Saturday, March 01, 2014

Preacher on a Tightrope - Eleanor Shepherd

 One thing I have rediscovered in returning to my original calling as a pastor is that a preacher walks a tightrope trying to present to the congregation a balanced approach to faith.  Having never had a great sense of balance, I find that staying on the wire sometimes demands my full concentration. Even then, my balance is precarious.
            Let me give you some concrete examples.  Recently those who share the preaching roster with me decided that we would create a series of sermons based on different encounters that Jesus had with people.  One of the early messages in the series was one that I prepared about the woman who met Jesus at the well in the town of Sychar in Samaria.  Much of the material was from a story that I used in my book on listening skills.  The sermon highlighted the compassion that Jesus showed to a woman who was searching for love.  There were those who found this message quite helpful.  Others used this opportunity to remind me that they felt that too often, I speak about the grace of God and I do not emphasize enough the requirements that God has for us to live according to His standards. 
             I listened to the criticism and tried to weigh out my response, asking myself if I was purposely avoiding challenges to the congregation.
             A few weeks later my husband, Glen and I were sharing the preaching.  This time the encounter with Jesus focused on the interviews that he had with possible followers from Luke 9. This passage focuses on the cost of discipleship, demonstrating that when we choose to follow Jesus it does not guarantee that we will embrace a life that will be easy or problem free.  Quite the opposite can be expected. 

            This sermon provoked the comment that it would not have been a good service for someone to bring a friend who might be thinking about becoming a Christian, as they could be frightened off by the challenges we presented. “They made it sound so hard”, this person said.

            As we climb on the preaching tightrope we try to figure out how we can honestly present the truths of the faith without leaning too far one way or the other.  One thing we know for certain is that we must be faithful to the texts of Scripture as we preach.  That itself presents a significant challenge.  While we do not want to present to the congregation our own ideas, we nevertheless cannot help but interpret Scriptures according to our understanding of it; our approach is not neutral and has been coloured by our background and teaching and the application of Biblical principles to our own lives.  
            It never ceases to amaze me that when I am shaking heads with the members of our congregation as they file out of the sanctuary, someone will stop and tell me how helpful something that I have said was to them in their Christian journey.  As they quote what I said that was meaningful for them, they say something that does not seem to me to resemble anything I said.  What I then realize is that the Holy Spirit has interpreted my words to them according to their needs.  He alone can maintain perfect balance on the high wire and when they hear and respond to him they will not fall away.

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award



Tracy Krauss said...

it is impossible to please everyone all of the time. this post reminds me of our time in ministry where my husband and I had very similar experiences. In the end, it is the Holy Spirit, as you said, that speaks to men's (and women's ) hearts. As long as we are focusing on letting God lead us, that is all we can do.

Peter Black said...

Oh yes, I know that feeling of walking the pastor / preacher tightrope, and have had parallel experiences by way of congregant response.
It's wonderful though, how the Holy Spirit touches hearts and transforms lives, in the midst of and despite our feelings of inadequacy and personal discomfort.
Thanks Eleanor. ~~+~~

Bobbi Junior said...

Your insight that "the Holy Spirit has interpreted my words to them according to their needs" is, for me, the most important.

When I listen to a message with an ear to judge, I hear things that raise a critical heart. When I listen with an ear open for the Spirit to speak to me, I hear what I need to hear.

Perhaps some of the responsibility must be on we, the congregation, as well.

Thank you for reminding me of the tightrope walked by those God calls to preach and teach.

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Thank you, Bobbi for your encouraging thoughts.

Fred and Wendy said...

Well said Eleanor. Keep on the tightrope. I've always thought the miracle of preaching is that people can hear anything I might say. We all count on the ministry of The Holy Spirit to communicate the real truth people need to hear for where they are.

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