A pendulum, if you remember, is a weight that gets displaced on one side. Due to the force of gravity the weight will swing from one side to the other—losing a bit of force each time, before finally resting in the middle in what is called the equilibrium position.
History nerds, like myself, note how history seems to follow this same pattern. We go from overreaction to overreaction and finally settle somewhere in the middle. It’s a fitting analogy, but isn’t without holes when considering the Scriptures. The “middle” position may not always be the biblical one. For believers in Jesus our concern is that something is true—not whether or not something is comfortable resting as a middle position.
Nonetheless, as finite and sinful human beings we are prone to bounce around the truth rather than actually resting in it. There is truth to the pendulum. Specifically there are a few areas where I believe the church is now swinging too far in the other direction. And I want to discuss that.
I’ve got a handful of pendulum swings that I’d like to address, starting with one that I’ve termed the Let the Deacons Do It.
Why the Pendulum Swung
This pastor had been at the church for about thirty years. When he resigned the church was heart broken, but also a bit excited to get someone fresh in the pulpit. It seemed like the pastor had been recycling sermons for quite some time now.
The first couple of Sunday’s without him went by without much trouble…then the trash started to stink. And the toilets wouldn’t flush quite right. And the a few lights stayed burnt out. And they didn’t have any bulletins. The heat wasn’t turned on for Sunday morning. Nobody knew where the offering plates were. They didn’t have any juice or bread for the Lord’s Supper. On and on it went. Each Sunday they noticed a new gaping hole.
This church finally realized that the senior pastor did much more than just preach on Sunday. He also served as custodian, groundskeeper, secretary, and a host of other positions. When he left they lost all these positions. No wonder he was recycling those sermons—he was recycling all the churches cardboard too. He was too busy doing all sorts of non-pastoral things to put his time and effort into preparing sermons.
About 30-40 years ago churches started to wake up to the deficiency in biblical preaching. In the past 40 years we’ve seen an influx of books on the importance of a pastor’s preaching ministry. Most of us young pastor’s have had it drilled in us that our primary task is to accurately handle God’s Word. We should leave the “waiting of tables” for the deacons (See Acts 6).
I rejoice in this trend. But I also think maybe we’re beginning to travel too far the other way.
What I’m seeing now are young guys, like myself, who are thinking that the pastoral ministry is simply spending 30 hours in sermon preparation, delivering that sermon (maybe a few times), meeting with a few key leaders and setting vision, and then doing it all over next week.
Hospital visits? That’s for the deacons.
Weddings? Funerals? Let the pastoral intern get some practice.
Waiting tables? That’s for the hospitality team.
Visiting the congregation? Didn’t we develop a deacon program to solve that issue?
For some mega-churches they’ll have a preaching pastor and his chief responsibility is to preach. The other pastors do the other ministry stuff. But let’s be honest, most of us will never serve in a church like that, and if I’m being honest I’m not sure I really want to.
See, I’m convinced that the apostles didn’t commission deacons in Acts 6 so they could then be freed up to go lock themselves into a room. Sermon prep that doesn’t occasionally include a hospital bed will likely breed pretty stale sermons. The ministry of the Word that the apostles fought so hard to preserve isn’t confined to a Sunday morning event.
So, yes, I’m glad that we are placing a grand importance on the sermon and allowing the pastor adequate study time. (I still agree with most of what I wrote here). But let’s not become professional sermon makers and pretend like somehow we’ve fulfilled our gospel ministry.
Sometimes your ministry of the Word might include taking out the trash.