by Robert Earl Houston
Across the nation we are saddened by the events of Friday, December 14, 2012 in Newton, CT. I don’t possess the vocabulary to put in writing all of my thoughts and some words are probably better not recorded on this matter. In short, this was a senseless act of violence that I personally believed has it’s genesis in Genesis. The introduction of sin into this world has made tragedies like this, Columbine, Clackamas Towne Center, the record shootings in Chicago, stabbings in China, and crimes against young people and children sadly possible.
The question is how should a pastor address tragedies to his congregation? For the record, I’ve had to preach on the Sunday following the great San Diego fire just a few years ago, 9/11, the murder of a congregant, and now this tragedy. So I believe I’m on firm footing to offer some words of advice for pastors, in case you find yourself preaching following a national or local tragedy:
1. YOU’VE GOT TO PREACH
This is not the Sunday for an associate or assistant Pastor to preach. This is a Sunday that is strictly pastoral. When the congregants arrive to the church for worship service they are walking with minds that are filled with unanswered questions. They are seeking real answers, real solutions, that frankly, a pulpit supply minister is not able to answer. The shepherd of the flock is the voice that needs to be heard. The congregant needs to be calmed or reassured and/or strengthened by the familiar hand that feeds them week after week. I watched the ecumenical service on Sunday evening and noticed that the pastors that participated were sober, calming, and reassuring. That’s what a church needs to hear. A minister who is trying to make a name or a guest minister is not necessary. They need to hear YOU.
2. YOU’VE GOT TO BE PROPHETIC
The Pastor has to engender hope in his congregation. No matter how troubling the circumstances or how painful the news, the Pastor has to bring the congregation along and yet be prophetic or speak into the lives of the hearer good news. This past Sunday I drew a parallel between this circumstance and the murderous reign of Herod and his ordered slaughter of male children, 2 years and under, in order for him to eradicate Jesus. I had to stand there and explain to the congregation that I loved that the reason why there are bad people in the world is because sin is in the world. I then preached to them that Jesus Christ is the calming salve to this world’s conditions. They left the sanctuary in peace and I suspect still digesting the words. You speak into them prophetically.
3. YOU’VE GOT TO BE POWERFUL
On Saturday morning, I thought about changing my usual method of preaching. I thought that I would remove the podium, get a high stool, and just talk with the congregation for about 10 minutes and then send them on their way. Later that day the Holy Spirit reminded me that people didn’t need a psychological discussion for a few moments on the motives of a deranged young adult. They needed the gospel of Jesus Christ preached with as much power and fervor that I could yield to Him. The power must be yielded by the preacher to the Holy Spirit. As I sat down to complete my manuscript, my fingers were moving at a mile a minute rate because I was yielding myself to a power that is much greater than I. As I stood in two different services, I found myself worn out after each sermon because I had yielded myself to a power that is within myself, greater than any in the world. This comes not by skill or chance – it comes by prayer!
I pray that as you read this that you will never have to go through a tragedy. But if you do, I pray that you will do what the late Dr. P.S. Wilkerson of San Antonio would tell the pastors gathered together at the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. Pastors Conference during the National Baptist Congress – “When you get home, preach a little.”
by Robert Earl Houston
This has been a rough week for our nation. Any pastor in his or her right mind will tell you that when a week has been difficult for the congregation that the pulpit is not exempt. That was the case as we can say “we survived” the week’s news of shootings in Connecticut, Chicago, California, and other places across the nation. The Holy Spirit allowed us an exceptional weekend with him.
We had four rows of pews sectioned off in the rear of the church due to the remodeling project. We have three floor to ceiling pillars in anticipation to the work that will be starting this week. Our Construction team has been able to work Monday-Friday and restore the sanctuary as best as possible for Sunday morning.
The 8:00 a.m. service has really taken off. The numbers are becoming more and more consistent and we always receive a lot of positive feedback about the service. In my youth, my home church had an early service and the Associate Ministers preached the service and on a good day there may have been 20 people present. This service is very different for one reason – at my home church the pastor never preached the service. In this service, the pastor preaches most of the time.
And what a service it was. We sang congregational hymns and prepared for the Word. I preached from last week’s text (imagine that) – Matthew 2:16. In ight of the circumstances of the shootings, I preached the question “Why?” In the sermon I tried to crawl into the mind of Herod, a similar murderer of children. I suggested that the reason why there is evil in the world is simply – sin. Secondly, I suggested that both Herod and the Connecticut shooter utilized “sin-plus” – sin on top of sin in order to justify actions. Lastly, Herod failed to get close to Jesus. However, for somebody this is your opportunity, your chance, your privilege to come to Jesus. It was a very well received word.
Deacon J.D. Smith kicked off my Sunday School class, the Married Couples class and we had a good turnout! I was very pleased with it. Then at 11 a.m., Praise and Worship flowed as Minister Sheniqua Roberts led us in “God’s Amazing Grace” and then took us into what has become our official church song, Professor Patrick Bradley’s “I Know Something About God’s Grace.” That song brought tears to my eyes. Praise God.
The Men of Praise choir sang us happy with “I Can’t Help Myself I’ve Got to Praise Him” (my arrangement) and “Jesus, O What a Wonderful Child.” However, my voice was not like it was at 8 a.m., but the Lord was the kind. The congregation was very responsive.
Today the church blessed me with love gifts for Christmas and what a tremendous blessing they continue to be to me and my family. I’m humbly grateful to serve as their soul-watcher.
At 5:00 p.m. we gathered for a unique Christmas experience that was completely driven by the men of the Church. We heard music by Deacon James Jacobs, Deacon Alonzo McCoy, Minister Timothy Taylor, Deacon Bill Jones & Company, Minister C.J. Calhoun, the Men of Praise, and a reading by Deacon Carroll Young. Praise God for the night!
On to the NFL HIGHLIGHTS . . .
– Cincinnati beat Philadelphia. Who couldn’t? Their season is done.
– Atlanta blew out NY Giants. They’re playoff ready.
– Denver ran all over Baltimore. See above game – Manning is a beast!
– Green Bay beat Chicago – Alex and Company do it again. Chicago’s ready for a coaching change.
– Washington beat Cleveland – The Redskins are for real. I wonder what team the backup QB will be leading next year?
– Miami wins the Florida Bowl vs. Jacksonville – but who cares?
– New Orleans demolished Tampa Bay – was never close.
– Minnesota beat St. Louis – both teams will be at home in January.
– Arizona beats Detroit – see Minnesota vs. St. Louis.
– Seattle smashes Buffalo – this is animal abuse.
– Carolina sends San Diego packing – or should I say their coach packing?
– Dallas wins! That’s all you need to know!!!!
– Oakland . . . who cares?
– New England ran out of gas vs. San Francisco.