Every week, ministers all over the world are asked to do something that is almost impossible: preach a message to a group of people that includes… teenagers to seniors, men and women, mature disciples and not-yet-believers, the faithful and the skeptical, regular attendees and first time guests, singles, married, divorced, and “it’s complicated,” those who need comfort and those who need a swift kick in the…, well, you get my point.
Ask ministers what their toughest regular assignment is, and speaking a message that ministers to everyone is at or near the top of that list. This is something that ministers are expected to do, and do well, that no one else is ever asked to do. And not just once, but 50-52 weeks a year, and in many cases two or three times a week. All while keeping it fresh and new every time.
And while you’re at it, could you be non-offensive, but challenging, intellectually rigorous, but emotionally stirring, scripturally based, but culturally relevant, spiritual, but practical, timeless, but current, humorous, but reverent, casual, but life-transforming, have plenty of content, but speak to my un-baptized children, oh, and can you keep it under 25 minutes too?
No wonder the burnout rate is so high in ministry. I have been involved in preaching ministry for over ten years now, and while I don’t claim to be the best in the world, by trial and error I have learned a thing or two over the years. It’s still tough, because you want to reach everyone sitting in the seats, but in the end, there are two factors at play. One, those individuals sitting in those seats have to want to be fed. Is it always going to be their favorite thing, is it always going to hit home with them, is it always going to be presented the way that they like it? Of course not. But it’s still up to them to come in, listen to the message, and then apply it to their lives.
But ultimately, the main thing that I have learned over the past ten plus years of ministry is that I can do my part, but in the end, I have to leave the results in God’s hands. On my own, using a story or a joke I can make an entire room laugh, I can bring them to tears, or I can cause them to learn together. What I can’t do is speak in such a way that everyone gets something different from the same message.
Only God’s word can do that. So I do what I can do and I leave the rest in God’s hands. I can’t reach the rebellious teen, the sorrowing widower, the struggling single parent, the alcoholic dad, and the skeptical spiritual seeker all at the same time. But the Holy Spirit working through God’s word can. So, in my ministry, I try to make things as simple as possible, and I try and make my messages as applicable as possible, but then I leave it in the hands of God.