Dear Church Family,

This will be the last time I note differences between Sam and me. (Well, maybe not.) You probably have detected a difference in preaching style. I tend to be animated in the pulpit—arms flailing about, pacing back and forth, sometimes overly loud. Ginger is always after me to tone it down. Sam is more sedated, head down in a manuscript. I’m working with him to emerge out of his shell. Despite these differences in style, we have the same philosophy of preaching, which is that it should be exposition of Scripture that is Christ-centered and gospel proclaiming.

So begins a typical weekly eletter to my church. To get the full humor above, you have to know that I am the mellow preacher and Sam the more dynamic. Believe me, my congregation got the full humor. One said that it was the best yet; high praise, considering that church members eagerly look forward to the next letter to see what I will say. Indeed, writing the weekly eletter to the “church family” has become my most effective tool in building positive community in the church.

It all started with parking problems in my previous church where we had no parking lot, only street parking that is granted for Sundays. We had to get the message out to the congregation about changes in the parking, and so I wrote an email letter. I followed that one up to provide updates, and then just kept writing. Soon, I was receiving positive feedback along two lines: how cheerful the readers felt and how closer they felt to the church.

“I love our church! I had tears in my eyes after reading your message. God is good.” That was in response to a narrative of the ministries taking place one particular summer week.

Emails do not take the place of real face-to-face relating, but, if done well, they can greatly aid the effort of building a sense of community. The key lies in how the letter is written.

I am so tired! The church staff worked on the two Habitat houses in Union Point. G_ R_, R_ P_, and M_ S_ were there. It is not that the work itself was so hard, but the pace that the church staff women were pushing was tough. My first job was to move large plywood boards for the flooring of one house. “Faster, Clark! We need to get this stack of wood moved!” When I asked to slow down, S_ P_ snapped, “Stop your whining. I’m carrying half the load.” Really, she seems so sweet at the church.

I got this response from that letter: “Thanks Marion! It’s been a hard week and I needed to belly laugh.” What the reader also got was a positive presentation of a ministry we support and learned about other church members who were involved. By the way, S_ P_ is a petite, sweet, soft-spoken woman who proved to be a strong, fast worker that I really was struggling to keep up with.

Humor, positive presentation, and creative ways to include the names of church members: these are the ingredients to electronic communication that people will actually read; indeed, will look for eagerly. The letter does not take the place of the church’s official communications. They sometimes will and sometimes not detail activities coming up. In fact, I often do not know what they will be about until I am sitting before the keyboard. They may or may not have a lesson to teach. The opening lines about the differences between preaching styles led to a couple of paragraphs about our philosophy of preaching. But then, the week before I started off with another contrast between me and the senior pastor.

“I like to clean bathrooms. I think it comes from being a pastor where your work is open-ended. You want a job that has a beginning and an end,” Sam explained in staff meeting. This is another example of how he and I are different. In 36 years of pastoral ministry I have never had the yearning to clean a bathroom. Straighten things, like books on shelves, yes-that is satisfying. Cleaning a shower or the other item found in a bathroom—that somehow has never been appealing. So, if Sam should make a pastoral visit to your house, and you really want to make him feel happy, hand him a bucket…

No deep thoughts followed that opening! But what church members pick up from such stories is that their two pastors have a positive relationship. Facetious humor can be taken the wrong way, and I’ve learned to be careful. One member wanted to be taken off the subscription list because she thought I was mean to the senior pastor. I had to promise not to say anything negative. (But even she thought my comment of trying to lock Sam in the bathroom was funny.) Humor has to be the kind that will be understood by everyone in the church; it also has to be limited in who gets included in a story. I knew S_P_ would laugh at my caricature of her, but there are others I would never include in such a way.

Positive: that is what the letters always are. And so they do not include any references to politics or controversial issues of the day. The biggest controversies I will take on involve SEC football teams (we are in Georgia). There is enough controversy, enough troubling news, enough trouble within our churches that we don’t need to add our comments, even in joking. What you are trying to accomplish in a letter (which is the reason it needs be written by a pastor, not passed on to administrative staff) is to establish a positive rapport with your people, so that you get a response like this one: “I just want you to know how much I enjoy your letter to us each week. I very much look forward to it. Your God-given wit makes me laugh, and I think Christians should be happy. Also, I know you will be there for the sad times as a real pastor should.”

And so that you know I can say nice things about the senior pastor, here is a comment on his sermon series with titles that began with the letter “P.”

But note the Progression he has developed. There is the Problem of sin that can only be dealt with by God. He then makes a Promise that it will be solved by the Person he sends. That Person finally arrives as the Provision, and we will see this coming Sunday the Plan by which he will save us. He is the Word that we now Proclaim, which we do so by the Power of the Holy Spirit. So Pastor Sam does have a Purpose after all in Propounding such Persuasive, Pleasing Pronouncements.

Give Prayerful thought to how you too can write Peculiarly Pleasing Popular letters that make your People feel Positive about you and thankful to be in their church family.

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