In a 1963 episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” a visiting preacher from New York fills the pulpit in Mayberry.
The guest minister, Harrison Everett Breen, tells the town to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
Deputy Barney Fife takes the message a bit too literally: He can’t keep his eyes open during the sermon.
“Oh, Dr. Breen,” Aunt Bee tells the preacher after the service, “your sermon had such a wonderful lesson for us.”
“Yes, sir, you really hit the nail right on the head there,” Sheriff Andy Taylor chimes in.
“Yes, sir,” Barney adds with a nervous grin, “that’s one subject you just can’t talk enough about — sin.”
Of course, Barney isn’t the first worshiper ever to doze through a sermon and then compliment it afterward.
“Really appreciated your sermon,” Adam Gonnerman, a member of the Central Jersey Church of Christ in New Jersey, remembers a man telling him after he preached at age 19.
The only problem: The man had snored throughout the entire message.
Eric Dishongh, minister for the Hickory Knoll Church of Christ in Harahan, La., recalls an older woman confessing, “Eric, when I have trouble sleeping at night, I just put in one of your sermon tapes, and I go right to sleep.”
She meant it as a compliment.
One of Don Middleton’s favorite compliments came from a dear friend who has gone to be with the Lord.
The friend told Middleton, minister for the Cross Timbers Church of Christ in Stephenville, Texas: “Don, if I ever go to sleep during one of your sermons, please understand that I do so knowing full well that you are not going to preach anything false or misleading.”
A member took a different tack with Eric Greer, associate minister for the Westgate Church of Christ in Dothan, Ala., saying, “Eric, that sure was a great presentation. I don’t know if it was Scriptural, but it sure was good.”
Most of the time, the people in the pews can get away with a quick “Terrific sermon, brother!” even if their mind wandered. A few preachers, though, enjoy asking a follow-up question.
“What part did you like about the sermon?” Ricardo Barrera, minister for the Elgin Church of Christ, a Spanish-speaking congregation near Chicago, asked a woman who praised his lesson.
“I don’t remember,” she replied. “But it was a great message.”
He couldn’t help but chuckle.
“It’s the people that every week say ‘nice sermon’ that frustrate me,” said Peter Horne, minister for the Lawson Road Church of Christ in Rochester, N.Y. “I don’t think I’ve ever planned to preach a ‘nice’ sermon.
“Motivate, inspire and convict? Yes. But nice? No.”
Many can’t resist mentioning the sermon length — in jest or not.
“You missed several good stopping points” is a favorite line of Shaun Casey, a member of the Fairfax Church of Christ in Virginia.
“You’re not paid by the hour,” Larry Killebrew, a member of the Pauls Valley Church of Christ in Oklahoma, said he has suggested from time to time.
“I could have listened to you all morning,” a woman told Danny Holman, minister for the South Main Church of Christ in Greenville, Miss.
“But Mom, we almost did,” her little boy interjected.
Others seem to prefer non-critical criticisms, such as “You’re going to make a fine preacher someday.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get better,” an elder used to tell Drew Chapados, minister for the West Side Church of Christ in Windsor, Ontario.
So what would the preacher like to hear after putting his heart and soul into a sermon?
“The best thing is when people speak to me and interact with my sermon by recalling something I said or asking a question,” said K. Rex Butts, minister for the Columbia Church of Christ in Maryland. “I know then that they were listening and are now thinking, which hopefully transcends to the way they live their faith out.”
Bill Denton, minister for the Rodenberg Church of Christ in Biloxi, Miss., said a woman in his congregation takes lots of sermon notes.
“She reminded me of a series of sermons I preached from the Psalms,” Denton said. “That was 30 years ago.”
James Nored, minister for the Grapevine Church of Christ in Texas, said he loves it when people tell him God spoke directly to them through his sermon.
As Nored sees it, preaching is a divine act in which God takes a minister’s feeble efforts and touches people’s hearts through the proclamation of his Word.
“When people can hear God, and not us, through the message,” Nored said, “well, that is an incredible and humbling thing.”
Great point, brother.
Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]
I can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with a system that depends so much on one person. Although many seem to feel they “haven’t been to church” if they haven’t heard a sermon, losing the sermon as an expected element in every assembly wouldn’t upset me one bit. But, as with most other issues, I’m part of the problem: since I think I have something worthwhile to say, I have recently myself asked for, and received, an opportunity to preach a “guest sermon” just before we move from the area. May God somehow use our feeble and long-winded efforts.