By Jess Hall Jr.
(This is the first in a series of articles by brother Hall on preaching. The Firm Foundation believes the lessons are much needed, will be appreciated, and may be of inestimable help to the brotherhood.)
It's always been tough to be a preacher. Today it's tougher than ever. Preachers are expected to lead when all leadership is suspect, to communicate with the skill of Ronald Reagan, to be as familiar with the opinions of the day as George Barna, to manage the members with the diplomacy of Henry Kissinger and the church business like a Harvard M.B.A. And if he doesn't measure up? Well, we all know what happens when he doesn't measure up! It's moving time again.
While some moves have assuredly been a blessing for both the preacher and the congregation, most moves have been no more than a shifting of problems — the congregation gets another preacher who can't measure up; the preacher gets a new congregation with unreasonably high expectations. Only the moving company benefits.
This column's purpose is to help both the preacher and the congregation. Congregations need to learn that no preacher is (or can be) perfect; preachers need to learn that necessary imperfection is no excuse for persistent mediocrity.
Like husband and wife, congregation and preacher are one. Their aspirations and aims, promises and prospects are the same. In congregational life, as in marriage, for harmony to prevail, mutual respect and cooperation must abound. A peaceful rather than a polemic attitude is essential for a successful relationship between the preacher and the pew. While no honeymoon lasts forever, divorce court is to be assiduously avoided. Only greater animosity can result if pertinent parts of a column addressing preachers are appropriately underlined and mailed anonymously to the underliner's preacher. Only greater distrust can result if pertinent parts of a column addressing congregations are inserted into a sermon outline and used to "whip the brethren into line." This column will fail if it produces no more than hand grenades to lob in personal battles.
There is a delicate balance between "Be not many of you teachers" and "Take heed how you hear." The time is past (if it ever existed) when poorly prepared sermons could edify the pew. The time never existed when poorly prepared listeners could be edified even by a masterpiece. While there may be a shortage of preachers, especially good preachers, there is an even greater shortage (at least percentagewise) of good listeners. The listeners deserve to be helped by fresh, timely, sermons germane to 21st-century life. The preachers deserve to be helped by attentive, Bible- loving, God-fearing and worshiping hearers whose delight is in the law of the Lord. Both require hard work. Neither preaching nor listening is a passive activity.
One disclaimer — that which you read in this column is intended to bear no resemblance to persons living or dead. That being the case, no names will need to be changed to protect either the innocent or the guilty. We may all see ourselves in this column on occasion. In fact, if we don't, the column will have failed. If through seeing ourselves, we can become better proclaimers and better listeners, to God be the glory.
(Brother Jess Hall Jr. is a multi-talented, astute man. His good counsel deserves to be listened to respectfully and thoughtfully. Brother Hall is a senior partner in one of Houston's most prestigious law firms. Most of you know him, but for those who do not, he is a preacher, having served in this capacity both full time and part time. His father was a well-known and highly respected preacher. He has served as a deacon and an elder. He has held meetings from New York to California. Jess is married to Millie; she is the daughter of an elder, and they are a wonderful couple. He speaks from a wealth of experience. The Firm Foundation is pleased to present this series of articles and commend them to you.)