How Compassion Makes the Preacher Effective

How Compassion Makes the Preacher Effective

I talked to a friend this past week about how compassion makes the preacher effective to his congregation.  My friend left a church that he served in California to serve another in Michigan, so he was away from the CA church for well over 10 years.  Yet, he got a call from someone in that congregation, asking him to officiate at a funeral.  Why him?  Surely another pastor in the community would suffice for this task?   Why not the pastor of the church where the family was attending at the present time?  It all has to do with the value of compassion as the glue to relationships.

Alex Montoya puts it this way in another  blog’s post:

Some men become preachers because they love the task, the accompanying glory and the feeling of power. But such will never preach with passion. It is the burden for others that creates passion in our preaching. “Others” becomes our pastoral cry!
Lloyd-Jones hits the mark when he writes, “To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach is quite another. The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching. If you lack this element of compassion for the people you will also lack the pathos which is a very vital element in all true preaching.”1

Jesus and Compassion

Matthew 9:36 tells us this important fact about Jesus:

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

The compassion of Jesus was part of his motivation for preaching and healing, as the context makes clear.   Right after saying this, Jesus tells his disciples to pray for workers in the harvest, people who will do what he is doing in preaching and caring for the flock.

When I read about Jesus’ compassion, I picture him before a crowd and scanning the audience.  Over on the right is the person who, like Zacchaeus, is trying to satisfy his thirst in life by trying to get rich.  On the left is a woman who, like the Samaritan woman, is filling her life with unfulfilling relationships.  In the middle is a young, single mother, whose husband died last year.  My point is that Jesus didn’t see a faceless crowd.  He knew the stories that made up the crowd.  And as a result, he had compassion; he felt with them their hunger for something significant.

What’s Your Compassion Quotient?

Is compassion one of the reasons you preach and minister?  Have you sensed the hunger and thirst of the people around you, especially the ones to whom you preach?  Have you learned how compassion makes the preacher effective in his or her ministry?

I have served 3 different-sized ministries as pastor and preacher.  First, in a small church, where initially a little under 100 people gathered for worship each week.  I then pastored a medium-sized church of about 500 people.  That medium-sized church grew into a very large church over the 22 years I was a leader there.  Here are a few of the lessons that I learned about my own compassion quotient.

Compassion is Easier in the Smaller Congregation

That’s obvious, right?  In that first church, I was part of a close-knit family.  I knew everyone, and everyone knew me.  A couple of years ago a prominent member of that little church was dying, and invited everyone who had an influence in his life to come and share an afternoon with him.  I and my wife went.  We had not seen people from that church for about 33 years.  Yet, when we began sharing memories with the church members at the gathering, it was obvious the joy we had experienced and the ministry we shared for the time I was there.  It was easy to feel compassion for them when I served there, because I knew all of them; I knew their stories.  That compassion fueled my preaching to their sense of need.

The Larger the Group, the More Challenging Compassion Is

That seems like common sense, doesn’t it?   A growing number of sheep means a more difficult time hearing and remembering stories.  As the second church I served grew, I knew less about people’s lives, and I knew less about what made them tick.  Unlike Jesus, I did not have the God-given ability to know what was in the hearts of most of the people.

Of course, the longer I served there, the more stories I knew.  However, because of how that church grew, I still knew only a pretty small percentage of the whole group.  I had to devise ways to know the stories and to evaluate whether or not I was preaching to their need.  I reflected on this earlier in this post.

Guest Preachers Have The Greatest Compassion Challenge

I have been retired now for almost 4 years.  During the first couple of those years I worked in one congregation as a partner to the pastor.  Now I go into churches to fill in and know very little about the people.  That practice has been a challenge, because I don’t know enough to feel compassion initially.

In the next post we’ll look at how to develop compassion in all of these situations.