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Guest post: How to listen to your pastor’s sermons

LarryDRobertson

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.

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Book review: “Preaching By The Book: Developing and Delivering Text-Driven Sermons”

Preaching

R. Scott Pace, professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written this concise, but thorough, manual on how to preach expository sermons.
The chapters are structured — like many sermons– with alliterated titles, under three main parts (The Foundation, The Framework, The Finishing Touches), and chapters under those parts (Inspiration, Investigation, Interpretation, Implementation, Introductions, Illustrations, Invitations, Conclusion). However, a better way to understand this book is found on page 18, where he gives a chart of a seven-step process of sermon development. The rest of the book fleshes out the skeleton of these seven steps. As an experienced preacher myself, I can testify that this is a very helpful, balanced, and Biblical approach. It is helpful because it is practical and applicable. It is balanced between theory and practice, and balanced in cautioning against extremes (such as not using too few or too many illustrations). It is consistently affirmed with Biblical reasons and quotations. The only major omission I noticed was no discussion whatsoever of Bible translations, which is a dilemma for many preachers.
Given the brevity of this book (115 pages of text), I was surprised at how much it covered. He does not go into great detail, yet he covers every important topic in the sermon process. He gives sufficient information and examples where needed, such as on page 62, where he gives a sample outline of a text. He frequently gives practical advice, as on page 15 where he advises the rule of thumb that the preacher dress one degree more formal than his listeners, and on page 106 where he suggests a preacher give those responding to the invitation one word to say as they come forward, to cope with their nervousness.
Overall, this can be an excellent textbook for a class on preaching (supplemented by a professor’s assignments of practicing sermon writing and delivery), a primer for a new preacher, and a tune-up for the seasoned preacher.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from B & H Bloggers. I was not obligated to write a positive review.

Did the preacher really say that? Pulpit blunders and bloopers

ShockedCongregation

I once heard a dignified preacher talk about visiting Hoover Dam. He said, “I looked over the whole dam project.” There was a pause, and then he blurted out, “I mean the project of the dam!” That’s when the congregation erupted in laughter.
It’s an occupational hazard of preachers. As pastor Chuck Pourciau says, “If you say a lot of words, the odds are that eventually something will come out wrong.” I asked some pastors to share their stories, and they generously told the following. Don’t judge them for things that sound risqué by accident. It was not their intention.

Preachers know it is dangerous to talk about politics, but Jonathan Kittrell remembers trying to say something about Osama Bin Laden and accidentally saying Barack Obama. However, his biggest blooper was not when he misspoke but when he miss-stepped. He did a character sermon on Job in costume. It going beautifully until he sat down on the stage. He forgot to put shorts on under his biblical attire. (I think that story is brief enough.)

Dick Allison was pastor of FBC Jellico, TN. He was preaching about Joshua and the walls of Jericho, except that he continually said throughout the sermon, “The walls of Jellico came tumbling down!” (Now that’s what I call bringing the sermon home to the congregation.)

Larry Robertson says that once he was preaching a topical series on Sunday nights about “Hot Potatoes,” hot topics/ethical issues facing the church. That evening he was going to be addressing the issue of pornography, and he was encouraging everyone to be there, only that’s not how it came out. He said, “We’ve been looking at ‘Hot Potato’ issues facing the church on Sunday nights lately, and tonight we’re going to be looking at pornography. You don’t want to miss tonight’s sermon as we look at pornography together…”

Robbie Passmore says he was preaching a funeral and instead of saying Lighthouse, he said Outhouse. (He may have been in the dog house after that funeral!)

Chuck Pourciau was once doing a graveside service, and said, “Thank you that Mrs….” He meant to say the name of the deceased, but instead he said the name of a friend of the deceased who was sitting under the funeral home tent, very much alive. He thought, “I can’t say, Thank you that Mrs. So-and-so isn’t dead, too,” so he just started the sentence over again and said the correct name.

James Canada says that once he meant to say “a live organism” but he left out a syllable, which undoubtedly caused the congregation to gasp.

Donnie Brannen has several stories about the bloopers of other preachers. He heard a syllable stumble like the one above, and another blooper by a preacher friend who was asked by the deacon body at his church to address the issue of women wearing pants to church. As he preached, he said, “When the Bible was written, pants weren’t even invented. What the Bible says, is that men shouldn’t dress as women and women as men. But women’s pants are not men’s clothing. They don’t look the same; they aren’t cut the same. Men, have you tried to get in your wife’s pants lately?”

Now before you get offended at these stories, let’s acknowledge that many Christians need to lighten up and not take ourselves too seriously. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is a time to laugh, and Jesus pronounced a blessing on laughter in Luke 6:21. So when the preacher’s tongue gets tangled, smile a mile, forgive, and remember that we are all sinners saved by grace.

Before you speak against God’s servant, consider this

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Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses? – Numbers 12:8, NASB

I often hear people complain about their pastor and other ministers. They complain about the lack of visitation, or about all the changes being made in the church, or about the style of preaching, and on and on.

Moses was the recipient of complaints all the time from the Israelites. Chapter 12 of the Book of Numbers tells us that his own brother Aaron and sister Miriam got in on it. As a result, Miriam was struck with leprosy, and the Lord asked a penetrating question, “Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant…?” (Numbers 12:8) This is a good question for any church member to ask before speaking against their ministers.

I’m not saying that pastors can make no mistakes. Moses was not perfect. He made excuses at the burning bush, and he lost his temper with the Israelites. He had to suffer the consequences by not leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. But that was for God to decide, not the people.

I’m not saying a church member should remain silent when the pastor is guilty of moral failure or doctrinal error. As Ecclesiastes 3:7 says, there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

What I am saying is that for many church members, when it comes to their opinions about their ministers, there is too much speaking and not enough silence. And not enough prayer. And not enough soul-searching. After all, Numbers 12 indicates that the issue that Aaron and Miriam had with Moses was not really his leadership– their real problem was that they didn’t like his wife. But since they knew how petty it would sound to complain about his wife, they complained instead about his leadership.

So before you speak against your pastor, take a deep breath, and realize the seriousness of what you are considering. Then spend time praying about it, and ask God if there is something else really bothering you that you need to address in your own life. Then if you still feel you must speak, go to your minister privately with your concerns. Go no further, unless the pastor is immoral or heretical.

Just in case the scriptural warning is not enough cause for pause, learn a lesson from history. Eudoxia was the Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire, wife of Arcadius, the Emperor who reigned at Constantinople around A.D. 400. The bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, boldly preached against the wealthy living in luxury while the poor suffered, and Eudoxia didn’t like it. So Eudoxia had the bishop deposed and sent into exile. Shortly thereafter, she suffered a fatal miscarriage.

It doesn’t matter how important you are in your church, be afraid of speaking against the servant of the Lord. Be very afraid.

 

When you’re “not getting fed” by the pastor’s sermons

BoringSermon

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

A few days ago, an employee at the hospital where I work as a chaplain stopped me to complain about his pastor’s sermons. He said, “I’m thinking about leaving my church. I’m not getting fed.” It’s a common complaint about sermons, but what exactly does it mean? I decided to ask him. “What is he preaching?” I asked.
The man said, “He is going through the Gospel of Mark, one chapter each week, and he reads it and explains it.” Then he repeated his complaint, “I’m just not getting fed.”
I said, “Wait a minute! You just told me that he is preaching the Bible, and then you say you’re not getting fed? You have a responsibility to eat the food that is put in front of you!”
As I asked him more about the pastor’s sermons, it turned out that the real issue was that he thought the sermons were boring, because the pastor didn’t add illustrations or personal application. I encouraged him to talk to the pastor privately, thank him for preaching the Bible, and ask if the pastor could add some illustrations and application to help him understand it better. I urged him to conclude the private meeting by praying for his pastor.
When I told this story to my wife, she said that I should also have encouraged him to take notes on the sermon. Her advice reminded me of an episode in my own life. I visited a certain church when I was out of town, and I went to lunch, feeling that the sermon was boring. But as I prayed about it, God reminded me that the sermon was directly from the Bible. So I returned to the evening service with a pen and paper, and took notes on the evening message. It was amazing how much better the same pastor preached was when I came with a different attitude.

Not every preacher can be as eloquent as Charles Spurgeon, but I’d rather have a boring preacher who preaches the Bible than an interesting one who simply entertains. Jim Jones was an interesting preacher, but in 1979, he led 900 people to Guyana and they committed mass suicide following him.
So if you feel you aren’t getting fed by your pastor’s sermons, let me ask you a question: Is he preaching the Bible? If so, are you bringing a fork?

The preacher who had too much fried chicken

  As Thanksgiving comes and goes, most of us will feast on turkey, ham and many other wonderful foods. But you can get too much of a good thing– even fried chicken.
Fried chicken is so popular at church meals in the South, that some people call it “gospel bird.” But Dan Spencer from Thomasville, Georgia, tells about a preacher who had too much gospel bird. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but it makes a good point.
This particular minister was preaching a week-long series of revival sermons. Each day, he was invited to eat at the home of a different member of the congregation. And every day, they served the same thing– fried chicken. Most preachers like fried chicken, but not this man, which only made matters worse. Finally, he came to the last meal of the week, and when he sat down to eat, he looked and saw in front of him the same dish: fried chicken. The lady of the house asked the visiting preacher to ask God’s blessing on the meal, and this is what he prayed:
“Lord, I have it hot
and I’ve had it cold
I’ve had it young
and I’ve had it old
I’ve had it tender
and I’ve had it tough.
And thank you, Lord,
I’ve had enough!”
Sometimes we feel like that in life. Sometimes we just get to the point that we’ve had enough. We wonder if we can take any more of the troubles that life dishes out to us, such as financial problems, health problems and family problems. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed, even if it’s a good thing, we can get overloaded with work
and busyness.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for us to stop and remember that in Jesus Christ, we can find peace when we’ve had enough. As Christ said, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33, HCSB).
So pass the chicken. I think I can take one more bite.

Finding a preacher who can sweat

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
An older pastor retired and moved back to his home in rural Mississippi. A few days later, his phone rang. Below is a verbatim transcript of the phone conversation:
“You got a King James Bible?” the person asked.
“Yep.”
“Can you sweat?”
“Yep.”
“Got a handkerchief to wipe the sweat?”
“Yep.”
“Then I know a church looking for a preacher.”
Apparently, those were the qualifications for a preacher– a King James Bible and the ability to sweat when preaching.
The apostle Paul added some other qualifications. According to the King James Version, he said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23-24, KJV)
So if you’re looking for a preacher, find one that preaches about the cross of Jesus Christ, for the message we all need to hear is about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin. And if the preacher can work up a sweat about it, that’s an added bonus.