Is God shortsighted?

The Columbus, Ga., newspaper recently carried a front-page story about a prominent Baptist church and its longtime pastor reconciling after some difficulty. It was encouraging to read.
But in response to the online version of the story, someone named Rick posted a comment criticizing the pastor for his approach to sermon preparation.
“His sermons are planned at least a year in advance,” the critic wrote. “That leaves no room for the Spirit to move, lead or direct…”
Pastoral criticism comes from a lot of different angles, but this was a new one for me. My initial thought was: “This guy sure has a shallow view of God.”
(Actually, my first thought was that the person making the comment is a complete idiot but you’re not supposed to admit those things in print.)
No wonder so many gifted and called ministers look outside parish ministry to fulfill their callings. How could anyone criticize a pastor for giving such a high priority to sermon preparation?
And since when is the Holy Spirit’s influence limited to one week at a time? Is God that shortsighted?
For Rick, whose anger at the pastor is surely rooted in more than sermon preparation, and other critics, let me pass along a little insight. First, not all pastors have the same approach to preparing sermons.
Second, those who do long-range planning — for a quarter, six months or even a year — generally develop themes, texts and titles. Who has the time, energy and inspiration to write out 50 complete sermons at once?
So even plan-well-ahead preachers rely as much on divine leading during their preparation process as the weekly sermon writers. And the pastor always has time for the most current concerns of the congregation and larger world to be addressed.
Some preach from the lectionary — an outline of biblical texts that gives a hearing to the broader biblical revelation over a three-year period. While few feel absolutely tied to each and every text offered for the week, this approach challenges both the pulpit and the pew to wrestle with some of the more difficult portions of the Bible.
Otherwise, preachers — usually those who claim the highest view of biblical authority — will tend to preach from comfortable, pet texts while avoiding some of the more challenging passages or even entire books of the Bible.
To criticize someone for advance sermon preparation is nonsense. But I have heard a few sermons through the years and thought: “They should have started on this sooner.”

6 Comments

  1. Well said. It’s not good to blame the Holy Spirit for stuff that gets written late on Saturday night, week after week.

  2. I was leading a Bible study in a hospital recently and was a bit humored by one elderly gentleman’s criticism. After I quoted some Scripture from memory, he immediately stopped me and said it would be much better to just read it. After the study, he stopped me to say, “You will be a great speaker, but you will never be a great preacher!” He didn’t like that I had notes for my key points. (I wanted to ask if he knew any place that hired great speakers.)

  3. JP: Best thing I’ve seen on the general nature of God is the conversation between the Priest and the Revenant monast sittin under the suspended boulder in Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing.
    Start with Job, go to the Crossing and then come to Collinsville, Alabama if you want to talk about the god who has left the building.

  4. I love it when God’s people feel compelled to tell those of us who spent four years in college, three years in seminary, four more years in graduate school, followed by 30 years in ministry how little we know about matters of faith. Were we to go to one of their places of business and instruct them on how to do their work, they’d be mightily offended. But everyone knows how to lead the church.

  5. A member of the congregation I serve once complained to another member that I preach from notes. The complainer referred to a verse in Psalms and said, “He should just open his mouth and let the Lord fill it up.” The other member responded, “I know some of those preachers who say they open their mouths and let the Lord fill it up and the Lord is lettin’ ’em down bad!”

  6. I once had a parishioner stop me at the door one Sunday when I’d gotten particularly worked up about something and said, “I love it when you talk loud.”

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