Watching How We Talk

One of the blessings of being the pastor of a congregation is the relationships that develop over time.  Many people are completely put off by the idea of standing in front of a group of people every week to lead them in worship, read the Word of God, and speak to them in a meaningful way about that Word and their lives.  It is a huge and intimidating task, but it is made considerably easier and enjoyable by the fact that many of those people are known and loved.  The longer a pastor remains in a particular parish, the deeper and broader those relationships can grow.  It’s truly beautiful.

But it can also lead to problems.
One major problem is the temptation to speak off the cuff with parishioners on Sunday morning, particularly during the sermon.  Playing for laughs can lead to major misunderstandings (though I strongly encourage appropriate humor in sermons!).  Most importantly, we need to remember that both as pastor and parishioner, we are praying that there will be new faces present each week to hear the Word of God and by the power of his Holy Spirit, become members and friends of the congregation themselves.  
In other words, we want people who aren’t part of our community to be there on Sunday morning.  But we need to ensure that they hear us properly when they are.  
Case in point:  a pastor joking with his congregation says some things that could be taken in very much the wrong way by a visitor (or a long-time member).  As the article notes, when questioned the pastor is quick to say he wasn’t intending to be taken literally.  His regular parishioners probably understand that.  But for the outsider, what is intended as a valuable and timely lesson about the importance of parents in helping to shape a child’s understanding of themselves instead becomes a shocking demonstration of potentially encouraging child abuse and other inexcusable practices.
This is one of the reasons proper preparation before preaching is so important.  Attempting to do things off the cuff without thinking through them properly, as well as the temptation towards extemporaneous tangential comments (particularly if they’re getting a good chuckle), need to be watched carefully to guard against getting carried away in a way that is going to require us to explain ourselves at length to our parishioners or those who might be sitting in the pew with either good or bad intentions.  
We live in a very, very public age, and what we say in public we should expect could come back to bite us.  None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes, we all say things we might choose not to repeat on further reflection, and this ought to be taken into account in our public media age as well.  But it often isn’t.  Something to keep in mind before stepping into the pulpit this morning!

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