Imagine for a second that you’re inept in the kitchen (for some of us, that’s not much of a stretch). Picture this: you need to make one cookie. It has to be in a specific shape. Thankfully, you have the right cookie cutter and the right ingredients. But one problem remains: how do you make just one cookie?
Of course, since you don’t know how to make just one cookie, you find a recipe that makes a dozen. You make the dough, roll it out, and get ready to use your cookie cutter.
But which part of the dough do you use? Which part is the best? That’s your first tough choice. So you pick a part that you think looks the best.
But that leads to your second tough choice: what in the world do you do with all the extra dough?
These are some of the tough decisions that your pastor needs to make every week. We study a text all week, examining historical backgrounds, thinking about the linguistic realities of the text, placing it in its canonical context, figuring out where the truth fits in our systematic theology, studying what experts have said about this text, and thinking hard about how it applies to ourselves and others in our congregations.
All that work is making the recipe and spreading out the dough. But typically, by the time you’re done all that study, there is enough for at least a dozen cookies. But our job is to ‘cut’ it into a sermon form that people are able to chew on, swallow, digest and benefit from. How do you make just one out of so much dough?
Ultimately, the pastor must be prayerfully selective in what he includes in the sermon. Do you realize what a challenge that is?
How much of this truth about God should I share? How do I make sure I’m getting the best part of the dough for these people at this time in their lives? What happens if I leave the wrong things out? What happens if I ‘cut’ this poorly?
And, of course, if you pack too much into one cookie… well, it ends badly.
So why do I bring this your attention? A couple reasons:
1. Pray for Your Pastor
Please pray that God’s Spirit would ultimately guide the work of your pastor so that he is able to discern what is best to say and what is best to leave out. We desperately need God’s guidance in this. Please pray, because ultimately, we are held accountable for our choices, and our choices do have effects in people’s lives.
You should also pray that God would make all the dough useful. Even though only some of it makes it into the ‘cookie’ (the sermon), there are lots of conversations and e-mails, and counselling scenarios through the week where the pastor can use the word that he’s been studying. Pray that God would give him grace to speak the word faithfully in every context.
2. Follow Your Pastor
If your pastor blogs, or is on Facebook or Twitter, it’s a great idea to ‘follow’ him. Chances are, as he’s ‘rolling out the dough’ over the course of the week, he’ll be sharing some of that goodness with those who are around him. So don’t just follow celebrity pastors. Your pastor, who loves you and knows your soul, has lots of good things to share with you.
3. Talk to Your Pastor
Here’s an idea that you can use to bless and encourage your pastor: After the sermon, go talk to him about the passage he just preached on. Ask him to clarify or expand on something he said. Or ask him something like this: ‘What did you really want to say today that you didn’t get a chance to?’
I guarantee that questions like this will encourage your pastor’s heart. Plus, you’ll get the benefit of snacking on more of the leftovers.
4. Don’t Just Depend on Your Pastor
If you go to a church where the pastor preaches consecutively through books of the Bible (which you probably should, by the way), then you’re at an advantage. You can read the passage before he even gets up to preach. You can read the ESV Study Bible or something like it that will help you to understand more of the text than your pastor will be able to explain in his brief 45 minutes or so.
With a little effort from you, you’ll be able to snack on the extras even before you get the cookie that your pastor is preparing especially for you this week.