This article was first published in Ministry magazine (June 2008), an international journal for clergies of all faith.
After I had finished preaching, a woman of about 35 approached me and confessed, with tears, that she had been committing sexual sin. After all these years, after all the sermons that she had heard me preach, she continued in this practice. She had felt bad but couldn’t let go. Then she met me away from the pulpit, we spoke one-on-one, and through the grace of God she was made whole.
Many have wanted just this: to meet the pastor one-on-one and talk about their anxious lives. Some have had their difficult questions answered, many have been blessed by a word of prayer, and all have been glad to have the hearing, sympathetic ear from their shepherd.
Some preachers disappear after coming down from the pulpit. Many congregations have admired preachers whose hands they never had the chance to even shake.
I myself always disappeared after the pulpit discourse, but recently I discovered how wrong that was. I now know that, in fact, I can have a more powerful ministry away from the pulpit—yet still near the pulpit—than I can in the pulpit.
The ministering minister
I had just preached a sermon, and afterward a woman came and said, “Pastor, the Lord has inspired hope into my life through your sermon. Thank you.”
“Why?” I asked. “Have you been going through hopeless circumstances?”
She sighed and began her sad story, and afterward we prayed together. Later I found that our discussion brought some big changes in her life. Through the mercy of God, I was able to help her away from the pulpit in ways that, in the pulpit, I never could.
Sermons fall into ears like the sower’s seeds do in the soil. At the end of each sermon some will cry out saying, “ ‘What shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37, NIV). Such a question can be asked only away from the pulpit. These are precious moments to give help, guidance, and encouragement to your members as they struggle with life’s questions and challenges. These are, in fact, precious moments to minister to souls the way Jesus did.
Jesus preached for a long time on the mountain. Thousands heard Him. He taught them principles of the kingdom of heaven, and they marveled at His gracious and powerful message. Ellen White says, “The Saviour’s divine love and tenderness drew the hearts of men to Him.”* “When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him” (Matt. 8:1, NIV), and Jesus had time for all of them.
Thus it must be with ministers who dedicate time to individual members, one-on-one. Our ministry does not end with the spoken Word, for there are other things we can do and must do after coming down from the pulpit.
1. Take time to shake hands. Some congregations have a tradition of the pastor shaking hands after every worship service. Extending a handshake is an expression of friendship, but don’t always have them come to you. Take the time to walk over to a member, shake their hand, and say, “God bless you,” or “God loves you.” Maybe that simple gesture will help heal a broken heart or put a spark of encouragement into a discouraged soul.
2. Take time to hear them. A preacher must never be separated from people and must love them. At times you may be in a rush, but you shouldn’t avoid your members, for they want somebody to listen to them. If you don’t have time to hear the people, then don’t steal their time by having them listen to you. The disciples had wanted Jesus to send the people away (Mark 6:36), but Jesus stopped them. After receiving attention from the congregation, Jesus gave attention to those individuals in it. After preaching Christ’s love, you must lovingly minister one-on-one. Nothing more than just taking a few minutes to listen to someone can make all the difference in their world.
3. Take time for visitors. All churches, at some time or another, have visitors with their names listed in the visitors’ record book. They might have been invited by family members or friends or perhaps they came on their own. They’re there, and visitors need to be recognized and made to feel as if they belong. We are good at recognizing them, but poor at making them feel as though they are part of us. As a preacher, before leaving the pulpit, make the visitors understand the joy that they’ve brought to your church congregation by coming, and give them a special welcome. Then meet them after the service has ended, and you could, in a few minutes, do more good than your discourse from the pulpit ever could.
4. Call them by their names. One major trait of successful pastors is that they know their church members by name. If you can’t recognize the names of some members, this would suggest that you’ve forgotten them. I once embarrassed myself when a church member came to me, and I could not recall her name. In John 10:14, Jesus demonstrated a striking ministerial ethic, “ ‘I know my sheep’ ” (NIV). Do you know your sheep? Can you call them by name? After preaching about the ancient saints, mingle with the living ones. Call on them by name and say to one, “Sister Janet, happy Sabbath. How is your husband’s condition?” Or say to another, “Brother Antwi, how are you? I didn’t see you at the midweek prayer meeting. Is everything alright?” Jesus will one day call you by your name. Why not do likewise to your members?
5. Don’t be too busy. You say, “I’m not able to meet people after coming down from the pulpit because I’m so busy with other pressing issues.” I say, let these other issues sit by the wayside. Give of yourself, one-on-one, to your members. Little else in your ministry can be that important. And, as you help others with their burdens, you will be relieved from your own. By hearing their joy, your joy will increase. By praying for them, you build your own faith. The people are good for you because they are your fi eld of labor. If you tend to it well, you’ll enjoy the fruits. If you are too busy to take time with your members, then you are too busy to be an effective minister.
Ministry includes more than eloquence at the pulpit. The TV newsroom brings to the public a small facet of a larger job done outside its walls. Broadcasters, in a few minutes, give a summary of what might have taken hours, days, or even weeks to amass. It’s the same with the minister: much of what you do is away from the pulpit. Sure, you might give great homilies to packed churches every Sabbath. But you must never forget that your most important sermons could be given after you’re done preaching.
* Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1956), 47.