Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus.
I wasn’t always an Ohioan. No, I grew up in Southern California where it’s always sunny, almost never rains, and when it does, people take the day off work because who can survive in those kinds of conditions? Whatever you want to imagine about what it was like for a California native to relocate to the Buckeye state, you are correct. My wife and I learned a fun lesson that first winter as we searched our closet full of t-shirts and shorts in vain to find something warm to wear when the sub-zero temps arrived.
But what’s most curious about Ohio is not really the winter, because snow is part and parcel of what it means to live in the northeast. What’s more peculiar is spring, when the snow finally melts, the sun emerges at last, and the promise of warmth is something that exists beyond the confines of your heating blanket. Except, it doesn’t. Those early days of spring, though dazzlingly sunny, are also brutally chilly, and by chilly I mean downright arctic. An experienced Ohioan will tell you to not be easily fooled by that sinister sunshine inviting you to come out of your warm and safe abode, because winter has not relinquished its rule quite yet. Early spring is a beautifully sunny but devastatingly chilly reality.
I imagine this is how many pastors might describe their experiences over the past year, as mask mandates, political unrest, and racial tensions have created mountains of uproar in their congregations. I wonder at the level of paranoia this has surfaced in you? There you are, greeting your people on a Sunday morning, seeing the smiles behind the handshakes, but apprehensive due to the unhappiness you suspect is lurking beneath the exterior of those smiles. Sunny but chilly, is how we might describe them.
How do you pastor a flock like this? A flock that has opinions. A flock that has preferences. A flock that has disagreements. A flock that has grievances. A flock that may be outwardly pleasant but inwardly burning over the myriad of unpopular decisions you have had to make as their pastor? There’s a good chance it’s affecting your preaching, too.
- Maybe it’s caused you to be so overly careful with your words that you feel clinched up inside when you enter the pulpit (that’s me).
- Maybe you’re battling feelings of anger when you look out at your congregation (or imagining them during a livestream) and it’s making your words overly sharp and aggressive at times (me again).
- Maybe fear has produced a timid spirit in you that avoids saying anything that could be potentially misconstrued, even if it’s true and needs to be said (still right here, guys).
How do you deal with these sunny but chilly dispositions of your congregation? A few encouragements from a guy who’s dealing with them right alongside of you:
- Don’t Forget Their Fragility – Covid in particular has many people grasping for control over whatever areas in their life they think they can get it. But it’s the nature of these disorienting times that have exposed the church’s profound neediness before God. Don’t forget their fragility. Instead, consider your own, and let that move you to compassion for theirs.
- Know What You Don’t Know – Behind the faces of your people contain hundreds of untold stories. We get small glimpses into the lives of our congregations, so it’s helpful to be mindful of the complexities that lie beneath these cherished, but unfinished sculptures. Knowing what you don’t know humbles your heart toward the pain you can’t see in theirs, and helps you remember that the heartache they have is likely not due to their pastor. Let this move you to deeper compassion.
- Receive Them With the Grace Jesus Has Received You – Your sunny but chilly people are not all blizzards and ice storms. Despite their struggles, God is giving them much grace to show up to church, sit under your preaching, serve the body, and be generous givers. It may be that Christ uses the sacrificial warmth of your heart to thaw some of the icy residue that has collected around theirs. This too, is grace.
And grace is what will transform our conflicted hearts into compassionate ones that break like Jesus for the hearts of our sunny, but at times, chilly people.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36