By Craig Thompson
Would you say you preach with tenderness and compassion? You see, I don’t think of myself as an intimidating person. In fact, I like to think I’m a pretty fun guy. However, the way I view myself and the way others perceive me isn’t always the same.
I don’t hide my emotions well. My wife sat behind me during a particularly contentious meeting and said she could read my mind by looking at the back of my head.
A lady in a former church once said, “Craig, you think out loud.” In other words, my tone, body language, and facial expressions often communicate things I don’t want to express.
There’ve even been times when people interpreted my responses to particular situations as angry when I was actually broken-hearted.
Preaching for Change with Care and Concern
These miscommunications can be a problem in many settings, but no where are they more troubling than when it comes to preaching. Preaching is a long and arduous process, and I’m not only talking about the preparation that goes into each sermon or the time spent in the pulpit each week.
Preaching for change in individual lives and the life of a church is a years-long process filled with starts and stops. At times, it seems every step forward is followed by two steps back.
Pastors can feel broken-hearted when it seems their preaching falls on deaf ears. We get frustrated when necessary teachings filled with commonsense get no response.
In these times of annoyance, it’s easy to preach out of frustration instead of care and concern. I know this from experience. In a sermon on tithing, for instance, I referred to church members who didn’t tithe as “stingy jerks” who were robbing God. Yeah, I said that.
God called us, however, to the ministry of Jesus. And what did Jesus do? He cared for the sick and the hurting. He brought the outcast in and made the unclean whole. Some of the people you preach to may, like Proverbs 26:11 say, return to their sin like a dog returns to his vomit. However, they don’t normally do it out of spite.
They’re sheep who are missing out on the hope of the Good Shepherd. There’s a time for rebuke and correction, but there’s also a time to preach with tenderness and compassion.
A Lesson from a Sinner
One of my favorite salvation stories came from a sweet woman who was brought to our church by a neighbor. After visiting our services for several weeks and getting to know other folks in our church, she was ready to receive Christ as her Lord.
I sat down with her as she wiped away tears and prayed to receive Christ. She sobbed with joy and conviction, but I can’t get what she said out of my mind:
“It’s inconceivable God would save me. It’s just unbelievable God would forgive me of my sins. That all of my past could be wiped away is really too good to be true. I just don’t know what to say.”
I don’t know all of the details of her past life, but I know she lived far from Jesus. Her sin had ravaged her body and her life. She was estranged from many friends and family members and limped into our church captive to the enemy. Her soul was emaciated by sin and hard living.
She didn’t need a pastor to beat her down. She was low enough already. What she needed were the tender words of her Savior, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
This lady needed to know there was forgiveness and hope. She needed to drink of the living water of Jesus Christ.
We must preach with the broken in mind. Prideful men and women need to hear the stinging words of rebuke directed toward Pharisees. However, there are others who have been destroyed by demons. There are those who’ve been abused.
A Lesson from the Samaritan
What about the Samaritan woman? She was an outcast bouncing from house to house. We don’t know her whole story.
What we do know is that when Jesus looked at this woman, He saw something different than everyone else did. Jesus saw her as a broken person in need of a Savior.
He didn’t paper over her sin as though it didn’t exist but he also didn’t discount her struggles and pain. Jesus was honest and forthright but also compassionate and kind.
He preached the gospel to her with tenderness and compassion. The Shepherd of Israel found a wayward sheep and lovingly brought her into the fold.
Preaching for Change with Hope for the Broken
Does your preaching offer hope from the eternal well of Jesus’ living water? Are you careful to select texts that speak to the hope and joy found in Jesus? Do you work to craft not only your words, but your tone and body language to speak with compassion, joy, and hope?
People say the church is the only organization in the world that shoots her own wounded. Well, in Isaiah 42:3, one of the prophecies about the Messiah is clear. “He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not put out a smoldering wick; he will faithfully bring justice.”
Our preaching needs more than fire and brimstone; it must overflow with the message of Christ who ministered carefully with some of the most broken people in his society.
From tax collectors to prostitutes to lepers, Jesus was mingling with the untouchables and the outcasts. He was a friend to sinners who saved the most stinging rebukes for the religious leaders of His day.
In fact, it was the religious leaders who were working most diligently to separate society from the unclean. But Jesus was different.
He didn’t see lost causes; He saw image-bearers of God in need of makeovers. Jesus saw prisoners of sin in need of rescue. He saw sheep without a shepherd. Our Savior welcomed them to His banquet table.
A Lesson from our Savior
One of Jesus’ parables illustrates this story well. Jesus was once invited to eat with a ruler of the Pharisees and shared a story about a great banquet.
Speaking to the Pharisees (who were invited to the blessing of Jesus’ arrival), he told how all who’d been invited to the banquet created excuse after excuse to explain why they couldn’t attend.
Angry at their absence, the master of the house sent his servant into the streets with this command, “bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame” (Luke 14:21). Why were they invited? “That my house may be filled,” Jesus said (Luke 14:23).
Who a person is or has been is of little regard when compared with what he or she may become in Christ. Jesus sees the poor, crippled, blind, and lame of the world and has compassion.
But He doesn’t just feel bad for these people; He offers them salvation and a place in His Father’s house. This is how we must see the hurting around us. We must offer them hope and peace.
The gospel of Jesus is given not only to save people from their sins but also to rescue people from the sins committed against them. Jesus is the savior for all, and our preaching must be tender preaching for all people.
One Final Lesson
Early in my ministry, I served on staff in two small Southern Baptist churches. One Saturday night, I was called on to go to the hospital. My pastor was on his way back from vacation and asked me to sit with the elderly husband of a faithful church member who was dying.
At about 1 a.m., the doors to the waiting area flew open, and my pastor walked in wearing a jacket and tie. He ignored me and moved quickly toward Mr. Walter who stood and embraced his pastor and wept.
I learned a lot at that moment. I’d been with that family for several hours but hadn’t offered the ministry my pastor offered in just one minute. This man was hurting and scared. He needed comfort and consolation, and he knew it could be found with his pastor.
My pastor didn’t quench this weakly burning flame. He went to his hurting people and loved them in the name of Jesus. He didn’t preach with words that night, but his actions spoke loudly. My pastor was tender and compassionate.
Even with the smell of death lingering in that waiting room, this pastor brought life and the hope of Jesus. I pray your sermons do the same.
Craig is the husband of Angela, father of four, and senior pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina.