Most of being a pastor is wondering if certain people will be there, followed by wondering why certain people weren’t there.
While preparing sermons, I often consider how certain people will react to what I’m preaching. I can see their faces. I reflect on past conversations with them and the verses that trip them up. Every person in church has issues and verses they struggle with that I’ve learned over time.
When those issues and verses come up, sometimes I want those people to be there and sometimes I don’t.
Whether they are there or not doesn’t change my sermon content; I’m no Pilate, making decisions to keep the crowd happy. But I will shift my tone or attitude and I find this to be good. I want to be sensitive to people’s true concerns without compromising the message.
I also know that many doctrinal issues have been disputed for hundreds of years. My one sermon is not going to settle the argument. As I prepare my sermons I go over how to say things in light of these people, in light of their past issues, or even on a church-wide basis and the history our church has had with these issues.
Once the sermon is preached, I anticipate the reaction those people will have to the sermon. Will they say anything to me? Will they complain? Will their life change?
Usually I’m met with silence. I got to talking to someone and so did they and then they were gone.
Then I wonder for the rest of the week if they will email or call. Then I wonder if they’ll show up to church.
If they don’t show up to church the next week, then I’ll spend days afterwards wondering why they weren’t at church. Sometimes I bite the bullet and give them a call or shoot them an email, test the waters, see what’s up.
How many church services can a person miss before you start wondering if they’ve left the church?
Sometimes when people skip I have no idea why. I rack my brain trying to remember what I said or did to tick them off. Usually they are just camping.
I know I’m not supposed to fear people. I know I’m not supposed to change the message based on who is there, or at least that’s what people tell me. “If I please men, I cannot be the servant of Christ” says Paul. Who also said, “become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some.”
Paul is a fascinating guy. Clearly he was not in the business of winning friends. At the same time, he’s rather conciliatory on issues many times and softens things depending on his audience. His Mars Hill sermonette is a classic example. He didn’t blast them. He used an idol to make a point about the One God they didn’t know.
Paul took a Jewish vow at one point to maintain the peace with Jews. At the same time he threw all manner of accusations and offensive truths at them and their doctrines.
So, where’s the line? Pastors who don’t care who is there and just recite their sermons, or blast away no matter what anyone thinks can’t be doing it right. Clearly those who water everything down to not offend anyone are not doing it right.
I think the message is the message. The verses mean what they say. Don’t deny the plain, simple truth of Scripture. At the same time, I do think there is place to be sensitive in our approach in relation to who is hearing us. If we know this is a tough issue with a brutal past for people, tone the rhetoric down, speak with love and grace for the purpose of edifying.
It’s good to prepare your sermon in light of who you are talking to. It’s good to wonder who is there. But try not to beat yourself up too much about guessing why people aren’t there. They’re doing the over 1.3 million other things it’s more fun to do than come to your church is usually the answer.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.