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.”