[This is actually an addendum to Things a Pastor Isn't: The Minister.]
Given, then, that the pastor is not The Minister®, to the exclusion of the congregation of believers; and...
Given that the pastor's ministry is the equipping of the saints at large for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12)...
It follows that our view of the transaction of the sermon must be affected. How so?
Common practice has the one man (The Minister) standing and, well, ministering. The saints, meanwhile, are his audience. He ministers, they watch. At best, they listen. We hope they learn something. We know that they are grading him, evaluating his performance. Was he good? Bad? Boring? Exciting? Amusing? Too amusing? Too lecturelike? Crabby? Happy? Too moralizing? Too theoretical? Too practical?
Knowing this, the pastor has his own temptation. Does he "play to the audience"? Does he do what he knows will please, amuse, and entertain them? Does he avoid humor to humor the sourpusses, or major on it to amuse the amusement-seekers? Does he avoid hard subjects or (equally!) confront them head-on, to please the various tastes of his visible, human audience? Or is he the ornery sort who takes positive pleasure in displeasing them?
And, of course, the pastor can't but notice their comporture — unless he does like one of my Homiletics profs, who never lowered his eyes from the rafters. So, how do they look? Rapt? Fidgety? Sleepy? Respectful? Are they mannequins? Partygoers? Trancelike? Podlike? What's going on out there? Is there any connection happening, any "spark" at all? Did he have them at "Albeit," or lose them at "Peradventure"?
Of should he not even care?
I know that sometimes when I write I hedge my bets, and give carefully-shaded and shaved dicta. Here, however, I'll be blunt and flat:
play to the audience!
Oh, and one more:
Surprised? Well, here's the kicker: the crux (no pun) here is the identification of the audience I have in mind.
If the church is an ekklēsia, an assembly — before whom are they assembled? Are the sheep assembled in the name of the pastor, under his ultimate rule, and for his purposes? Hardly. No, sheep and shepherd alike are assembled before the same audience.
Hear how Paul charges young pastor Timothy:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5)This isn't the place for a detailed exposition, but certain factors leap out at one.
- Can you think of a more attention-arresting summons than verse 1? The context for every aspect — and, here, particularly for the preaching aspect — of Timothy's pastoral ministry is nothing less than the Eschaton. The present presence of Father and Son, the sure eventuality of His irreversible and exhaustive judgment, and His sure and certain Kingdom. That is the ultimate consideration, the bottom-line. That is his audience. What follows, flows from that foundation.
- His distinctive ministry (apart from ministers of table, bulletin, funds, property, or various functions) is the ministry of the Word (v. 2) — a ministry exercised with the blazing presence and vision of God constantly in mind.
- Pastor Timothy is to persist in this ministry in the absolute certainty that many will find his ministry of the Word irrelevant, boring, repulsive, second-rate (vv. 3-4). He persists, he stays with it — because in the final analysis, they are not his audience. They did not gift nor commission nor charge him. It isn't they who he must please at any cost. They and he together stand before the same Audience.
- However, because of the truths of v. 1, nothing is to turn Timothy from his course of emphatically and passionately and insistently heralding the Word of God above all (v. 5).
Now, is it really that hard to see the other side of this coin, the sheep-side?
If God appoints an office to the charge and leadership of a congregation, and then urges upon those in that office to preach the Word first and foremost... what are His expectations of the congregants? Or, to personalize, if He holds your pastor to preach the Word to you, what is His charge to you? If your pastor is to preach and teach, are you not to hear and learn? "Take care then how you hear," our Lord cautions (Luke 8:18). If the pastor is commissioned by God to reprove, rebuke and exhort you, are you not to accept correction, admit error, and rise to action?
Who, then, is the audience in every church meeting?
The triune God is the Audience, of course. We — on both sides of the pulpit — are the performers; and He is the audience. He walks among the lampstands; He hears, He sees, He judges (Revelation 1—3).
So I ask again, and I ask both preacher and congregation: should we play to the Audience?
We'd better! Yes, absolutely we should focus on the Audience, and seek with all we have to please the Audience. Devotedly, single-mindedly, whole-heartedly, and with everything God gives us.