So tell me, what are you expecting as you look forward to Sunday?
Some of you may be looking ahead with some apprehension. Maybe there’s a difficult business meeting on the horizon, or it’s been a period where there just seems to be restlessness or even open discontent. Maybe you don’t feel physically or mentally ready to give what you need to give on Sunday. Those things happen, and they’re no fun. I hope what I’ve just written does not describe you.
Most Sundays are very run-of-the-mill. But God is doing his work behind the scenes. Most of the time we’re not even aware of how he’s working in people’s hearts. But sometimes it seems like the same thing happens every week. Because of that, we may end up going through the motions – at least in some areas of our ministry – forgetting that there are factors that can turn an average Sunday into a very good Sunday.
Get up early enough to find a quiet place in your home or in your office at church to pray and review your sermon.
Most pastors I know take Friday off. That means you’ve worked on your sermon during the week. I used Saturdays to do anything from minor tweaking to major renovation. But so much passes in and out of our minds between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning that I always needed to refresh my memory. There are a variety of ways to jog your memory, from using that Sunday morning time to prepare your visuals if you use PowerPoint to doing a final tweak (or two or three). Whatever works best, take some time to prayerfully review your sermon.
Leave a few moments before the worship service to connect with your people.
We’re used to people coming late, but don’t miss the fact that there are people who come early. I found that a few minutes of simple conversation with these people was a good way to connect and be welcoming.
Make sure you make time before the service for the staff and elders to pray with you and for you.
This meant a great deal to me. Our elders and pastoral staff gathered in a room off of the auditorium and two or three would pray for God’s work and for me. I don’t remember how the habit started, but our men began to lay their hands on me (or whoever was preaching). The intent was to convey a sense that this was serious, and I found it encouraging.
As you speak to your people, speak lovingly and appreciatively.
Even if your only role in the worship service is preaching, when you get to the pulpit, do your best to communicate that you are glad to see your people.
I’ll talk about ending the service in a moment, but sometimes I thanked or commended our people for their good attention (they were excellent listeners). Occasionally I would even say, “I love you folks!” I had people come to me after the service and assure me of their love when I did that. You don’t want to be mushy and you don’t want to overdo it. After all, you don’t want to be “that guy.” (1)
Preach the text and point to Christ.
A discussion of preaching through Bible books as opposed to doing topical or “How to” messages is beyond the scope of this blog post. But if you are not preaching systematically through a book of the Bible, let me encourage you to consider making that your habit. And be sure your sermon points to Christ and connects to the larger message of the Gospel. If you need help with this, the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible is a great resource.
Pray for your people.
When I came to the church I served in Pennsylvania, I’m pretty sure the person doing the pastoral prayer typically read a list of our 30+ missionaries as well as the names of those who were sick. Despite the good intentions, reading a list and praying are two different things.
You may not be able to pray for every sick person in your church. But you can pray generally for the sick, for students, for moms, for fathers, for those in financial need, often (and appropriately) without mentioning names. Pray for one or two missionaries, and pray for a nation where Christians are persecuted.
Some of your people have older children who have walked away from the Gospel. Some grieve the loss of loved ones, even after months. Others are lonely. Many struggle with jobs they hate and with financial stress. Obviously we need to be careful that we don’t betray things told to us in confidence, but praying for the kinds of needs common to all of us is a good way to pray for your people.
Dismiss them with a reminder of God’s love and care.
From time to time, it’s worth explaining why we do what we do in our worship service. One area that might need explanation is the benediction. A benediction is not the Christian equivalent of saying “good luck,” nor is it a magic charm. A benediction is a biblically-based expression of God’s care for his people They remind us of his love, grace, mercy. Your people need to be reminded of those things as they face another week.
Talk with your people afterwards.
My friend Jay had a way of closing his church’s worship service that I used in our church for the last several years I was there. While the closing hymn was being sung, he went to the back of the auditorium and gave the benediction from there.
When I began doing this it let me catch up with people before they left. Some people bolt out of the church like they are late for a meeting. Visitors rarely know what to do next or where to go. The regular attender may want to update you on something that’s going on. Or you may just be able to say “hi.”
None of these practices guarantees the Greatest Sunday Ever. But if you do them, you’ll have ministered to your people, demonstrated and expressed love for them, and pointed them to Christ.
That sounds like a pretty good Sunday to me!
(1) “That guy” is Brother Love, a character from the world of Professional Wrestling (WWE to be specific) from back in the day. Obviously he is a parody, but you still don’t want to be that guy.