit like obedience. In fact, you’d be shocked at the difference in your spirit and life between simply hearing a sermon and living one. Jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker used to say, “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”
Of course, you’ve got to be present to participate. Gathering with God’s people, worshiping in one accord, hearing a word from God — these are all part of what it means to be God’s church. So, don’t rob yourself by your absence or neglect when God’s Word is preached.
Your pastor is not perfect but he’s not necessarily wrong just because he says something with which you disagree any more than he’s right when you agree. I offer these suggestions to enhance the relationship you have with your pastor and his preaching. Let’s not get distracted by imaginary sermons.