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Preaching Grace Rather Than To-Do Lists

When we share five ways to be a better parent, what are we communicating about the gospel?

Becoming the Congregational Parent

If we are honest, our desire to tell our congregants what to do often arises out of our own anxieties. We spend hours reading and studying Scripture every week, we scan articles about leadership and attend conferences that give us ideals of what the local congregation could be. Then we look out on our church on Sunday morning and see all that is not happening. Leon was supposed to call someone to check the leak on the water heater. Kate was going to write up the minutes of the evangelism committee. It’s been weeks since you asked the worship committee to think about an outdoor Easter service for the neighborhood and you’ve heard nothing.

At times like these we feel like the mom who walks into the house to find the shoes and boots scattered in the breezeway, coats thrown on the floor and backpacks blocking the door. She wants to yell, “How many times have I told you to put away your things when you get home from school?!”

“How many times have I told you to be kind to visitors?”

“How many times have I told you to set up a budget?”

“How many times have I told you to pray every day?”

The temptation is to place ourselves in the position of congregational parent rather than pastor. By doing this we are saying that we are the adults, we have our acts together, we have outgrown all the immature behaviors we see in our church, and we have the right and the authority to tell them how to live.

When we place ourselves in the role of congregational parent, we are communicating to our parishioners that we do not see what they are doing, we only see what they aren’t doing. Or we only see them doing the things we don’t want them to do. We are telling them that we do not accept them where they are.

A distance grows between us and our hearers. Our perception of them and their lives becomes small, anemic, and sad. And then our views of our own lives and the choices we make can become twisted. We can actually come to believe that if everyone lived as we are living, the church would be lively and healthy. Then whatever burden the sermon contains (pray more, serve more, improve your parenting) gets placed on them and not on us. We assume that we are already doing it.


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