By Doyle Sager
I misspoke in one of my recent sermons. I know. You’re not surprised that a preacher flubbed up. You’re only surprised that said preacher would admit it!
Yes, I made a mistake in the pulpit! I was using the children’s song, “Conjunction Junction” to make a point (believe me, it was a very profound point) and incorrectly attributed the song to the children’s educational program Sesame Street. At the door after the service, a church member and friend said, “I don’t know if it’s polite to correct my pastor, but that song was from School House Rock, not Sesame Street.” Oops. Duly chastised, I owned up to it. But I have to admit, I’m just insecure enough, I had to ask him, “Was there anything about the sermon you liked?”
Since then, I’ve thought about the first part of my friend’s statement (“I don’t know if it’s polite to correct my pastor ….”). Is it polite to correct your pastor? You bet it is! In fact, there is biblical precedent in Acts 17:11. Luke describes Paul and Silas’ missionary experience with the Bereans. They “welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so.” As the Word of God was shared with that first-century audience, they were eager and curious, but persistent in sifting and sorting, arriving at their own informed decisions. Luke seems to be saying that these early disciples found a happy balance between cynicism and gullibility.
I once heard a seasoned pastor say that the reason a pastor stands at the door after worship is not to garner compliments and praise. It is to let our people “talk back.” All good preaching is dialogical, even if no one else speaks up during its delivery. Not only is it polite to correct your preacher, it’s very Baptist. In a day when many people want the preacher to tell them what to believe, we need to reclaim the historic Baptist distinctive of soul competency. That is, each of us is responsible to develop and nurture our own free relationship with our Creator. Included in that charge is the call to “see whether these things are so.”
And of course, what’s good for the pastor is good for the laity. Our Bible study small groups are always more effective when we encourage and honor honest inquiry. Phyllis Tickle makes the point that just as scripture carries authority, so does community. That is, no one individual or group has the whole truth. The “entire” truth cannot be known apart from the wisdom of the gathered community. We need each other’s questions and challenges, “searching to see if these things are so.”
And when will we ever learn that our evangelism will never transform lives until we are comfortable with probing questions from the unchurched? Today, more than ever, unbelievers have their truth filters in place. Peter Berger, in The Social Construction of Reality, reminds us that in a pluralistic culture, conversion (changing the way a person views reality) is possible only through conversation. And that conversation implies vulnerability and the willingness to have our ideas questioned and tested, to “see if these things are so.”
See how much I learned from making one little mistake in the pulpit? In the unlikely event that I ever make another one, I’ll let you know what I learned.