A few months ago my pastor asked me to preach on a Sunday he was away on vacation. I’m not a preacher and knew several others who would’ve been better substitutes. But I also knew the Lord had been sharing with me something I felt would help our congregation, so I said yes.
My message that Sunday wasn’t profound, nor was it anything new. I simply spoke from my heart about what I sensed God was saying to our church and how we needed to adjust some things accordingly. In fact, the main point was something my pastor had been highlighting for years. But weeks later I still heard comments about that Sunday—and not about anything I did. Something resonated with our community of believers. And while I know the Holy Spirit truly moved in people’s hearts that week, I also understand there was a practical element to what went on: They were hearing a new voice.
Most experienced pastors can relate. You preach your heart out every week, faithfully sharing with your congregation what you believe God wants said. Then a guest speaker comes along, delivers almost verbatim what you’ve been saying all along and suddenly everyone’s ears are opened for the first time. You’re grateful for the “new” revelation among your people, but inside there’s a tinge of frustration over why your congregation couldn’t initially grasp your words, no matter how many times they heard them.
That feeling is understandable. It can be deflating to work tirelessly with people only to see someone else swoop in and instigate the change you’ve been pushing for weeks, months or even years. Yet we know just as different parts of the body serve equally important roles, so do the workers in the harvest field of your church. It is up to God whether our assignment for a particular season is to sow seeds, water the soil or bring in the harvest.
But there’s another factor that can’t be ignored when a congregation seems to be hard of hearing, and it actually has more to do with the pastor than those being led.
I recently bought a high-definition receiver for our home theater. As I explored its different settings while hooked up to our multi-speaker system, I became acutely aware of sounds, dialog and music I’d never heard before in my favorite movies. These things weren’t suddenly added to each DVD. The truth was, I was finally hearing them because I’d expanded the number of sources through which those sounds could be delivered. Essentially, I had gone from a monotone setting to the vibrancy of surround sound.
The church is meant to be surround sound, offering infinitely more than the conventional 7.1-speaker setup. We are an entity that functions best when using multiple outlets to deliver a singular message—or to get technical, the singular voice of God. In a perfectly aligned and calibrated church, adding “speakers” to the system never detracts but simply reinforces and expands what’s already being heard.
Sadly, I know many pastors who believe the exact opposite and refuse to allow other voices to be heard in church for fear their own will be distorted or even muted. It’s time for us as leaders to understand God didn’t design the church for a monotone setting. And if that’s what people in our congregations are currently hearing—if all they hear is our voice week in and week out—it’s time to tweak our system.
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today.
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