When I first started in ministry, I had a policy to never preach the same sermon twice, even in different locations. But in recent years, I’ve taken a new approach: If God gives me a powerful message, I assume it’s likely to apply to multiple people and places. So why not preach it more than once?
But I’ve learned something shocking in the process: The power of my message often has as much to do with the responsiveness of the people as to my own prayer and preparation beforehand.
Not long ago, I preached a very similar message to two different groups, and I’m convinced the message “fit” both groups equally well. But although my preparation and delivery were the same, the message had a powerful impact on one group, while the other group yarned most of the time.
What is the lesson here? I asked the Lord.
I was reminded that the impact of a message is greatly affected by the prayerful, responsive hearts of the recipients. People who are hungry for God’s Word will be impacted far more than people who are just sitting in their seats, often with their mind on other things.
Somebody once observed: “If people are eager to hear and be transformed by the Word of God, you can sing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and everyone will shout hallelujah at the great revelation you presented!”
Of course, sometimes a truly anointed preacher can break through people’s apathy and dullness of hearing. But even Jesus commented that some of His hearers were much more responsive than others. And in some cases, people missed His points entirely.
One of my conclusions is that preachers probably get too much credit for “good” sermons and too much blame for “bad” ones. So if you think your pastor has been boring lately, I encourage you to do two things: (1) Pray for him and (2) Make sure your own heart has been prepared to receive and heed the Word of God.
And speaking of credit and blame: What about a situation where a church isn’t growing? Typically the blame is put entirely on the pastor. But many visitors to a church are repulsed not by the pastor’s message, but by the unfriendliness of the congregation or the lack of volunteers to provide excellence in the ministry to children and teens.
Instead of blaming your pastor if the church isn’t growing as fast as you would like, how about taking time to regularly pray for a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit? And what about making a new commitment to invite people to the church and give visitors a warm welcome?
One thing both pastors and parishioners can be blamed for: Pastors in today’s American church have been put on pedestals that are virtually impossible to maintain. No wonder the pastors receive too much credit when things go well, and too much blame when they don’t.