Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Don't say it

Every Sunday morning after the worship service is over I head out the back door of the sanctuary and go stand by the main entrance of the church. There I greet people as they leave, shaking hands with friends and introducing myself to new people. Almost every week, though, as I'm standing there people come up and tell me something like "Good sermon today, Pastor!" or something similar.

I wonder what the motivations are.

I think most people want to converse and this is a nice way of breaking the ice. It might also be that people genuinely enjoyed the sermons and want to give praise for it. There might also be a contingent that see the sermon as a performance and want to congratulate me on a job well done.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate being told I did a good job. I am human so I, too, thrive on praise. But there has always been something unnerving to me about this practice of being told "Good sermon, today" after church.

Two weeks ago in giving the benediciton I thanked the congregation for their normal practice of telling me "good sermon" but asked them politely not to do that anymore. I asked, instead, for them to tell me what made a difference for them, what stood out as important, what they learned, what's going to change or be different, how they're going to respond.

The moments after this service were quite akward as many people didn't know what to say. Everyone left a bit faster than they normally do.

I want to get across that the sermon is not a performance and that they have a responsibility to hear the Word and it's interpretation, to integrate it into their lives, and for the proclamation to make a real difference.

But I didn't expect so much akwardness. Did I do the right thing? Am I expecting something I should not?


Jeremy said...

Just an opinion, but it seems to me that you took away a very comfortable way for your congregation to have casual, yet meaningful, contact with their pastor. When you asked them to no longer tell you that you had a nice sermon you called them on the carpet for taking the easy way out and this will cause discomfort. I also think that you are asking too much when you ask your congregation to tell you something meaningful about the sermon. This presupposes that 1) you preached a sermon that touched the memebers of the congregation and 2) that they had already been engaged in a reflection of what was said.

I agree with you that it is not very meaningful, as a pastor, to hear the "Great sermon" comments each time you preach but there is also a need to be pastoral to our ocngregations and part of that is to provide them with a safe place and a safe way to interact with the pastor. I think this is especially true given that you have only been there eight months.

Just a thought.

Dan Mayes said...

Thanks, Jeremy, you make some good points.

DennisS said...

Hey Dan - just who do you think you are? That's pretty bossy and picky. Even worse, it will push some people out of their comfort zone. They might have to actually think about the sermon, and not just feel good about attending.

Now folks will feel uncomfortable, and not knowing what to say, they will avoid shaking the pastor's hand - which had put them really close to God, since God handed you the words to speak, and now they could touch the hand that received from the Lord...

And if denied that special closeness, then they will probably quit attending. See, pastors that make too big of demands (obviously having to pay attention is too much) are responsible for the decline of the church. This is why so many stay home.

All those sinners in the church thinking they are holy on Sunday morning, and all those pastors who expect people to actually live out their professed beliefs (and actually continue to grow as Christians) - what's a person to do, but stay home and avoid the potential problems?

Heard a great line that you can use to twist the arms of the people even harder (you big meanie).... "Nobody builds a great reputation by their intentions."

Since you are probably one of those pastors who are just after money, you can use that line to get people to give money because they will feel guilty.

BTW - Great sermon. So and so really needed to hear that...

Jeremy said...

Ah yes, your sarcasm is enlightening and makes me want to reconsider everything I wrote. Like it or not, effective ministry is about relationships and when you are fairly new at a church you need to spend time working on those relationships, which includes having small talk at the back of the church with the members.

I agree that there are times when our sermons should elicit a feeling of discomfort. There are times when a sermon should cause people to think about their life or their actions and a sermon can even drive people to action but not if they are alienated.

Congregations are much more willing to listen to difficult or thought provoking sermons when they trust their pastor and when there is a deeper relationship. The pastor who steps on too many toes early on does not change anyone and is likely to find themself out of a job. No, most of us did not go into for the money but a paycheck is something we all need.

Again, go ahead with the sarcasm and I will remember that as I build a deeper relationship with my congregation, to include small talk, and touch on sensitive issues with a deeper sense of trust and understanding.

Dan Mayes said...

Jeremy, in your last comment, were you talking to me or to Dennis?

Laura Rico said...

Hey, Dan. Just read this post. Wow. I think you make a good point, and yes, it will push them out of their comfort zones. But so did the Lord. He already said he doesn't like his followers "luke warm". If they feel so inclined to speak something to you after the service, but don't feel comfortable talking about the sermon itself, a simple, "Have a great week" would suffice.

Anonymous said...

Well Dan what ever happened to the priesthood of all believers? Is the minister the only one whom God works through during his worship service? Perhaps God would choose someone from the congregation to relay his message of a job well done in interpreting his word and meaning? How about following up the "Good job" comment with "Thanks, what really struck you about the worship service/"

Just a thought.


Dan Mayes said...

Laura, that's a good idea. It takes the performance emphasis off of the sermon while delivering on the need for relationality.

Bojipete, point well taken.

Emily said...

Hi, I stumbled across your blog today and I have really enjoyed it!
In response to this post, I heard a similar sermon from a pastor in a church I was visiting in my home town. It was awkward for me too afterwards because I didn't know what to say. I can understand your concern, being a pastor, but I will say from personal experience, that when I say "great sermon" to my pastor, I always have been touched by the Lord, but in a momentary conversation with people all around, I don't feel comfortable going into the often very personal ways that God has spoken to me. Just some thoughts...

Stay at home mom in SC

Gail said...

You asked them to stop making small talk with you (that's how I would've heard it), and they did, it sounds like. I think it would be difficult to go into an in-depth conversation about the sermon on one's way out the door. Perhaps you could ask people to engage with you about the sermon and perhaps provide a forum for that to happen (or offer to get together one on one with folks...I don't know the size of your congregation and whether that would be unwieldy). I rarely do the "shake the pastor's hand" thing, because it does seem weird to me, and I don't like small talk. But I know that others appreciate the opportunity to just say hi to the pastor.
What's the tenor of your words to the parishioners as they pass by? Do you try to engage people on a more intimate level in your conversation with them? Do you ask about such and such that may be happening in their lives? Then again, is the Sun. morning "drive-by" even the place to try that?
I hear your concerns about the performance mind-set, but if I were your parishioner wanting to be in relationship with you, I would just hear condemnation in your request about what I should NOT say. I have been in small groups where I understood what folks were trying to get at in telling me not to say I appreciated their sharing or not to relate what they shared to something in my experience, but to be honest, it just mostly makes me think, "hell, I can't say anything right. I'll just say nothing."