4) Like Your Congregations.
Yes, I mean like, not love—and congregations, not congregation. Sometimes, we can love people in the Lord, but not like them in the flesh. And all of us have more “congregations” than we realize.
I’ve found that it’s critical for me to cultivate a genuine appreciation of the various mindsets and subcultures in our church. That’s not always easy to do. It’s one thing to preach about the body of Christ; it’s another to genuinely embrace the differences and idiosyncrasies of the real people who populate all the tribes within our church.
Relating well to a wide cross-section doesn’t mean I have to BE LIKE them. But I do have to LIKE them. Truth is, there will be times when people move to a place we don’t understand or like. It might be the younger generation’s body art, piercings and music, or the older generation’s struggle with change and new wineskins. It doesn’t matter. When people know we don’t like them, they can smell it. And they stop listening.
Both Chris and I have our natural comfort zones. But we each work hard to get into the world of those we understand least and would most naturally avoid. I find that as I begin to understand any group of people, I almost always begin to like that group of people. And once I like them, it’s easy to communicate and reach them.
It’s when I fear, ridicule or write off a group of people within the body that I lose my ability to bring God’s word to them. Then, instead of being sticky, my messages and our church become more like Teflon than Velcro.
One way that I know I’ve broadened my ability to understand and appreciate the diversity within our congregation is when I can hear their “yeah buts” in my head as I prepare a sermon. Every sermon and every point raises a “yeah but” with somebody somewhere. The more I’m aware of those “yeah buts” and address them, the more likely it is that my sermon will hit the mark with more than only those who are “just like me.”
This has become such an important part of our message preparation process that every Tuesday, Chris and I meet with a group of other staff members for what we call a sermon prep meeting. In reality, it’s a “yeah but” meeting.
In it, we go over the basic points of the message (at least as far as it has come together at that point, which sometimes isn’t much). We find out what resonates and what doesn’t. In particular, we decide what points, verses or statements might raise potential questions for those who are new Christians, not-yet Christians, biblically illiterate or well taught, young or old. It’s a powerful exercise that helps make our messages stickier with a broader audience. It also helps us address the “yeah buts” in our sermons rather than in the foyer.