Sermons, these days, come in a variety of forms. Many suggest there should only be one kind. Add to that the expectation that the pastor is the one doing the preaching and one may easily see how things narrow quickly.
If preaching obtains to any level of formation, then it surely evidences a bi-directional experience. Should there be any hope a pastor might participate in the means of spiritual transformation, he or she must not ignore the way the congregation participates in the event of that same formation.
Yesterday began as most Sundays for Patty and me. We arrived at Snow Hill and got to our regular routine. The one difference we could not escape revolved around our thoughts and conversations of twenty years with one congregation. “Can you believe it?” “Did you think we would still be here?” “What would we do without this family of people?” “Is it possible we may stay for the longer haul?”
We both enjoy our Sunday Bible Study groups. Patty works with our 1st and 2nd Graders. I am one of three teachers in an adult group. We learn as much from those who think we are leading as those who say they have gleaned much from our time together.
My Dad and I offered a duet for our Call to Worship. Patty requested we sing together. We chose a Wesley hymn and added a tag with our Worship Team. Rusty led one of my favorites hymns growing up. During our Children’s Time I introduced a past staple, The Mystery Box. Each week one of our young ones will take the box home and put something in it and then leave me to offer a “Children’s Sermon” using the item they chose. It can get quite interesting.
Nathan read a poem during our time of reflection. Once finished he noted that I likely had prepared a sermon but that I would not preach this morning. The congregation wanted to celebrate our 20 years together. There were heart warming reflections that conjured more than a few memories. We then dismissed for lunch together that had been secretly set up in another part of our facilities. Surprise!
The congregation preached the sermon. We shared mutual thankfulness. I admit that it is hard to hear someone extolling what they perceive to be your virtues. Maybe it is that I would prefer to describe others’ investment in the life of our church, and our lives. Not yesterday. The tables were turned and I have to admit that it felt a bit like celebrating the sort of community that Dallas Willard described as The Community of Prayerful Love in his book, The Divine Conspiracy.
One of the comments Nathan made, we have shared life together on staff for nearly 12 years, was that success is marked not by numbers but by difference. That is, are we different people, more Jesus-y people, having shared time together. Formation runs both directions. Snow Hill has made as much a mark on us as anyone might suggest we have on her. Maybe one thing we miss in our amped up visions of pastoral leadership is that congregational life is for our mutual sanctification, not just for those who come to hear the pastor, or preacher, preach. In fact, formation takes shape more deeply outside the weekly worship event.
So, I did not preach yesterday. There was a sermon and the congregation preached it, we did so together.
Ahead here on the Blog – 20 for 20 – A Look Back and Ahead