This week I had someone approach me who was concerned about the nature of the messages I've preached lately. We've been in a series called Leadership, examining the calling and character of biblical elders. And while I'm aware of the fact that this series has not been as overtly practical as many that we do where we biblically tackle issues like divorce, bitterness, relationships, sex, or talking donkeys, I'm still trying to process what I think and how I feel about this "concern" that was shared with me. The issue brought to my attention was that, particularly on the Sunday when I preached on "Pastoral Leadership", this wasn't a topic that everyone could relate to - that there was no "And this is how this relates to your life" moment. If you know me, you know that I'm obsessed with practical application! I am devoted and determined to help people discover what scripture means and how to apply it in their lives. That said, there are moments and circumstances and issues that occasionally need to be addressed that just might not be wrapped up with a bow for every individual. And the bigger issue and question that all this has raised for me is this: Who is the sermon for, anyways?
Some folks are of the persuasion that every time the Word of God is preached that an evangelistic presentation should be made, which therefore would imply that (at least to some degree) the sermon is for the "lost, unbelieving" person. On another note, others will hold that as the Body of Christ - the church - gathers for teaching and fellowship and worship, that this is an occasion for the Body to be built up and equipped - for "iron to sharpen iron" - and for the Gospel to continue to transform those who have already been saved and redeemed. Of course, if you're rational and open-minded, you can conclude that there isn't a mandate regarding WHO the message is aimed at or HOW the Gospel is preached. But going back to the argument of "If there is such a person as a 'Seeker', then what is it that we think they're seeking?", I would contend that even though a person who hasn't placed their faith in Christ might not walk out "feeling" overwhelmed with conviction over a message on "Pastoral Leadership", does that person not need to know the character of those God has called to lead His church? Are there messages, due to their lack of evangelistic appeal, that shouldn't be preached? Does there need to be a disclaimer before every message: Don't invite your lost friends today. The sermon is not for them. Don't Know Jesus? This message is NOT for you! Isn't this a bit ridiculous?
The other related issue that was raised is, "I like to invite my lost friends on Sunday. What about them?" Again, while I understand that we need to take every opportunity to speak and preach the Good News of salvation in Christ to the lost, are there not days and messages that are going to be explicitly aimed at "equipping the saints"? Is there an "evangelism quota" that I missed? To lay it out there, what I believe is that there is a rhythm and balance and discernment that comes only from the Holy Spirit that anyone charged with the honor and privilege to preach the Word of God is responsible for seeking on a regular basis. It comes from communion - from a desperate dependence on God to not only lead us to know what to say, but how to say it, trusting that HE is going to bring it to life in the hearts of those who need to hear it. And that pastor or evangelist can't be scrutinized every time the sermon doesn't "speak to me". (I'm also fairly certain the prophets were scrutinized a bit, too.)
[I do find it perplexing that most people either want to walk out on a Sunday feeling like the Pastor - or, uh, the Holy Spirit, I mean - blew rays of sunshine straight through their key appendages and orifices...OR...feeling as though they have had their toes stomped and been punched in the face and gut. Some folks want to be coddled and affirmed. Others want to be wrecked. How do you accommodate all the pious preferences?] *You don't.
Let me be clear: the first and last thing I said to this person who came to me with these concerns was "Thank you"! As a pastor, it refreshes and renews my heart when someone has the courage and conviction to call me, come in and look me in the face, and say, "This is what's on my heart". I'm not writing all of this with a dogged stance of what I believe the right answer to be. For certain, I have an opinion. But I would love to hear your's as well. Do you go on Sundays with an agenda? Or are you open to what the Lord has to say...even if it's not aimed straight at you?