For the Illustrious Matriarchs~
What would you do in response — or would you respond at all from the pulpit — to an egregiously BAD sermon by a one-off guest preacher? I don’t mean just thin, or shallow, or ineptly delivered, I mean WRONG and in flat, hurtful, contradiction of the Gospel of the day and the gospel in general?
Are we ever justified in preaching a “My reverend colleague to the contrary notwithstanding” or “OTOH” sermon? Or would you do the classroom-thing of taking a student’s wrong answer and kindly reframing it and handing it back to the group?
I would like to hear your thinking and your experience in this “fix,” Gals. I don’t want to seem ungracious or hateful but dear G-d in heaven, I can’t let this stand… or can I?
Blessings and thanks in advance,
A Matriarch Myself
I think I might come at it from the back door. Do you have a regular newsletter in which you could publish an educational article prefaced with, “Recent conversation at (church) have resulted in my writing this article.” Even if the conversations have been between you and your dog, it’s a way to get the facts out in a plain and simple way. I wouldn’t mention the colleague. Use it as a teaching moment but by publishing it, you can measure your words, there will be no misunderstandings of what you said and if people feel a need for more conversation, you can take it from there.
Heidi aka revhrod
Hi Friend and Colleague,
You know your context, and how the members of the congregation you serve would react to the guest’s sermon as well as the prospect of addressing a sermon which sounds like it was offensive to you. You know if the guest preacher has any relationship to the congregation. And you know the theological make-up of the congregation you serve.
I think an “on the other hand” sermon sounds fine, especially if your preface is gracious and thoughtful. People of good faith can certainly disagree, and my hunch is that the congregation you serve will be pleased to have you model what a respectful difference of option looks and sounds like.
All best to you as you continue to think about what’s right for your setting.
Jennifer at An Orientation of Heart
Isn’t it frustrating to relinquish our pulpit to someone and to have to clean up their theological mess? Well it is frustrating to me. I don’t have advice but a couple questions.
1. How did you come to know the sermon BAD? Has their been a response of any type from the congregation?
2. What is your relationship with the preacher? Ongoing relationship? Random preacher? How do you want this relationship to continue?
3. Will it benefit the overall life of the congregation or open a needed dialogue in your church about theology and belief?
4. Where are you in the picture which you describe?
In my ministry, when I have a strong reaction to the actions of a colleague, I try to figure out why I feel that visceral brain cramp in the situation. When I figure it out, it usually helps me discern the next step. Best wishes,
These are the tough ones aren’t they? I think that you should speak to it because unlike the children who are learning and vulnerable, he is in a position of authority. If you do not use your voice and your power, your education and knowledge, your silence affirms what he has said and there is no correction or learning. You, too, have authority and now is the time to use it.
How you use it may or may not be from the pulpit. An all church letter that sounds like a fireside chat not a lecture or a “What *does* the Bible say? inquiring minds want to know” church hall meeting or informal questions you raise asking people you trust what they thought are all ways to start engaging the conversation. If you find that he was dismissed by a majority of people, you may not have any issue at all. If he was adored by most, you would want to be sure to address it.
Rather than just question his credibility. it would be good to help others understand how they can see things differently and learn for themselves. Education is powerful. Thoughtfulness is powerful. Give the people more avenues for reflection on their own faith. Access some articles from the academic world. Are there scholars who agree with him? It’s okay to say, I just can’t stand to let this be, even though there are scholars who support him, or say there are no scholars who support support this. Be fair about it even if you hate it. (I live in Texas, I have plenty of scholars and non-scholars alike!)
Sarah at The Vicar of Hogsmeade
I love the idea of an OTOH Sermon. You can offer words of respect for the guest preacher, but share that you have a different take on the scripture passage. What a wonderful learning experience this has been for your congregation! It sounds like they have learned that 1) they are fortunate to have you as their pastor and 2) that not all pastors interpret scripture the same way – for better or for worse. And you have learned to be careful when scheduling guest preachers!
Dear Matriarch Myself —
This is an interesting question because it raises the role of the preacher and the purpose of preaching. It also reminds us that people hear many words from the pulpit and not all of them are trustworthy! It also raises the reality that — although we frequently refer to the presence of the Spirit in our own preparation and preaching — others find that Spirit leading them in opposite ways.
Did the preacher propound on a matter of theology that contradicts your denomination’s doctrinal stance? My guess is that the answer is No, and instead the preacher responded to a social issue in a way that you disagree with, perhaps vehemently. Perhaps the person knew that to be the case and jumped on the opportunity to “set your congregation right”? Either of those two situations present additional issues. A doctrinal issue may need to be brought to the attention of higher-ups. (For example, I am Presbyterian and if someone propounded about the Rapture, that would be a matter of correction/discipline.) If the preacher was knowingly interfering with the life of the church you serve, that is a matter to address with that individual, perhaps one-on-one. (I would begin with my curiosity about why this person did what she/he did. Also, are they a threat to other churches to which they have access?)
But all of this talk about responding to the preacher doesn’t address your question, which asks about a response to the congregation. To answer that, I would consider: Who is being hurt by this “bad sermon”? Can I trust those persons to sift through the matter? It is always possible to reach out to vulnerable individuals who don’t have the necessary tools to reflect theologically.
In any case, this presents an opportunity for you to underline the importance of what is said or not said from the pulpit. Perhaps this matter should be considered by your governing board. If the governing board wants to send a letter to the preacher or print an announcement in the bulletin, that is much different from you responding alone. A “preacher vs. preacher” approach will smack of turf war (even if that isn’t the intent) and will lend credence to the supposition that the church is essentially a bully pulpit.
Let us know how it goes MM! I wish you every blessing of wisdom and equanimity as you proceed.
Ruth Everhart at Love the Work (do the work)
Readers, what are your thoughts? We hope you will share them in the comments. And if you have a question for our panel, please send it via email to askthematriarch at gmail dot com.