Jerry tried to fix the dishwasher Sunday morning, but he left it in pieces to put on his shirt and tie. Twelve-year-old Patty could not fix her hair to suit herself. Teenage son Mike refused to get out of bed. In the garage, Jerry had to move business files from his car to make room for his wife and daughter. “We’re going to be late,” said Martha, his wife.
“Well stay home then,” he responded sharply.
“Oh, no,” Martha said quickly.
Jerry was going only because his neighbor had invited him so many times before; he couldn’t say “no” again. Besides, Martha said she wanted to go — she said it would help her. Actually, though he hated to admit it, Jerry needed the help.
He worked as a regional manager for an insurance company. His boss was pressuring Jerry to withhold financial information from the home office. Though Jerry knew the practice to be dishonest, he feared his boss. Jerry brooded over Mike who had wrecked the car the week before, the last in a string of difficulties. The teenager, unhappy himself, refused to talk with his father.
Carl Fenn, Jerry’s neighbor, burst out of his front door and jumped in the back seat with Patty. “Let’s get this show on the road,” he said, winking at her.
Jerry parked near the sanctuary, pleased to find a spot. “It may seem strange to you, Jerry,” Carl said, “but we believe worship starts in the parking lot. Members park in a lot two blocks away. My wife left our car over there earlier this morning when she came to teach Sunday School. See, Jerry, you visitors and the handicapped can park near the buildings.” He laughed, “You’re privileged.”
They entered a door in the education building and went into the fellowship hall under the sanctuary. “I’m treating for coffee and donuts before we go up to worship,” Carl said. Jerry was stunned to see hundreds of men and women, teenagers and children, talking and laughing.
“Hi!” Carl’s wife exclaimed as she greeted her neighbors. “I want you to meet Charlie and Claudia. They are the friends we play golf with. You’re going to have to join us for a game.”
“Mom, I see my friend Alice. May I sit with her in church?” Patty asked. “Sure,” Martha answered, pleased.
Jerry drank his coffee while Charlie talked about the Saturday football games.
“Come on!” Carl called. “The seats will be all gone.” He led his friends toward the sanctuary.
At the door, a man and woman smiled at them. “Good morning!” the man said, “pleased you are here.” An usher led them into overflow seating in a transept near the pulpit. Jerry had hoped to hide in the back but there he was, right up front!
Trumpets and drums exploded! Jerry jumped.
“Just to get your attention,” Carl laughed. The organ swelled — everyone stood up to sing.
As the people sat down, a man about Jerry’s age — not a preacher — walked up to the lectern. He spoke: “The first Sunday we came here, I would rather have stayed home reading the newspaper.” The congregation laughed. “We couldn’t find our six-year-old’s shoes; we were running late, I was worried about a decline in sales. That was seven years ago …” the speaker said.
That man understood Jerry’s world. When he left the platform, music — loud, upbeat music — came from a synthesizer near the organ — Mike would have loved it. Three young women and two young men, holding microphones and dressed in slacks and sweaters, walked across the stage. They sang about a boy named David who killed a giant and played a harp for the king.
When they finished, a woman came forward to pray for one who had been healed and for the family of a man who had died. And for a sick child. She mentioned the name of the president and even that lousy state representative from across the river who Jerry hated. Then everyone was praying, “… forgive us our debts …” — a real good idea, Jerry thought.
When Carl handed him an offering plate, Jerry was not surprised, although he almost dropped it when a hundred-voice choir, organ, and piano let loose. “They sure have a lot of music,” he muttered to Martha. Everyone but him, even Martha, sang with the choir.
From the front row, a man, his hair streaked with gray and wearing a gray robe, walked up the steps to the pulpit. He was holding his granddaughter — the most intelligent child ever born, he told the congregation. People laughed. He then walked down the steps and handed her to the father and mother who were sitting in the front row. The man in the robe walked back to the pulpit.
“Who’s that?” Jerry asked.
“The preacher,” Carl answered, smiling.
The preacher started, “Friday, I went by plane to Chicago. A man sat down beside me and asked, ‘What’s your work?'”
“I sell fire insurance, I answered.”
“Fire insurance?” the man said. “Who do you work for?”
“The Lord,” the preacher said.
People around Jerry laughed.
“Does he always start that way?” Jerry asked Carl.
Carl shook his head, “Not always, but he does tell a lot of stories.”
As the preacher continued, Jerry looked around. He saw a banner hanging across the front of the balcony. On the banner was written, “We are family! Love one another!” He saw sunlight streaming through windows across three or four rows of people. Everyone seemed to be listening. Some of the congregation were old folks, many more were young. Jerry heard little of the sermon; he noticed, however, that the preacher quit after twenty minutes.
When the service ended, five people greeted Jerry and Martha, saying they were pleased to see them. Martha’s face glowed, but she wondered if they meant it. Patty came running back, her eyes sparkling. Jerry thought, maybe Mike would come for the music. Jerry turned to Carl and said, “I think I might come to church again.” And Jerry, the reluctant pilgrim, did come back to church again.
A Chasm to be Crossed
Through worship on Sunday morning our objective is to help Jerry and many like him to know the Word of God; but, through the weeks and months, it was tough going. My sermon about grace and personal commitment to Jesus Christ made no sense to Jerry. I exhorted him to read the Bible; he read pornography. I encouraged him to tithe; he played the lottery. I talked about sexual purity; he told Mike, “Have fun, but play it safe.”
To reach Jerry, we have to know his world. His world of insurance is dominated by balance sheets, tax forms, and company policies. Something in his world is always coming unraveled, worn out, or rejected — like the middle-aged manager himself.
When Jerry comes to worship on Sunday morning, he enters a foreign world. In this foreign world, the Word of the Lord is proclaimed as enduring forever, as the source of truth and strength he can take with him to restore meaning to his own world. A chasm lies between Jerry’s world and the Word of the Lord. John R. W. Stott says, “The challenge of preaching is to build a bridge between the revealed Word and the contemporary world.”
Almost a year after Jerry’s first visit, he and his wife greeted me at the door. She pressed a piece of paper into my hand; she had signed the prayer of commitment in the bulletin. Martha had determined to bring the dominion of Christ and His purposes into her world. I was thrilled! Jerry only looked puzzled; Jerry still lived on his own side of the chasm.
A Word to be Spoken
How can I expect Jerry to know my fear when I prepare to worship the holy God through preaching. With Isaiah, I exclaim “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord …! Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Jerry does not understand the word holy. The word God ordinarily falls from his lips as profanity.
As I seek to worship God and Him only, God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” I pray, “Lord, help me be faithful to your Word.”
Ten years ago I heard Howard Hendricks say to a group of preachers, “When you enter the pulpit be on fire with the message God has given you.” But Hendricks, exhorting us to let faithful prayer and Bible study inspire our preaching, only intimidated me. Though I try to pray faithfully, anxiety hovers over me. Though I read Scripture regularly, uneasiness walks with me to the pulpit.
Whatever my mood may be on Sunday, I make joy and hope the dominant notes of my sermon. A spirit of expectation and excitement fills the sanctuary because our people believe God will work and speak. They come bearing the weight of worry and discouragement. They want to cry to release the tension of pent-up fear; they long to embrace life’s joys. People desperately need to believe and to take courage.
Obviously Jerry hears only what he wants to hear. My sermons develop around two points of biblical content and two illustrations. Even though Jerry and people like him remember only my jokes and the stories, mature believers appreciate the exposition of Scripture. There is no way Jerry would know what it takes for me to show up in the pulpit. He would not be impressed with my prayers though I pray daily and God hears and answers prayer.
Nor would Jerry understand the intense study preaching demands. Every summer I study one book of the Bible with the goal of establishing the texts, outlines, and titles I will be preaching on for the next eleven months. I put each text in a separate folder, gradually adding ideas, thoughts, and pertinent material.
When I think about God and about Jerry I tremble and struggle with every sermon. But somehow people meet Christ and decide to seek His truth. Francis Schaeffer says, “Though our efforts to preach the Gospel are feeble and imperfect, they hold amazing consequence.” Preparation for preaching the Word of God requires my complete devotion; yet it is God who enables people to hear His Word through my words.
A Life to be Lived
Over the months nothing positive seemed to happen in Jerry’s life; some things worsened. One day, however, Jerry surprised me with a phone call at the office. “I’ve heard many people prayed for in church — now I need it.” His voice broke. “Mike has been arrested for drunken driving,” he stammered. “Pray for me that I can guide my son and that he will find his way.” It wasn’t a sign of progress, but at least Jerry trusted me enough to confide in me.
I wondered if Jerry would ever comprehend the connection between worship and his life, or the value and purpose of priorities. As I seek to honor God in my life I live according to the four priorities of family, study, counseling, and administration. This pattern has guided me since I became founding pastor of Covenant Church thirty-two years ago.
My family is most important. When our children Lynn and David have given up their time with me so I can attend a congregational emergency, they receive a rain check I am committed to keep. Vivian and I have a “date night” every week. When I take her out to dinner on Friday, I am often tired out. But we go. By the end of the evening I am usually relaxed, beginning to get my world in perspective.
On Thursdays I pray, read, and write in a study at home. Through preaching and teaching my objective is to help people understand the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith. John Baillie, my earliest mentor, challenged me to be tough-minded and tender-hearted. Elton Trueblood has personally infused me with the disciplines of thought, prayer, and service.
Pastoral life is my passion. Last Wednesday I counseled with sixteen-year-old Cindy to help her face the divorce of her parents. On Friday I helped seventy-three-year-old Frank gain courage to battle cancer. Thursday evening an elder and I called on two families who had visited Covenant Church the Sunday before. Through pastoring I discover how to apply the Word of God in my preaching.
Many preachers would not consider administration a priority. At Covenant Church we mobilize more than five hundred volunteers to serve in Sunday School, hospitality, choirs, adult classes, youth fellowships, and counseling. This kind of administration enhances worship by involving many people.
Perhaps I misjudged Jerry’s progress in worship. One Sunday I saw Jerry, Martha, Patty and Mike come in late. After the service Jerry introduced Mike to me, then pointed at the bulletin. “We saw the announcement about the Colorado Winter Retreat. Mike is a skier.” With his eyes he asked for understanding. Taking a big step across the chasm, Jerry wanted his son to enter the foreign land of faith.
Even Mike seemed excited. “I’d like to meet the fellow who played the guitar this morning,” he said.
I dared put my hand on his shoulder. “Mike,” I said, “the guitar player will be with us in Colorado. Your dad could come along.” I looked at Jerry; he nodded. “Mike,” I said, it’ll be great to get up on the mountain with you and your dad.” And another reluctant pilgrim stepped into the Way.
A Way to be Followed
It was a neighbor who invited Jerry to come with him to church. Jesus invited twelve to come with Him and be His disciples. A disciple learns from Christ and calls others to find a Way to be followed.
When Jerry found a parking place he was pleased, but it was his neighbor who helped him understand that “servant parkers” had prepared the way for him. The people who welcomed him on Sunday morning conveyed their acceptance of him as a pilgrim, no matter his reluctance. The ministry of lay people encouraged him to participate in worship.
If we use stories and music to keep Jerry’s interest, that is all right. Jesus relied on stories to communicate the Word of God’s kingdom to His people. When Jerry hears lay people share their faith, Jerry identifies with them. When he hears them pray for one another, he feels included.
For fourteen years I have intentionally trained the laity for ministry. I have taught a Discipling Community on Monday nights. The people who share in-depth Bible study with me have the further opportunity to join in small supportive fellowships. My objective is to build disciples who will focus on a few persons and encourage them in the way of Christ.
But Jerry has a long way to go. The neighbor who invited him to shurch has asked both Martha and Jerry to a small group for Bible study and prayer. Jerry said “no,” but Martha wants to go.
Jerry’s life, in many ways, remains unchanged. He has resigned from his former company and opened his own insurance agency.
Right now this reluctant pilgrim stands with one foot in the kingdom of God and one foot in a world he finds less and less attractive. When Jerry jumps with both feet into the kingdom, at Sunday worship he will then hear and understand the trumpets and drums heralding the event.

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