The story of the Crucifixion is powerful. The cross was more an instrument of torture than it was one of execution. Some film makers have made it their mission to portray the agony of the cross with as much graphic realism possible. Maybe it’s that realism or something else but it seems to me that many Christians are stalled at the cross, thinking it is what Easter is all about.
It’s not. Easter is about victory, hope, and redemption. The only reason to go to Good Friday is because we can’t get to Easter without it. However, the enduring symbol of Christianity isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a crucifix. Rather, it’s an empty cross. The reason we don’t make a cross with its victim our primary symbol isn’t because we can’t bear seeing Jesus hanging on it. We make an empty cross our primary symbol because Jesus is no longer on the cross. He has defeated it and all it stood for.
So, for believers, Good Friday is a “No Parking Zone.” We spend time on Good Friday remembering the cross and especially the love of Jesus for us that caused him to endure it. But we happily turn the page to Sunday morning, Resurrection Day.
Easter services shouldn’t be about the Crucifixion. References to the cross should be about Christ’s victory over it. If pastors and other church leaders have done their job the ordeal of the cross should have already been brought to the attention of the Church. That paves the way for Easter. Individuals too should make it their practice to visit the cross on a regular basis, but not park there. Its the Resurrection that transforms the crucifix into an empty cross and its the Resurrection that should be our primary focus. Let’s turn the page from Good Friday and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and what it means to us.
For many years prior to retirement from pastoring I took Mondays off. I generally took a long walk, did some banking, and pretty much crashed. Since retirement, of course, most days are “days off” so Mondays are pretty much like any other day of the week.
Right now, I’m filling in for a friend who is taking Sabbatical leave so I’m back “on the clock” at least in part. My only real responsibility is preaching the Sunday morning sermon although I’m “being the pastor” in a few other ways as well. I certainly don’t have the full pastoral load.
The interesting thing to me is that that old Monday weariness has returned. It has to be the preaching and maybe interacting with a number of people throughout the day because I’m not doing much else. I confess that I’m not much of a people person, so spending a large part of the day chatting and “being nice” does wear me down a bit. Still, I think the preaching is the biggest part of it.
It’s not as though I’m a high energy, pacing, pulpit pounder. My style is conversational, considerably thought through, and much prayed over. To most non-preachers I know that that doesn’t sound like much and some may accuse me of whining or maybe just of getting old and more easily tired. Honestly, there may be some truth in the second accusation and hopefully none in the first.
However, I think that there’s a least a reminder here that pastors work harder on Sundays than most people think they do, even if all they “do” is preach a sermon for 30-40 minutes. The preparation, both academic and spiritual, takes a toll. The energy spent, even with Spirit anointing, is considerable.
I don’t think I’m just whining or wimping out. Pastors carry a burden that takes a toll and they both need and deserve a Monday day of rest.
I heard a well-prepared, well-delivered sermon that was intended to conclude with an invitation. As the sermon was finished a sweet spirit was evident in the service and I fully expected to see several people respond. The case had been made and the Spirit of the Lord was at work.
But the preacher wouldn’t land the sermon! Instead, we heard one more story followed by yet another application. By the time people were actually given opportunity to respond the moment had faded and the response was meager.
There are two points in the sermon that especially need to be well thought through by the preacher. The first is the first part of the sermon. The other is the closing of the sermon.
I’m not saying that sermons should never include “in flight” direction of the Holy Spirit, even at crucial points (like leading to a call for decisions). However, the preacher needs to be careful to leave the Spirit room to work in the hearts of the listeners and be leery of telling “one more story.”
Once again we’re in October, the month set aside in many churches for pastor appreciation. This is my first October in many years to not be appreciated! The reason is that I retired last May. I think this gives me a unique perspective on pastor appreciation month.
Through the years I’ve been blessed in so many wonderful and undeserved ways by the congregations I’ve led. One of my favorite honors was being given tickets to very good seats at a ball game. Another year we were given a DVD filled with words of appreciation by members of our congregation. Of course gift cards and cash are always welcome gifts.
I think pastors with children are especially blessed by being given a night out, including babysitting and the cost of a nice meal together.
Thinking in more general ways about pastoral care I think many pastors need to be encouraged to take some time off. These days most pastors have spouses who work outside the home. That means that their household seldom, if ever, gets time off together. Say the spouse works a Monday-Friday job. However, the pastor’s busiest days are Saturday and Sunday. That means they never get a morning to sleep in or enjoy some “us time” around the house. One way to bless your pastor is to arrange for your parsonage family to enjoy a long weekend once in a while.
Finally, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most pastors put a great deal of work into their sermons, Bible studies, etc. They may not openly admit it, but a lack of interest by their laypeople in this element of their ministry is rather painful. Pastors notice when ushers receive the offering and then disappear out to the church foyer for the rest of the service (specifically, for the sermon). They notice when people skip other services, like prayer meetings and Bible studies. It’s one thing to give the pastor an appreciation card during the month of October and something much better to allow the pastor to minister to you, fulfilling the calling of God on their life. One of the best ways to show appreciation for your pastor is to show an interest in their ministry. Stated rather bluntly, if you appreciate the pastor, stop hurting him or her by displaying a lack of interest in their preaching and teaching ministry.
An old preacher’s line is “saying ‘amen’ to a preacher is like saying sik’em to a dog.” In the context of pastor appreciation I’d say that letting your pastor minister to you and then, after the service, shaking his or her hand and telling them that you appreciated their sermon is where pastor appreciation starts.
At the beginning of your ministry in your new assignment (even better, as a part of your considering becoming pastor of the church and the church considering you as a potential pastor) lay out your philosophy of ministry in a sermon. Talk about the kind of pastor you aspire to be and the kind of church you want to pastor. Make it a Biblical, scripture-based sermon, but at the same time, share your heart with the congregation.
A year after you arrive, on your anniversary Sunday, preach that same sermon again. Let it remind you and them of what your ministry is all about.
Then, as years pass, you probably won’t preach that sermon annually, but every two or three years get it out, update it, and preach it again. It will be good for you to restate your hopes as a pastor. It will also be good for your congregation to be reminded of what you told them you would do (or not do) as their pastor. It will help new people get on board as they better understand what you and the church are about. Also, over time, it will create a sense of celebration of your partnership in ministry.
It’s funny how decisions made early in one’s career get carried forward for decades. In my early preaching I wanted to “hide” my sermon notes in my Bible (not to be deceptive, just so I could hold my Bible in hand and preach without having to carry a notebook too). I turned the page sideways and typed the sermon outline in two columns, creating a page one and page two. I then folded the page in half and used a rubber band to hold it in my Bible in the same place as my text.
That didn’t work very well because it was hard on the binding of the Bible. Over time, I moved the sermon outline to a notebook that holds the paper with a clip on top. It is the same length and width of the average Bible. I kept the landscape/two column outline approach. Ultimately, I went to a fuller outline and ended up filling front and back of a letter sized sheet of paper, but still using two columns – creating “4” pages of sermon notes.
If you are still with me, looking back, had I not wanted to hide my notes in my Bible I probably wouldn’t have gone with the landscape, two column approach that I’ve now used around 40 years!
I’ll add this: using a manuscript or decent outline is invaluable for revisiting passages. I very seldom just re-preach a sermon, but having exhaustive material from a previous sermon is invaluable to an every Sunday preacher.
Sometimes going back and reviewing old material is quite humbling to me and I’m tempted to write a letter of apology to a previous congregation. At other times, I’m amazed at how the Lord was helping me in those days with insights that are still valuable to me today.
In general, I think I turned a corner around 40 years of age. Work I did after that is generally more to my liking than what I did in my 20s and 30s. Maybe at 45 or so I finally grew up (not kidding here).