Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Special Sundays

Since this is my first Mother’s Day at WBC, it’s probably a good time to talk about my own philosophy of how churches should treat “special days.” Many pastors feel that it is important to preach a special, holiday-specific sermon on days like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the Sunday nearest July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Valentine’s Day, and so on. Many people expect their pastors to do so. And so perhaps many of the people who will attend Westbury this Sunday will come expecting a message on motherhood, perhaps from Proverbs 31 or the story of Mary.

I am of a different philosophy. I am fine with such holidays being observed in another part of the worship service. For instance, this Sunday we will recognize all mothers early in the service. On July 6, we will sing some songs that speak of God’s goodness to our nation. On other Sundays, we recognize veterans, graduates, and other people as the situation requires. But I rarely refer to these events in my preaching. I hope that doesn’t disappoint you. But if it does, I want to explain why I do not observe holidays in my preaching (aside from holidays that correspond with specific biblical events such as Christmas and Easter), and give you a chance—through your comments on this blog—to let me know how you feel. So here is my (admittedly rather long) explanation:

1. I believe preaching should be as biblical as possible.

The Bible does not speak of holidays like Mother’s Day or Independence Day because they did not exist in the biblical era. One could easily make the argument that if we want to be biblical, we would preach an annual Passover message or Pentecost sermon. True, the Bible does speak of mothers and duty to our country, and so there is certainly nothing “un-biblical” about a preacher addressing these subjects and tying them to specific holidays. But the sheer amount of biblical content on these subjects is so limited, I feel that a preacher who feels compelled to preach on them every year would be giving his people essentially the same message annually, to the exclusion of other important scriptural themes. My job as a preacher is to help you get a balanced diet of God’s Word.

2. I believe preaching should be as inclusive as possible.

In one church I know of, there is a pair of ladies who skip church every Mother’s Day. They rent a hotel room somewhere else and have their own spiritual retreat. Why? One of these ladies is childless, in spite of years of trying with her now-deceased husband to produce a baby. Every year, as the church celebrates motherhood, she feels like a bit of a failure as a woman, especially since the message is directed only to women who are raising children. Don’t get me wrong; I was raised by an outstanding mother, and I am married to another one. I strongly value godly moms. But when we focus on a narrow group such as mothers, we exclude singles, the childless, and…well, men from the message. I believe I should “cast a broad net” in my preaching, speaking to the life situations of as many people as possible, instead of focusing on select groups.

3. I believe preaching should be as God-centered as possible.

Early in my pastoral ministry, Carrie and I took a vacation. I was looking forward to going to church on vacation, worshipping without having a sermon delivery hanging over my head, and being fed from the Word rather than being the one doing the feeding. We arrived at church ready for a true worship experience…not realizing that we had walked into this church’s annual Memorial Day service. After a long slideshow presentation recognizing the graduating seniors, we had several congregational songs which were very patriotic but which had no spiritual content. Then an old deacon got up and recited (from memory) a poem about “The Ragged Old Flag.” By the time the pastor got up to preach, all he had time to do was give a brief devotional thought encouraging us to write a letter to someone who had lost a loved one in a war. We left feeling cheated. Don’t get me wrong; As the son and grandson of veterans, I am all for patriotism. But I go to church to praise God, and we hadn’t even remotely done that. A few years later, we went to the same town on vacation, and attended the same church. At the start of the service, their new pastor got up and said (I promise I’m not making this up!), “Welcome to our annual Flag Day service.” Then we had the same patriotic songs, the same old deacon, the same poem.

I believe we should keep our worship God-centered. Our primary concern should be enabling as many people as possible to have a genuine encounter with the real God. We love our mothers and our country, but what we do on Sunday mornings at 10:30 is about Jesus.

9 comments:

The Brooks said...

Amen!!!

snutter said...

So refreshing to hear this. Working for a church generating the Sunday bulletin, I am having a little trouble with it being Pentecost Sunday, but the sermon is Mother's Day . . . gee which has more importance . . . that should be a no brainer! Thanks for staying the course.

Anonymous said...

I am happy with your choice. I personally know a woman who dreaded mother's day for years because they were childless. She even wrote a book about it. The name of the book is INFERTILITY: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR COUPLES AND THOSE WHO LOVE THEM by Cindy Dake. I much prefer that you stay with your plan. I am enjoying all your sermons, all the time. Betty

D. Lee Grooms said...

Even across years and miles, you can make me nod in agreement, smile, and be thankful to be your friend.

David Dennard said...

Well said, Jeff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This would be good info for the Westbury Word for the folks who don't frequent the web.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jeff. How important it is that we be challenged from God's Word when we meet. That priority can unintentionally slip away when we try to include too many observances. While it is good to acknowledge these special times, thank you for your commitment and for well articulating the priority of preaching and worship.

thePiks said...

Wonderful idea to write out your reasons. I thank you for sticking by what you feel called to do and not being swayed. I am a mother now, but I remember sitting through a mother's day service trying to hide my tears one year before I was a mom. Thanks Jeff.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. As one of those who is childless Mother's day has always been one of those difficult days.

Jeff Berger said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.