Many ministers learn a great deal from the people they serve. Others seem to learn very little. Much of the time, this says more about the minister than the congregation.
Ministers typically have a front row seat to the congregation. This is a wonderful opportunity for a minister to grow, mature, and learn. Unfortunately, some miss opportunities for growth and development.
The following are a few realities I have learned from congregations where I have served.
I learned from some of our business people the importance of process. Far too often, ministers and elders completely ignore any sense of processing an issue with a congregation. For example, perhaps the congregational leadership has spent 4 – 6 months talking and praying about a major mission project. This would be a major undertaking for the congregation requiring a significant financial commitment. Finally, they decide to bring this project before the congregation. The preacher preaches a few sermons and then an elder makes an announcement about starting this new project. Then the leadership seems stunned when the congregation has reservations or resists this particular initiative. While the leadership has had plenty of time to process this mission possibility, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of a process for the congregation. Yet, this will be a major undertaking for these people requiring a significant commitment.
I learned from several business leaders in congregations the importance of process as it relates to leadership. At least some of the conflict that congregations experience could be managed better if leaders would simply pay more attention to process.
I learned from some in these congregations about the depth and complexity of the pain they deal with. Oh my goodness! Did I ever underestimate this as a young minister! Yet, walking with so many through various situations has given me the opportunity to learn and grow.
Some in the congregation will talk about what is taking place in their families. Some will confide in a few close friends or perhaps one of the church leaders. Far too many simply sit in silence.
I learned from these congregations what makes preaching helpful and effective. I have read many preaching books and other works which discuss particular aspects of preaching. Many of these have been helpful. Yet, there is much to be learned from the people themselves about what kind of preaching is helpful and what is not. I am not suggesting that one allow a group of people to necessarily determine one’s entire approach to preaching. Rather, I am suggesting that we strongly factor into the mix what we might be learning from these people. As a preacher, I have to ask, “Is my preaching connecting with this particular group of people?”
I learned from so many people that God could use me even as an ordinary human being. I have known a few ministers who seemed intent on proving to the church that they could be just as coarse and crude as anyone else. Perhaps they thought they would be perceived by others in the congregation as more human. Perhaps this was a reaction to the way ministers are sometimes perceived by others. The perception by some is that they are almost superhuman -above and immune to temptation. As a result, some ministers become far too self-conscious as they try to create a particular image or persona before the congregation.
I think it is far more important that a minister simply live as a human being among a congregation. No need to prove that you are human with flaws, shortcomings, and sins. Many people will become aware of this all too soon.