Every so often, I am invited to fill in for a pastor and take over the preaching duties at various churches. Well, today was such a day. On and off throughout the last 5 years of so, I usually get a call when the pastor of a small church in Tipton, IN is out of town or on a mission trip. About a month ago he called me and let me know that he was headed to the Ukraine on a 10 day trip and needed somebody to cover for him in today’s worship service.
I have been there more than a dozen times and quite honestly, it is a terrific little church. There are normally 50-60 people who attend worship at Oasis Community Church, far different than the 5000 or so who attend Grace on a typical week-end. There’s only one service, at 9:30 am, unlike the 4 worship services at our home church. Of course, that makes it easier for me, as I only have to deliver the message once. But there is something really special about a small country church.
The people are incredibly friendly and after my numerous visits there, they kind of feel like family. Each time I walk in, Carol, an elderly lady who uses a walker, asks if she can hug me and then at least 10 more people come up and do the same thing – both men and women. It is really honoring that they welcome me so demonstratively into their group. Steve, who leads worship, always has a kind word of introduction for me, and Jim wants to make sure that I have a bottle of water, just in case my throat gets a little dry. Another Jim, whose wife Carolyn died earlier this spring, is the technical person and records the messages.
Like some of the larger churches, Oasis always has a place in their worship service where people take a moment and greet each other. Invariably, as I stand in the first row, people who have already said hello come back up to make sure that I feel welcome. And by the time the meet and greet session is complete, almost everyone in the congregation has caught up with everyone else.
There’s something really special about that kind of environment. Another thing – I have found that I preach differently when I am preaching to a smaller audience. It’s more intimate and as I look abound the sanctuary, I know where the various people sit and can tell if my message is resonating with folks as they they nod their heads in agreement. Usually, I preach an exegetical message – that is, a verse by verse teaching of some narrow passage of Scripture.
I usually don’t jump around a whole lot during the message, preferring to teach a little deeper rather than in a more devotional style. I like to bring in the Greek or a little Hebrew, although it is important to only use those references sparingly. But it does add color to the text – no doubt about it. And today was really special because it was the first time that our grandson Connor chose to join Janet and me for the trip to Tipton.
He’s heard me preach before, a time or two, but today I purposely presented the message in such a way that it would even resonate with him. It’s really important, as a pastor, to make sure that you connect with your audience and adapt your sermon on the fly if necessary to make sure that it is in alignment with the spiritual maturity and engagement of the congregation. You’d be amazed at how the spiritual maturity varies from church to church.
Sometimes, especially when you have a month or more to write a message, you can anticipate different scenarios, build them into your sermon and adjust your message on the fly, if necessary. Other times, when you only have several days to prepare your message, it is much more difficult to have contingencies. People don’t usually realize that it takes about 20 hours to prepare a message from scratch, that is, unless you adapt something from a message you have already delivered somewhere else.
The point of all this is that a pastor is responsible for the spiritual education of the people he/she is privileged to shepherd. This was one of the things that Paul was trying to teach his young pastor friend, Timothy. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he says, in 2 Tim. 4:2, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
In other words, Timothy, and every other pastor, has a responsibility to be prepared to teach the word anytime, anywhere, with Biblical accuracy and with authority. But you know what? That also goes for every Christ follower. For sure, you may not be expected to know as much theology or detail about the Bible, but God wants you to be able to represent Him to those who need a Savior, and that means everybody.
My encouragement this evening is to affirm that God wants you to be able to preach the word – and my prayer is that you will bear fruit. Not only by answering the call to represent the Most High God, but that you will be a tireless proponent of leading people to Christ. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…