We've got to become pastors if we want our people to become congregations.
— William Willimon
The first Christmas I was at Duke, during the time I was not preaching regularly, my wife and I attended a local church. That year Christmas fell on a Sunday. Our son was 2 years old, so we dressed him up in his spanking new Christmas clothes and headed jubilantly off to church. We looked forward to the service with anticipation.
But when the pastor stood up to welcome the congregation, he said, "Today is the first time in a while that Christmas has fallen on Sunday. It would have been unfair to ask the choir to sing this morning, this being a big family day and all, so they won't be singing.
"I'm not really going to preach this morning either. Instead, I've got a little story to share with you. You know, I'm amazed you're here this morning. Most of you have guests from out of town. Coming today was such an inconvenience."
"I'm leaving," my wife whispered to me. "You stay with the baby, if you want." She was annoyed the pastor hadn't dignified his congregation with preparation, and she stomped out.
I couldn't be too critical of this minister, however. I remembered many Christmas Eve services when I had scrambled to put together a service only to find no one showed up. Still, he had taken for granted that his people would be uncommitted, that they would be as fickle as a Hollywood audience.
Certainly, the dynamics of the modern congregation are discouraging. Sunday has become just another day to consume. Those who do attend worship nearly demand to be entertained.
But they are still a Christian congregation, and we do well to treat them as such, though how we do that is often hard to discern. How do we preach to such a crowd week after ...