A fair shake


I love the press-the-flesh line. After the service, when people flow out of the door, on their way to lunch, we get that quick second to make some sort of personal contact. The students often try to skip the line, but I don’t let them. I maneuver with the skill of a wide receiver (now my husband’s laughing at me for using a sports analogy), making sure no one gets away without a greeting.

Scott Black Johnston was my preaching professor in Seminary. He used to say that we preach, and then the congregation affirms if it was the Word. Capital W. As in the Word of the Lord.

“How does the congregation do that?” I asked.

“After the service,” he answered. He probably meant something deep, like as we go out and respond in our work in the world. But I thought of the meet-and-greet stream and wondered, Could it be true? Could I be more than a stewardess for those fifteen minutes?

We have an express line here in D.C. If people aren’t staying for the coffee hour, they’re all business. I don’t mean to make any unfair assumptions regarding gender, but I think it’s safe to say that women and men, on the whole, leave differently at my church.

“Good sermon,” the men say, furrowing their brow, with a staccato nod, and a perfunctory shake.

With the women, we hug, we ask about the kids and the parents. Then we look at the long line behind us and agree, “We’ll talk later….”

Here are the worst comments, receive when I preached in Texas and Louisiana (I was in my twenties). And even though it happened several times, I never could think of an appropriate response:

“Well, you’re a good preacher…and easy on the eyes.”

Of course, I couldn’t say the words that popped in my head at that moment (What the...), because it’s never good for the pastor to use an expletive when we’re going out to serve God. But what do you say on that awkward occasion?

Here are a couple of other classics:

“You know, I really appreciated your sermon today. It actually made sense this time. Not like the other ones.”

Then there was the one that sent me into a two-hour depression:

“Your sermons never move me like John’s (the HOS) do. Yours just don’t motivate me.”

I called the HOS “THE MOTIVATOR” for three weeks after that one.

Wimberly and I have two very different styles. He preaches in a very linear fashion. People describe his sermons “like lectures from your favorite professor.” I, on the other hand, am a narrative preacher. Less of a line, and more of a circle. Most people like the variety and differing points of view. But then there are those who are so used to hearing him and have a hard time making the transition.

Maybe it’s not quite fair to pick out the worst in a ten-year history (and why are they the ones that stick with me the most?). The best one to hear, because it leaves me a sense that the Spirit is moving somehow:

“Were you following me this week?”

Okay, so tell me, what was the best heard or overheard comment? What was the worst?

photo’s by oooh.oooh


26 thoughts on “A fair shake

  1. One of the best–
    You gave me a lot to think about this week.
    One of the worst–
    I don’t mean this to sound sexist, but you look so much more feminine with whatever you’re doing with your hair these days.

  2. I think you should have used agility of a safety or defensive end rather than a wide receiver. (Just the connotations alone are bad.)

    I have to admit I have no idea what you are talking about when you say linear and circle “preaching”.

    The comments I receive tend to include “who has got a bigger *&^%” type comments, but I don’t really preach I hold meetings with Marines and Sailors that are required to attend.

  3. At my church we don’t do a handshake-line, but there is a guy who used to attend who would generally come up to me after every time I preached. My favorite was his first comment to me:

    ‘Your delivery was good, your points were very clear and each one followed from the last…and I disagreed with everything you said.’

    After this comment, we had a great conversation where he learned (I think) that I’m not made of glass and that I can hold my own while respecting where he’s coming from 🙂

  4. Running backs – they’re the ones that weave through the crowds of players. Wide receivers (and safeties, W1ld) are mostly in open ground.

    Point made, though. Finding appropriate feedback must be difficult…

  5. In order:
    3. “I like it when you preach. We always get out early.”
    2. “You seem so comfortable up there. It doesn’t even seem to phase you when you screw up.”

    And from my uncle, a retired pastor, when I preached at his church….
    1. “You did better than I thought you would.”

    I get the “easy on the eyes” comment so often, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to rank it.

  6. D’oh! I knew I shouldn’t have even attempted to reference football. You have my pledge. I promise to stay far, far away from any sports in all future posts.

    “You’d make a wonderful pastor’s wife” that’s just gold.

    I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry now…

  7. “You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know those people.” That was from the 90-year-old member in Louisiana who disagreed with me on my Pentecost sermon about acceptence of people of different ethnic origins.

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  9. Before I worked out my various careful norms for modest dress, the worst comments were, “You look so nice,” “What a pretty blouse,” “What a gorgeous color that is.” People are trying to be nice, and I guess these are the range of comments you’re supposed to say with women, but people, worship isn’t about the clothes. (I’ve since figured out how to dress in such a way on Sundays that few people pay any attention to it, positive or negative.)

    These days, the best comments are:
    “That reminds me of the time when…”
    “I totally disagree and here’s why…”
    “We need to pray about this one thing right now.”

    Because that shows that the weird preaching alchemy actually worked: the Scripture said some things, and I said some things, and the Holy Spirit did some things, and people are reacting and responding and being changed and receiving grace to navigate faith and life.

    The worst comment, which I kept receiving for an embarrassing number of years, till I finally learned:
    “Honey, you talk too fast. I couldn’t understand a word you said.”

    “Too bad about the P.A. system. You might as well have skipped the sermon.”

  10. The funniest I can remember was after a sermon on humility: This big burly guy looks at me and says with a wry smile; “I don’t suppose it would be appropriate for me to say, “I’m glad you weren’t talking about me!””

  11. Oh I just remembered my very first sermon way back even before seminary. I was so nervous and spoke so fast that someone commented to me afterward; “by the time I got your first point written down, you were finished.”

  12. This Sunday a woman came up to me sharing other illustrations of the main point and applying the sermon to her life and to the life of the church.

    Made my day.

    However, I learned not to take these comments to seriously.

    I preached at a nursing home and a guy that slept thought the whole sermon (I didn’t even get a word done and he was out) praised my sermon up and down. He snored during it!

    Most of the offensive comments I here are about age, not gender.

  13. In our Order of Worship, it says something like: “Comments on the sermons are welcome you can email Carol at —.” So, often when I preach, on Monday morning I get random, thoughtful emails from two or three different people who tell me about what was important to them. It’s really wonderful.

  14. I’m a seminarian just beginning to preach regularly. My worst comment was at my first field-ed placement at a local hospital– my supervisor said “Well! That was better than I expected!” [with one of those sort-of falsely “bright” smiles on his face]. Um…okay… does that mean he expected nothing? If so, why did he expect “nothing”? — especially given the amount of time we had spent talking and reflecting together, and what he knew about me from others. Anwyay, I worried about that comment for weeks.

    Best comment was at my current field-ed placement (a local church) — one guy said “I really like how you challenged us all, including yourself, to think about this during the week.” Then later in the week I got an email from him telling me that he’d been thinking about what I had said.

    Oh and another good one was “we were talking about your sermon during dinner last night…” I thought wow! They still remember it even several hours later. lol…

  15. the best (and worst) comment came, i think, following a stewardship sermon on the need to think redemptively about our “stuff”. one of the women came through the narthex and said how much the sermon had spoken to her (that was the best comment). she gave a crystal clear example of how important her stuff had become to her in her advancing years, and how she didn’t want to let anything go. ever. period (the worst comment). not exactly the message i was trying to get across, but hey, it (the Spirit??) spoke to her!

  16. Just got to add — it’s not Word like “Word of the Lord” — it’s Word like “The Word became flesh.” It really is that time at the back of the church after the service. Lots of (fleshly) hugs here, and a few shakes from visitors and those that feel uncomfortable with hugs. But personal contact and a word or two for just them.

  17. “You looked real good up there!” after which his wife elbowed him and she said, “you sounded good too.”

    Other classic:
    “I can hear you.” (as opposed to the other pastor, some people can’t hear him)
    no mention of what I said…

  18. I am a Presbyterian Certified Candidate for the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament. I was recently invited to preach at a local Methodist church and did a big dance on Unearned Grace. One the way out the door one man looked me straight in the eye and said, “well, that was a very Presbyterian sermon.”

    Well, cross the Methodists off the ordainable call list…

  19. Heather W. Reichgott said

    “The worst comment, which I kept receiving for an embarrassing number of years, till I finally learned:
    ‘Honey, you talk too fast. I couldn’t understand a word you said.'”

    I guess it would be inappropriate to reply, “Are you sure you don’t hear too slow?” 🙂

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