By Joel Rainey
There are many things I love about the people I pastor, but one of them is the importance they place on the proclamation of God’s Word. That importance is communicated, among other ways, by the time and space they give me before I preach every Sunday.
I usually arrive two hours before our service, and aside from sound-check, I take time to go over my message, pray, and focus on what I believe God wants to say to His people.
Our folks interact with me in between and after services to talk about their problems, ask for prayer, and talk about life in general. But before that first service, they tend to leave me alone.
I’m grateful for this because I haven’t always been in this kind of an environment.
I’ve served as pastor of two other churches and also as an interim or transitional pastor for eight other congregations. A few of those congregations had a habit of “rushing” the pastor just before the service started.
When I speak with pastors about this tendency, I learn it’s a widely-spread habit among church goers. I also know many pastors—mostly driven by guilt—give in to these distractions.
Generally speaking, one of two things are on the minds of those who say, “Pastor, I need to talk to you now before the service starts!”
Every Sunday, someone inevitably misses the deadline for the submission for announcements. So they want the pastor to be sure to mention softball practice on Tuesday, or women’s group on Thursday, or the leftover casserole in the fridge somebody needs to claim before it’s thrown out (Nope, I didn’t make that one up.).
The room is too hot or too cold. And usually, it’s both on the same Sunday according to at least two different people. The toilet in the men’s bathroom is clogged. Or, someone is really upset “about that thing you brought up last week.”
I’m not minimizing the importance of either kind of information or the problems that people experience (well, not most of them).
But before you allow your people to rush you this coming Sunday with news that the women’s group really wants Mrs. Myrtle publicly thanked for today’s flowers, you might consider the following three reasons why giving in is a terrible idea.
1. It Wrecks Your Focus.
Pastors who are worth their salt take the proclamation of God’s Word seriously. They want to get it right because they respect the Bible, love God’s people, and know the greatest gift they can give the bride of Christ is an accurate, compelling, challenging Word from the living God.
When you’re approached with a handful of other things people want you to suddenly remember, your concentration on the Word is broken, and your focus goes south.
If your people want a better sermon, they need to protect the focus of the person who is doing their best to bring it to them every week.
2. It Affects the Church.
When you lose your concentration, it affects your delivery, which, in turn, affects the attention span of the church. This domino effect ends with the people of God not hearing from you as clearly as they otherwise should have.
In short, when people rush the pastor for their interests just before you preach, your whole church family pays for it.
3. It’s Just Not that Important.
During the worship hour, the primary aim is for God’s people to hear from the Lord. Though that happens in many ways, it primarily comes through the proclamation of God’s Word.
So before you allow that distraction right before the service, ask yourself, “Is this announcement/problem so important that it warrants the possible garbling of God’s message to His people?”
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Most every pastor I’ve known is accessible when they’re truly needed. But when it comes to the pre-service rush with hoards of information to announce and problems to solve, give yourself a break from the guilt.
You and your whole church family will be better for it.
JOEL RAINEY (@joelrainey) is Lead Pastor of Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He’s husband to Amy, father of three, serves on the adjunct faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of four books, and blogs at Themelios.