I loved to hunt small game as a young man growing up in Western
NY. Fall was my favorite time of year because my father, uncles, cousins and I would hit the woods to hunt for partridge, rabbits, ducks, and even an occasional woodcock.
Woodcock are small, migratory birds with long beaks and lightning-fast reflexes. Their wings whistle when they fly and they dart in and out rapidly, making them hart do hit even with an open-choked shotgun. Still, they present a challenge and, while small, they're quite tasty too.
One day, I had a rare straight-away shot at one. The bird took off right in front of me and didn’t swerve or dart left or right. I pointed and pulled the trigger, only to watch him explode in front of me. Unfortunately, I had such a direct hit with a larger-than-necessary shell, that there was virtually nothing left of him.
The good news? I got him.
The bad news? There was nothing left to eat.
It's Kinda Like Church
Now I know how crazy this sounds, but I'm serious. Hunters have to walk a fine line when choosing shot shells to hunt migratory birds. The shell needs to be big enough to bag them, but not so big that it would destroy them. Pastors need to preach messages strong enough to convict, but not so strong they devastate or discourage people either--especially people who haven't yet embraced the gospel.
To complicate this, every church worth it's salt, serves three groups of people:
1. Seekers who don't yet have a personal relationship with Jesus.
2. Followers who do have that relationship, but aren't mature enough to care for (or even care ABOUT) the seekers yet.
3. Believers who are fully mature and serving such that they DO care about and help care for those who don't yet know our Savior.
Here's the challenge: These three groups require three different kinds of teaching every week!
SEEKERS: The seekers need to know and make a commitment to Christ. Many of them are living a lifestyle contrary to God and His Word. Still, before we blast them into oblivion by preaching against their choices and current sins, they need to that the Word of God is reliable as a source of spiritual growth. Then they need to know who God is and how we connect with Him based on the sacrifice of Jesus.
Before these things are clear, any statements we make about their lifestyle, habits, or views on major issues of life will only be perceived as our opinion and/or the writings of some ancient farmers/sheep-herders in the Middle East. AFTER they see the validity of the Bible and the power of the cross to forgive sin and give them a "fresh start," THEN, they are ready to make some changes and face some realities about sin.
NEW BELIEVERS & IMMATURE BELIEVERS: The new believer needs milk--he/she needs that basics of the Word. To the new follower, topics like prayer, Bible Study, fasting, serving and fellowship with other believers are both relevant and life-changing. The seeker isn't ready/interested to hear and apply these, but the new Christian is.
Before I leave this category, I need to point-out a sad reality. There are new Christians with only 2-3 years of experience following Christ. All that I said in the last paragraph applies to them. Still, unfortunately, there are also Christians who prayed a prayer of faith 20-30 years ago, but they STILL have only 2-3 years of experience. They've just repeated it 10 times over. They still don't have the basics down and they CERTAINLY don't care about reaching the lost. Their primary concern is their own preferences, their own comfort, their own entertainment in terms of music or preaching or whatever the church offers. They complicate this picture dramatically.
MATURE CHRISTIANS: Then, at last, we have the mature. Believers who serve and reach-out to save others. These are people who "get" why messages and programs are often designed to reach unchurched or unsaved people. Not only to they understand this, they support it and are part of the process of helping these new or not-yet Christians move forward. Their needs are practical. They want tools to share their faith and apply their gifts. They want deep dives into the Word of God to help them draw closer to Christ and reflect his love to a dying world.
All-in-all, we see three VERY different sets of needs.
So, at some level, a pastor knows that he's going to fail his audience for at least part of his message every Sunday! It's virtually impossible to please and meet the needs of all three groups (especially the immature folks in category #2).
So what most pastors do is make a choice. They target one or perhaps two of these groups and focus their Sunday morning music, message, and format on reaching and helping that group. They know full well that will leave the others feeling frustrated or left-out, so they try other venues to meet that need. These venues may include small groups, Sunday School classes, seminars, or one-on-one coaching. Their hope is that everyone will understand the challenge and support their choice of solutions.
Unfortunately not all will.
In those cases, the pastor must let them go. He must choose to please God rather than men. He must focus on those He's called to minister to and do the best he can to bless them. But this is hard. Sometimes he feels like I did the day I bagged that woodcock. Still, at other times, he has just the right message for just the right target. He's "in the zone," so-to-speak.
And that is the prayer I have for our church as well as others I've had the chance to serve/influence. That we'd choose the right audience, give them the right message, and have the support of the other groups to move forward together in the process.
To that end,