Copyright by Larry D. Robertson
(Dr. Larry Robertson is pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville, Tennessee. He writes with humor and wisdom on how to listen to your pastor’s sermons.)
Recently I had all our kiddos with me, and we were leaving the 11:00 service. (I had parked on the back side of our church’s Family Life Center.) 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.” LOL!
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 about it…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—hear it through a filter 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 in the message? Been there, done that. 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?
1st, 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 has to prepare in a week’s time (usually 2-3, sometimes more), along with all the other ministry responsibilities a pastor has. And don’t forget your pastor’s family (if he’s married)!
Preaching is hard. Kudos to the preachers who make it look easy, but even they will tell you that preaching is hard work. Pray for your pastor.
2nd, GIVE HIM THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. I know that sounds trivial, but it really isn’t. If something the preacher says makes you go, “Huh?” maybe he committed a gaffe. Or maybe, just maybe, what you think you heard is not what he said.
A man in my home church told his wife on the way out of worship one Sunday night that he had a problem with what our pastor said in his sermon. It really bothered him. 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 had to laugh; the pastor had said that God wanted to give us a new *life,* not wife!
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.
3rd, BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT WANTING A PASTOR WHO ONLY TELLS YOU WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR. If your beliefs and worldview are never challenged or stretched from the pulpit, 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.
4th, BE MERCIFUL WHEN HE DOESN’T LIVE UP TO ALL YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Unless you’ve been in a pastor’s shoes (or perhaps a pastor’s family), you have no idea of the spiritual warfare that comes with being a pastor. No pastor wants to show his vulnerabilities to the sheep God has entrusted him to shepherd. But know this—he has them…we all do. We have our doubts, and we have our struggles. But God’s grace is sufficient to keep fighting the good fight. And on that note, you never really know the battles your pastor’s fought to bring that Word to you come Sunday. So, show him some mercy when he doesn’t live up to the performance of your favorite podcast pastor, who, incidentally, may very well have professional speech writers on his staff to craft his sermons. No kidding.
And finally, PARTICIPATE IN THE PREACHING EVENT 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, worshipping 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 you don’t like any more than he’s right just because you agree. I offer these suggestions to enhance the relationship you have with your pastor and his preaching.
Am I biased? Perhaps. But do you remember the famous tagline from the old Hair Club for Men commercial? “I’m not just the president of Hair Club for Men, I’m also a client!” Well, I’m not just a preacher, I’m also a disciple—a learner—in need of the Word of God being spoken into my life, too.