I like old books. I was an English major, so I was forced to read a good many old books. Some were Beowulf old, some were just Emerson and Thoreau old. Lots in between. I've never been much for modern literature, mostly because I just don't know what to read after 1900.
I was watching this PBS series a few months ago called God in America. It was fascinating. It talked about a man named George Whitefield, a Great Awakening minister who preached around the colonies in the mid-1700s. They recited parts of his sermons, and they sounded really interesting. So, naturally, I got the book. Sermons of George Whitefield. It's a collection of almost 30 sermons on various topics, all written somewhere between 1736-1770.
Also, I'm a nerd for all things Colonial American. I'm in the DAR, for heaven's sake!
Still, I find these sermons fascinating. And quite modern in tone and content. The one that really struck me is entitled, "Directions: How to Hear Sermons."
My first thought: How to hear sermons? I need directions on listening? Like I'm in preschool? Thanks, George Whitefield, for undermining my intelligence.
What it actually says is how to pray for your pastor, how to pray for your heart to be open to the message and what God wants you to hear, and also to listen to whatever preacher is up in front of you and don't bolt when you get to the doors of the church and you realize your favorite pastor isn't speaking.
Our church has, like, five speaking pastors. We have one main one, Gary, who is a phenomenal preacher and the one who does most of the talking. Then we have four others who rotate around when Gary—heaven forbid—takes a vacation or goes to speak at a conference. While it takes a few listens to get used to the other pastors, they all have their strong points. One's a history buff. One is super deep and intellectual. One is modern and philosophical. They're all interesting to listen to, and I always get something out of their sermons.
But I know there are people who don't show up the Sundays Gary is gone. There was a time when I was tempted to do the same! But, you know, now I'm super mature and everything.
*insert eye roll here*
So, this begs the question: Are they showing up to hear God or to hear Gary? Who are they really following?
This is what George Whitefield has to say on the subject. Prepare for a smackdown:
A third direction, Not to entertain any the least prejudice against the minister.
For could a preacher speak with the tongue of men and angels, if his audience was prejudiced against him, he would be as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal. [...]
Take heed therefore, my brethren, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you. Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves; and though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no sufficient reason for rejecting his doctrine, for ministers speak not in their own, but Christs, name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatsoever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, though they said but did not.
So God has put him in that position and he's got something useful to say. Wait! There's more!
But, fourth, as you ought not to be prejudiced against, so you should be careful not to depend too much on, a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. For thought this be an extreme that people seldom run into, yet preferring one teacher in apposition to another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. [...]
Not to mention that popularity and applause cannot be but exceedingly dangerous, even to a rightly informed mind; and must necessarily fill any thinking man with a holy jealousy, lest he should take that honor to himself, which is due only to God, who alone qualifies him for his ministerial labors, and from whom alone every good and perfect gift comes.
Even pastors aren't immune to the pride that comes with accolades. I'm sure it's tough to keep your ego down when thousands of people are showing up every week to listen to you talk about God. Adoring "fans" probably don't help the matter. Fawn over God and what he's doing through your pastor, not the pastor himself.
This sermon is something else. Here's a full transcript of the sermon, if you want to read a little more. Pray for your pastor, whomever it is that week. Pray that he would speak the Word of God and that your heart would be open to it. Don't put your pastor above God. He's God's mouthpiece—a prophet—not a replacement for God. That's how people get disappointed in their clergy, honestly. If you put them up on a pedestal next to God, you'll be very disappointed when they turn out to be human.
And go to church. No matter who's speaking. Just prepare your heart to receive God and you won't be disappointed.