Sermons are Food: The Cook (Part 3 of 4)
The first two posts were geared for pastors who prepare food, but this post is geared for the hearers, that they might better appreciate who their pastors are, what they do, and how they can better work with them.
The “Cook” Has Feelings
When someone prepares a meal for you, it is common decency to come to the table and eat what’s been prepared. Imagine you are hosting extended family for Christmas or Easter. Suppose you go through all the trouble of preparing this gigantic and delicious meal. You buy ingredients you normally don’t use. You perfect cooking techniques. You meticulously arrange the table and pair the meal with the right kind of wine. Imagine you have over sixteen hours of preparation invested into the preparation of this meal. Now tell me, how would you feel if after all that work, no one showed up? How would you feel if the extended family never came, nor had the courtesy to tell you they wouldn’t be there? ‘Discouraged’ is probably the tamest of the feelings you would have.
That’s what it feels like to put in hours of prep into a sermon only to have a sizable portion of the congregation not show up. It’s discouraging. I know the success of a church is not measured by numbers (that’s how the world works, not God’s kingdom), but it is a bit disheartening to see a low attendance number after so many hours are invested into the sermon. Pastors have been praying for you—by name—all week. Pastors have been visiting you, thinking of you, and this sermon is catered specifically for you…so please remember this the next time you’re tempted to skip church for something else. I cannot tell you how many times I have written a specific line or paragraph of my sermon to connect with a specific member of my congregation who’s struggling only to notice that they’re missing on Sunday morning.
There’s Nothing Wrong with ‘Home-cookin’
I love my mom’s home cooking. I think it’s the best. It brings back fond memories and feelings of nostalgia and comfort wash over me every time I enjoy one of her meals. When I went to college, I missed my mom’s cooking. A lot. But I didn’t stop eating. I kept eating…because it’s necessary to eat to stay alive. And over time I developed a taste for the cooking I encountered.
It is reasonable to expect that after someone has attended the same church and listened to the same pastor preach week after week for a fair number of years that they would develop a preference for that pastor’s preaching style to someone else’s.
Listening to your pastor preach has a level of comfort to it, just like eating a meal cooked by your mother. “The sheep know the voice of their shepherd” Jesus said. You’re familiar with your pastor’s voice. For this reason, when you come to church one Sunday to discover your pastor is on vacation or sick…that can feel like a bummer. You might think that preacher in the pulpit that Sunday “just isn’t the same.” It is natural to think these things.
However…you dare not ever confuse your comfort of ‘home-cookin’ with your need for Jesus. This is what happened in Corinth. Paul writes,
“For it has been reported to me that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:11–13).
Similarly, if your pastor is going to be gone on a Sunday, and you use that as an excuse for skipping church, does this really show love and appreciation for God’s word? Or have you traded it for something else? If you only show up to church to hear “your” pastor, then you’re in violation of the First Commandment. You have traded your need for Jesus with an idolatrous ‘need’ for your pastor. Your pastor didn’t die for your sins, Jesus did. You do not and should not worship your pastor—you worship Jesus Christ. You can get the nutrition of Jesus Christ from another faithful pastor just fine, just as you can get a balanced meal from a cook who isn’t your mother. It might not have the ‘home-cookin’ flavor, but that’s no excuse to stop “eating” so-to-speak.
Any pastor with any integrity would be terrified to learn that people came to church only to hear him preach instead of coming to church because they need Jesus. Besides, you should be coming to church for more than the sermon anyway; such as the singing, the fellowship with saints, to join in prayers on behalf of those whom you love, for the Lord’s Supper, etc. …but I’m getting ahead of myself now, that’s my next and final post in this series.
There’s nothing wrong with saying “I prefer so-and-so’s preaching.” There is EVERYTHING wrong with saying, “I will only go to church if so-and-so’s preaching.”
When You Still Gotta Eat
There are two immediately practical applications that follow on the heels of this ‘home-cookin’ concept. They affect how you react to (1) when your church gets a new pastor, and (2) when you move.
First, when I got Cresbard there were people who preferred the previous pastor’s preaching to my own. That’s to be expected. The previous pastor served Cresbard for twelve years. And I’m sure, when he arrived in Cresbard twelve years prior to my own arrival, that more than a few people preferred the preaching of the pastor who preceded him to his own. You get the idea.
When your congregation receives a new pastor, he is all but guaranteed to preach a bit differently than the last guy. The nutrition (i.e., Jesus) should be the same, but the style will be different. You might even consider it less “palatable” than the previous pastor. That’s normal. But that’s absolutely no excuse to stop coming to worship. So, faithfully attend the word. Be fed.
Second, the same concept applies for when you move out of town. If you move away and worship somewhere else…don’t go looking for the same style of preaching as the pastor you’re most familiar with. Go looking for a pastor who gives you the best nutrition (i.e., Jesus), and let the steady course of time iron out any quibbles you may have with his style. Over time, you’ll probably grow to appreciate his style as well.
I think every congregation has a fair number of members “on the books” who refuse to transfer their membership after they’ve moved. If you are afforded the chance to speak with them, you will sometimes discover their reasoning for refusing to transfer their membership is, “It’s just not like my church back home.” To this I say, “Of course it isn’t.” When I moved out of the house, the food I ate at college wasn’t like my mom’s ‘home-cookin’ but that doesn’t mean I stopped eating. That’s irresponsible and dangerous. So it is with your spiritual health when you move.
The purpose of going to church is not to develop a cult of personality, but to receive Jesus and the free gifts of grace that are given to us only through Him. Skipping church because you don’t care for the man in the pulpit is to elevate your pastor (who is a sinner) over Jesus (who is not a sinner). This is called idolatry. Scripture won’t stand for it. God won’t stand for it. I won’t stand for it. You shouldn’t stand for it, either.
There is nothing wrong with ‘home-cookin’, but it’s a far cry from nutrition. It’s ok to grow to love and trust your pastor like you would your own mother or father, but don’t ever mistake these blessings from God for the infinitely more important part of Jesus.
Sermons are food. It’d be the height of foolishness to starve and die simply because you didn’t prefer the man who prepared the meal.
Pastor Timothy Koch is pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, SD.