March 09, 2017
As I think about retiring from full-time ministry, I have decided that in some of my final “Reflections” I will share some of the “Weird Things About Ministry..”
My niece is an elementary school teacher. We were having lunch together last Sunday after worship and she was explaining to her grandma (my mother-in-law) the process for her evaluation as a teacher.
As she explained the complexity involved, I thought this process would be helpful to her future as a teacher.
When she was done telling us about her evaluation, I mentioned that I was evaluated every week. Unofficial evaluations take place in the lobby at church, at local coffee shops, over family lunches and in small group meetings on Sunday nights and throughout the week. I am not included in most of these evaluations. On most Sunday’s I will get a few, “Good sermon, Rev,” or “I really liked the message today.” But for the most part I don’t hear most of the evaluations.
I have written before that I don’t deal with compliments very well, especially about sermons. Part of the reason is that it’s theologically awkward. Sermons are effective only through the work of the Holy Spirit, which means God should get the credit, not the preacher.
The preacher puts in the study, agonizes over what to say, how to say it, and how to make it “come alive” and be relevant. Hopefully that is all taking place under the guidance and work of the Holy Spirit as well. The Holy Spirit should get the credit.
Theologically, worship is for God. Kierkegaard compared worship to a theater production, where God is the audience, the worship leaders (liturgists, musicians, vocalists, and preachers) the directors, and the congregation the actors. That’s a great theological concept, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work out that way, practically speaking.
As much as we like to avoid the word “performance” when it comes to worship, there is an element of performance in every aspect of worship. The musicians practice to give God their best. However, if they make mistakes every Sunday, or sound awful to the congregation too often, they will be replaced, even if God thinks it was great.
The preacher is expected to be theologically sound, doctrinally pure, culturally relevant, energetic and keep people interested, or she or he will suffer disdain.
Let’s not pretend that none of this is playing in the preacher’s head like background music during sermon preparations. “Are people going to understand this?” “Are people going to think this message was meaningful for them?” (This is quite a challenge when your congregation is made up of 6-year olds through 90-year olds, long-time church attenders and newbies). “Are they going to pay attention to the entire message?” “If I include this, what will they think?” “If I don’t mention this, what will they think?”
In the book of Acts, we read that Peter and John were arrested and their lives threatened by Jewish religious leaders. They were told to cease and desist speaking about Jesus. They replied that they couldn’t help but speak of Jesus and that they were seeking to please God and not men. Good answer! (Acts 4)
In the churches I have served, I have always had an official evaluation. The evaluation has been done by an Executive Committee, or by Elders, or by some combination. Ironically, in every case they have been referred to as a “performance” review.
“Well, how did I “perform”?
This is only one of the weird things about ministry. There are a lot more.