Few things are more gratifying to a pastor or teacher as a person saying, “I never knew that before today?” It happens from time to time. Sometimes I am amazed that something I think of as basic knowledge is now heard by someone for the first time. Listeners usually draw satisfaction from these times as well. But there are times the response is one of consternation on the listener’s part. I always wonder if I was unclear; or if I am dealing with a deeper issue for the person who takes me to task for something they heard me say. And then there are the ones who never considered the idea at all.
Never Being Told
“Don, you need to get what you are saying down to the trough so the pigs can get to it.” A well-meaning person offered me this advice when I first started preaching. It is true I have a large vocabulary. But I never think of the people in pews as pigs. I did not reply. “Do not throw your pearls before swine or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” (Matthew 7:6) Is a most interestingly placed text. Matthew puts right after Jesus discussion that begins “Do not judge.”
I find that many of my colleagues did not teach what they learned. It may be they fear the trampling underfoot and mauling will occur? But that is a judging before the facts. Are we more afraid of offending someone than the person who would gladly offend other people? I cannot relay here all the names I have been called. But I admit some of them are accurate.
Preachers are bad about trusting their congregations. We don’t teach what we should, keep our heads down, and bide our time until something else changes. And we starve congregations of some real spiritual guidance. The people in the pews then look elsewhere and receive bad spiritual teaching from people who are willing to give it to them.
Developing A Style
A church member once told me how he thought his regular Sunday school literature was great until he took the Disciple Bible Study. His greater knowledge turned to a greater appreciation for what the pastor might know. And he spent a lot of time after the study picking my brain for more information. Disciple was not merely taught by someone with a workbook and video. The publisher wanted the teacher to take training to know how to teach it.
Preachers and teachers need to develop a style for what they do. I use a more or less conversational tone when preaching. I am no orator. But I do speak in complete sentences. Some people are very good speakers who make homilies and lessons sound like speeches.
Style of delivery is not much use unless their is something to deliver. I was once asked to teach a certain book of the New Testament that many fundamentalists keep trying to decipher. I explained to the fundamentalists in my church who asked for the lesson to get used to how I teach first. It made the impact of what I said less devastating. Only one person swore she would never attend again. I was relieved she left.
Listening But Never Hearing
We have all run across people who only wish to have their prejudices confirmed. Progressive pastors dread the conservative looking to take offense. But what about the quiet person in the pew who is afraid to speak up? I mean the person who would take a more open position if only they could find an ally? What is it like for that person who is listening but never hearing what they know should be said?
The resources provided by progressive blogs and books by progressive leaders do help such people. But they are also isolating. Hopefully, progressive pastors reading this blog and others are encouraged to speak up prophetically. The existence of these blogs proves there are readers. (We are paid for by advertising) Some of them may be nearer to you than you think.
Finally, there are the people who were taught all about “gettin’ saved” and want to know what a Christian should be doing in their lives. These are the people who are surprised by what I think should be basic knowledge. What should they never have to hear?