How emotionally connected to a congregation does a preacher need to be?
Now that I preach in a variety of settings rather than in one church each week, that connection is more difficult to establish.
I was thinking about this recently when reading about ChatGPT, an AI information-gathering and writing chatbot launched this past November that can write lessons for teachers or sermons. Russell Moore asks:
“What if everywhere-accessible AI could write completely orthodox, biblically anchored, and compellingly argued sermons for pastors every week?”
Moore goes on to say that such a suggestion displays a failure to understand the nature of preaching. When the preacher stands before a congregation a dynamic interactive relationship is taking place.
It is not always easy to capture the mood of a room when preaching.
I find it helpful to stand at the back during the service before I preach. This puts me in a good position to observe the congregation, see the latecomers and assess the mood.
It also gives me an opportunity to see who is fully engaged, distracted or weighed down.
Gaining some kind of feel for the congregation is invaluable if I am going to preach into their situation.
I am a glass-half-full type of person but realise that every congregation will have at least a sprinkling of glass-half-empty people. This means that I need to continually develop my emotional intelligence.
I need to understand myself but not project my personality onto others. It also means that I need to understand others. Some people are feeling fragile, carrying burdens, and are simply “Not OK!”
I need to learn as a preacher to communicate the fact that it is OK not to feel OK.
Decades of reading the Book of Job and the Book of Psalms tells me that God deals with us in every season of our souls, even in the deepest winter.
I have tried to be more attuned to this reality recently in praying for and sharing with those who are struggling and wounded. One book that has come across my desk this week has helped me get a handle on how it can feel.
Alan Noble in his slim book On Getting Out of Bed, The Burden and Gift of Living, that is due to be published in April tells his readers,
“Never apologise for needing help,” adding
“The hardest but most loving thing is to speak honestly and personally, sharing your burdens with those who have earned your trust — neither advertising nor hiding your burdens.”
Noble communicates well the complex feelings of someone who is struggling to get out of bed in the morning and face a new day. There is a great deal of wisdom in these words.
How does the preacher manage to enable people to speak with such measured honesty?
Maybe preachers need to take to take a look at the Jesus playbook?
Jesus is described by Matthew (quoting Isaiah):
“He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out …” (Matthew 12:19–20a)
Every congregation has at least one bruised reed.