- 2017Nov 15
By “pet peeve,” we mean only a minor disagreement. An annoyance. We find certain things irritating, but they are not deal-breakers. No federal case, no mountains from a molehill. Okay to disagree. A personal thing is all.
One. The pastor rises to begin his sermon, and says to the congregation, “Will you stand in honor of the Word of God?”
It sounds noble. It is meant to inspire honor for Holy Scripture.
My question is: So, preacher, do you have them jump up every time you quote a verse of Scripture? Then, why do it at the first? And if you say this practice is scriptural, which it is (Nehemiah 8:5), then why don’t you have them stand up throughout the entire sermon? The Bible says Jesus sat down to preach (Luke 4:20). And somewhere it says the people stood up while he preached.
What it feels like–to me at least–is the preacher is trying to come across as holier than those who do not ask people to stand for the reading of the Word. He saw some other preacher do it and thought it was a good idea. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, only that it’s unnecessary and may be motivated by less-than-noble motives. But it’s not a deal-breaker. Do it if you feel strongly about it. (Ask them to stand every time you quote a verse, however, and this will go south quickly! Smile, please.)
Two. The preacher opens the service rebuking the congregation.
“Good morning, everyone.” They call out a response. Then he says, “Oh, you can do better than that. I said, GOOD MORNING!” And the congregation gives it a second try.
Or, he says, “God is good,” and the congregation answers “all the time.” Then he rebukes them for a tepid response to his noble declaration.
Better to say it and move on, preacher. Never begin a worship service of the living God by rebuking the worshipers.
Three. The layman who gives a testimony goes on and on and on.
If you’re going to invite an inexperienced speaker to share in the service, pastor, have someone work with him/her in shaping their message and holding it to its time slot. The typical layman has no idea how fleeting time can be when speaking to the congregation. I’ve seen them open with, “They’ve given me five minutes…” and ten minutes later, they say, “In the time I have remaining….”
Four. Too much talk before a song.
In most cases it’s a guest singer who introduces their song with a story. And almost in every case, it was unnecessary. In fact, it detracts from the effectiveness of their presentation.
I know why they do it, and you do too. They’re nervous and a brief time of talking will ease their jitters. But they should practice going straight into their song without the banter. A good worship leader will help prepare them to do this. (And will caution the singer not to talk. The preacher will do the talking.)
Five. The person praying forgets he/she is praying on behalf of the congregation.
They says “I pray” and “I ask” and “I make this prayer.” Someone has misinformed them that “you cannot pray for everyone,” or something to that effect. But our Lord taught us to pray “Our Father,” “give us,” “lead us,” “forgive us,” and so forth. When praying before a congregation, you are praying on behalf of everyone. So, it’s we and us and our.
Six. The deacon prays “as we take up this offering.”
The problem is only a half dozen men are “taking up” the offering, while a hundred or more are “bringing our offering.” So, the prayer should be “as we bring our offerings today….”
Seven. The invitation is tacked on to the end of the sermon.
The pastor preaches his message and only after finishing it does he mention that “we are inviting you to confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior” or to join the church. For a visitor or newcomer, this would be the first mention of the invitation. Best to mention it earlier in the sermon so people can be prepared.
Eight. The children leave the sanctuary before the sermon.
As the children are exiting–presumably to something called “children’s church”–I think to myself, “Hey, that’s my group! I want to go with them!”
Leave the children in the sanctuary. Let them learn to worship alongside their families. And of course, let the pastor remember the children are in the room and include them in the sermon.
Nine. The song service takes up so much time, people are tired when the pastor rises to preach.
This is my opinion–as are all of these. But ideally, the song service should occupy no more than 20 to 22 minutes, after which the pastor rises to preach. Put the offering after the invitation, next to the announcements. That way, everyone is still fresh when the Word is opened.
Ten. People end their prayer with, “In Your name we pray.”
Show me that one in Scripture. It’s not in there. We are encouraged to pray “in Jesus’ name,” although most prayers in the New Testament do not use that formula.
What it feels like when someone says “in Your name we pray” is they want to leave Jesus out of it. And that’s always serious business to some of us.
That’s my list. What did I leave out that you would have included? Feel free to tell us in the comments section below.
- 2017Nov 08
"Let thy words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
We preachers know how to "multiply words without end."
It’s our occupation, and it’s an occupational hazard.
They call on us for a few words and half an hour later, they wish we would sit down and shut up.
When one preacher asked why his hosts had not called on him to say grace throughout the entire week they’d been together, the man replied, “Because we want to eat tonight!” (I was there and I heard it.)
“Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him… Yet the fool multiplies words” (Ecclesiastes 10:12-13)
We fill the silence with words, fill the air with our thoughts, try the patience of everyone around us with our wordiness. Long prayers, wordy introductions, repetitive announcements, the list is unending.
I’m in a different church almost every week. The announcements will often sound like this: “The women of the church will be meeting Tuesday night in fellowship hall to discuss missions in China. That’s Tuesday night, right? In fellowship hall. I sure hope they bring those delicious cheese straws, the way they did last time. I think Mildred Phillips made those, right Mrs. Phillips? Anytime you want to make me a serving of them, you know my address. Heh heh. Okay. So, the women are meeting Tuesday night in fellowship hall.”
Lord, deliver us. What is wrong with such a preacher to purposely get on the nerves of everyone like this!
Aw, we know. I’m a preacher. I know all too well.
The wordy preacher likes the attention. He enjoys the spotlight. He loves the sound of his own voice.
Lord, deliver us.
Wordy preachers multiply words in sermons for lack of thorough preparation.
If I do not prepare for telling a story I’ve heard or read, it may take me five minutes to relate it. But if I plan it ahead of time and rehearse it, I can do it in half the time.
We preachers sometimes think people need a sermon of so many minutes. A half hour, maybe. Or an hour in some places. The times we have fudged and turned in a message of half the expected duration, the criticism of a few has wafted its way up to us. "For this, I drove all the way across town?" "I don't come to church for a 15-minute sermon."
We foolishly take those criticisms to heart, and make sure we never again speak briefly.
In funerals, we anesthesize the pain of the mourners with our soothing words that lull them to sleep. After 45 minutes of our droning, they are ready to lower the loved one into the grave if it will mean putting a stop to this.
The old joke has someone saying to the pastor, "Just because your message is timeless, it doesn't have to be endless."
We pad our sermons with words. When my church gave me six weeks to visit other congregations and learn from them, on two occasions I worshiped with mega-churches where the pastors were media-stars. in both cases, the men of the Lord preached 45 minute sermons with 25 minute messages. That is, each sermon could easily have been over in 25 minutes, but they had a larger slot to fill, which they did with unnecessary words. Filler, is what the newspapers call it. Multiplying words.
This is not a call for 10-minute sermons, but rather for thorough preparation.
Wordiness. You know what it is.
So, let me practice what I’m preaching and end this here. (You’re welcome!)
Publication date: November 8, 2017
- 2017Nov 01
The title is a come-on, to give me the chance to say one huge thing to every pastor: You have no idea what ranks as the most important part of your work.
You think you do. You think it’s speaking to the Chamber of Commerce dinner Thursday night. Or helping plan a community Thanksgiving service. Or guest-teaching a class at the seminary. And it may be.
You think it’s that great sermon you preached a couple of weeks back, the glow from which is still warming your memory. The one which brought several new families to join your church. Or, maybe that mission trip to Tanzania last year. Or the revival last month.
Could be. Or not.
The most valuable ministry thing you have done just may be the time you stopped to encourage a homeless man and bought him lunch. Or that time you gave a new family a tour of the church. Or even the prayer you prayed for a missionary family in northern Italy this morning.
You never know.
As the shepherd of the Lord’s flock, you do a thousand things, some requiring great training and consuming huge blocks of your time, and some so tiny and almost trivial you don’t even remember the next day that you did them.
God sees. He knows. And He alone is your Master, Administrator, and Judge. He has His own value system. And His ways are not yours, His thoughts much higher (that would be Isaiah 55).
To Him you answer. Not to a board, not to a committee, and not even to yourself.
Today, it may be a phone conversation with a church member. Tomorrow, it might be the prayer you offer at the public gathering. And the next day, a spontaneous conversation with a stranger in the mall parking lot.
God knows. You do not.
It is absolutely essential that we in the ministry stop judging what we did as to “what worked” and “what was wood, hay, and stubble.” We have no idea what God has just done with the little thing we offered.
We do it and go on.
“We see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13).
This article can end here. And maybe it should. So, for those who are rushed, thank you for your attention. Have a great day.
But for the rest of us…
I’m remembering a few moments from my long ministry, any one of which could have been platinum to the Lord in Heaven…or nothing very much. It all depends on what He needed and what He chose to do with me that day. It depends on His will, His evaluation, and a thousand things I’m not aware of. And I’m good with that. He is Lord, and all glory, praise and honor be to Him.
Mostly, we will never see what He did, never know which was “gold, silver, and precious stones,” or otherwise (I Corinthians 13).
One. I sat in a four-hour deacons meeting in which I was the subject, the defendant, the issue, with the motion on the table being to dismiss me. The rants and raves were pro and con, fierce and wonderful, strangely wrong-headed and divinely Christlike. Meanwhile, I sat there in silence. During that time, I felt the peace of God like never before or since. It was amazing. But I wouldn’t do it again for anything!
So, what did God do with my four hours of silence? I have no idea. (I know how He ended my ministry there and some of what He did afterwards. But have no idea what if anything He did with those four hours of sweet silence. It’s very possible that when it’s all over, the Lord may say that “this was your finest hour.”)
Two. I was a passenger in the funeral car that broadsided a pickup truck running a stop sign. My head broke the dashboard and I bled profusely. For that, I was given a nice ride to the hospital in an ambulance. The medics fixed me up and I did a wedding the next day wearing a white bandage between my eyebrows. It made for some great photos! Many years later when I was doing a deacon retreat for a church in that city, the chairman told his group something I’d never known. He had been the insurance agent for the driver of that pickup truck, the one responsible for this scar between my brows. He said, “A few days later, Pastor Joe called me and said, ‘Do you think the insurance company would replace my glasses?” They had been broken in the accident. He said, “Now, this pastor could have sued us for a lot of money, but here he was simply asking us to replace his glasses. And that impressed me.” As a result, he said, he started going to church.
I had not known this.
So, was this one of those golden moments by which Heaven rates me as faithful? The agent treated it as such. But it was so trivial and fleeting that I had not remembered any of it–well, except the accident. I still carry the small scar.
Twice in the 12 months since I moved back to Mississippi, men have approached and introduced themselves and told me something I did over 30 years ago. In each case, it was to counsel a young pregnant woman not to have an abortion. Each man said, “I was the father.” One said, “That child was born handicapped and lived only 11 years. But she was the delight of our lives.” The other said, “The baby is now (30-something) years old, and the joy of our hearts.” Each said, “I’ve wanted to meet you to say thanks.”
In each case, I said, “You know that I have no memory of this, don’t you?” But you may believe I was thrilled to hear this.
Most of us never get to do that, to know what a few minutes in the counseling office did for a family. God was so kind to let me see that.
Do not judge yourself; just be faithful.
Every pastor has preached the little incident in John 21 where Peter asks the Lord, “What about John? What’s going to happen to him?” Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow me.”
The Lord will be grading the papers at the end of the day. Grades will be posted. But for the moment, we are still in the thick of things. It’s time to run back into the huddle and get ready for the next play.
Speaking of which…
On the football field, no running back stops at the end of a play and jerks out a scorebook to tote up the yards he has gained. He drops the ball and rejoins his teammates for the next play. High above the field, in the top tier of seats someone is keeping account of every yard gained, every attempt made, every pass completed, every fumble and interception. The task of each person on the field is to be faithful and play the game for which he was recruited and trained.
“To me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even judge myself. But whether I’m conscious of any charge against me or not, it doesn’t matter. The One who judges me is the Lord.” (I Corinthians 4:3-4, paraphrase)