Sometimes pastors take themselves too seriously. Sometimes pastors can have a big ego. Sometimes pastors need bringing down a peg or too. Sometimes pastors seem to think we should hang on their every word, as if we’re blessed to have them open God’s word to us Sunday by Sunday.
I’m pretty sure those pastors are out there but I wonder how many of them there are because I don’t know many (any?) like that. Most are hardworking people who love Jesus and care for the disciples Jesus has given them to care for. They don’t do it perfectly; they know that, in fact they are very aware that – Sunday’s sermon never really took off. It just trundled about, taxiing on the runway. But they studied and read and prepared and edited and then edited some more, they prayed – though looking back now perhaps a bit more prayer (OK if we’re honest a lot more prayer would have helped). And they offered their best. And they’ll do it all again this week, or next if they’re part of a team.
They try their best to pastor well but are very aware of their weaknesses. They know that you can hear better sermons online. They know that they are at best average at most things and often minister out of their weaknesses rather than their strengths. They know how generously people give so they can be set aside to do what they do. They don’t take it for granted, and they don’t do it for the money or the kudos.
The vast majority of pastors don’t need putting in their place or cutting down to size. So how do we help the vast majority of pastors? How do we get better sermons?
Be active not passive. How do you encourage your pastor? Be active in listening to the bible taught in your church – engage with it – yes it will take some effort, yes it means you don’t unplug and mentally disconnect and put on your facial screen saver – you know the one; slightly gormless and with the glazed eyes (I know you think this isn’t what it is, you think you look attentive – let me tell you you don’t!). Actively listen, follow the Bible passage yes, even the cross references rustle those pages, and if you dare (go on I dare you) actually make eye contact with him as he preaches. Actively pray before you go to church, or on the way to church in time with the kids moaning – Jesus teach me, Jesus show me more of who you are, Jesus please show me more of your love for me, Jesus are we nearly there yet (Oh sorry that was the kids).
Be active in your application of the passage afterwards. After the service ask someone how they are going to apply that to their week? Or ask for help in thinking through how you would apply it? And don’t do what we so often do which is avoid doing that by doing theological naval gazing – Oh I wonder if the Greek word really has another meaning? – or by applying it to others, or to the standard default evangelical applications – read your Bible, pray more, go to church, give (if it’s near budget year end). Stop doing those and instead ask what does it actually look like for you to put this into practice, not as an individual, our default, but as a disciple, a husband, dad, mum, wife, grandma, granddad, aunt or uncle, colleague, boss, neighbour, church member, and ambassador for Christ in the community?
And then, and here’s the radical bit, don’t allow that to just be hot air, to be ‘just talk’. Actually follow through. Do it. Live out what has been taught. And then some weeks later drop a note to your pastor about what the fruits of his sermon were, they’ll still be a work in progress, it’ll be faltering, it’ll be two steps forward and maybe one, two, or maybe even three, back. But I guarantee it’ll spur your pastor on to keep teaching, keep praying, keep preparing because he can see fruit not a barren wasteland. And ultimately that encouragement and your own active engaging in the process, prayer, and application will mean you get better sermons, more fruit from listening.