We’ve all been there. We’re talking to one of our pastors who is soon to be giving a sermon and we want to say something that will encourage and inspire them as they prepare to open the Word for our congregation. Maybe they’re an associate pastor who very rarely gives the sermon. Maybe ‘speaking in public’ isn’t their forte. Or maybe they place ‘speaking in public’ between ‘being crawled on by large spiders’ and ‘dying’ as they rank their list of fears.

So you want to be helpful. But be careful – there are some remarks that aren’t as encouraging as you might think. And since lead pastors might be taking vacations during the upcoming holidays forcing non-lead ministers to give the Sunday message, I thought now might be a good time, as a handy resource, to list a few of them. So here are …

Five Comments you might think are encouraging/helpful for a pastor about to give a sermon, but actually aren’t:

1. The Video:

Hey, Reverend – you may notice the video recorder in the back, saving for all of posterity every single word you say as you expound on Second Chronicles. But don’t worry – most likely only a few people will see it when they post it on the church website next week. Like your mom. Oh, that’s right, she doesn’t use the internet. So it might be nobody. That is, unless you accidentally say something horrifically embarrassing. Then it’ll go viral and the whole world will watch that seven second clip over and over. But then you’d be famous. So it’s win/win.

Reason it’s not helpful: People in the pews might be distracted by his strained and singular focus on the camera lens.

2. The Research:

I must say, I’m really impressed. The massive amount of inquiry it must take to give a sermon on Matthew 5 … well it must just occupy weeks and weeks to read all of the commentaries to make sure you’re not saying something ridiculous about the text. Studying the greek, listening to famous 19th century preachers exposition, reading the text (and the context) in several different versions (including the ‘Message’). And don’t forget the really popular bloggers! Why, if I hadn’t spent a whole bunch of days exegeting, I’d be sure I’d missed something crucial, decisive, fundamental and/or essential. I’d feel like I was flying blind. So it’s just great that you’ve made sure to do all that.

Reason it’s not helpful: Your pastor, knowing that he’s done each of those things, might be tempted towards pride.

3. The Obvious:
Pastor, I was just reading James 3 the other day – you know the part that says, “Not many of you should become teachers because we know that teachers will be judged with greater strictness.” Yeah, that part. Well, you’re a braver man than I am. I’d be all – what if I say something about the church (for example) that’s different from what the bible says? A great, big, extra helping of judgment in the form of a rabid jaguar, recently escaped from the local zoo, that’s what, maybe!

Reason it’s not helpful: Some scholars feel the word “teacher” here only applies to those speaking to modestly sized groups of people of less than a dozen or so*.

4. The Inflammation.

What’s that, Reverend? It’s not your goal to offend this Sunday’s service attenders? No, no, that’s your job! You want them to think, and the best way to do this is to dive headlong into really, really controversial topics. No, no, I don’t think it will get you into trouble with the elders. They’ll just say, “What happens in the pulpit, stays in the pulpit.” The very angry letters you receive you can just laugh off as “small-minded”. And really, letters from our church constituency to the denominational leadership demanding forced resignations are fairly rare.

Just think over and over – “Not peace, but a sword …. Not peace, but a sword.”

Reason it’s not helpful: What if he says something you disagree with?

5. The Equipment:
I can’t help but notice that you’re using one of those teeny tiny very-near-your-face skin colored stick microphones. Well, be careful. My wife’s brother’s mother in law once was using one of those and it slipped and she accidentally stabbed herself. In her ear**. She had to go to the emergency room and everything. The doctors were calling other doctors over: “Hey, this lady split open her eardrum with something other than a q-tip!”

So, you know… Don’t do that.

Reason it’s not helpful: Your pastor might be tempted to use the “pierced eardrum” excuse to get out of preaching.
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In short, if the pastor you’re “encouraging” cringes or starts to back away as you’re talking with him, you might want to try a different approach. Like maybe just, “I’ll pray for you.”

Did I miss any?

* Actually, no scholars feel that. And I don’t know why a zoo’d even keep a rabid jaguar.
** True story. And no, the pastor I told it to was not encouraged.

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