There’s an apocryphal story of a young pastor, just out of seminary, who was assigned to a little parish in a logging community in the northwestern part of the United States. Shortly after his arrival, he noticed a curious practice among the people of the town, including those of his own congregation. People were stealing the logs of others simply by cutting off the ends of the logs where their neighbor’s identification brands were burned into the wood.
Realizing that this was one of those things never talked about publicly, particularly during the coffee hour, the pastor preached a sermon on the eighth commandment entitled “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” People complimented him on the sermon with the usual remarks, “Lovely sermon, Pastor,” “Preach it, Brother,” “Well done!” “Very interesting,” “It really spoke to me,” and the like.
Even after this, he noticed that his message hadn’t the slightest impact upon the practice of stealing one another’s logs. So he preached a second sermon shortly afterward entitled “Thou Shalt Not Cut the Ends Off Thy Neighbor’s Logs.”
After the worship service, the principal leaders gathered together privately. He was voted out that afternoon. Apocryphal or not, the story is absolutely true to life. The message from the pulpit is powerful only when it is clear and specific. Such specific preaching is often very disturbing.
C. S. Lewis said, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” Church members who like preaching that makes them feel good about themselves don’t see the road to unhappiness that lies ahead of them.
And pastors who speak the uncomfortable truth just might find themselves out of a job!