I have only been a Senior Pastor for about four months, but what a wild four months it has been. When I surrendered to the call to pastor, I never envisioned that would mean having to become a televangelist so quickly. I preached my first sermon on March 1, 2020, then the quarantine began two weeks later. And we had to learn on the fly how to better meet the needs of our suddenly entirely digital church body through technology and the internet. However, with an amazing support team and an abundance of guidance from the Holy Spirit, God has really blessed through this time. It has seemed that the world is rapidly devolving before our eyes each day since I took on this new role (if this is all on me, I apologize). A strange symptom of learning to preach every Sunday during this time has been dealing with the pull to focus every message on the pandemic, the quarantine, murder hornets (remember when that was a thing?), civil unrest, politics, geopolitical implications on the end times, or any number of other huge headline topics. To add to that pull, I’ve even had some church members ask me about addressing some of these daily or weekly headlines, but through this strange time, I have learned quickly how to better listen to the Spirit as He guides me to speak what our people need to hear…even if they don’t even know that is what they need to hear.
I believe that my primary role as Senior Pastor is being the under-shepherd who is to tend to and feed His sheep. The Great Shepherd of the entire flock has installed me as the guardian over this smaller group from that flock and I am charged with leading them to follow Him. In order to accomplish this, I have to make sure that I first follow Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 and “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” If I am to do that properly, I must declare “the whole plan of God” (Acts 20:27) and make sure I am “correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). I can’t be satisfied in preaching the sugar stick messages or only those that will help everyone feel encouraged and happy. I know that 2 Timothy 3:16–17 is true when it says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Based on that truth, I know my church needs to hear it all so I know that I need to preach it all.
Having established that primary duty and having been convinced that the entire Word is necessary, it might be easy to stop there. However, there is another function that the Senior Pastor must not overlook and that is to minister to the specific needs of the local body. If this were not a necessary function, then everyone could listen to one preacher online each week and get all that they need to grow in Christ, or I could just stand in the pulpit and read the Bible for thirty to forty-five minutes in the service each Sunday. While that last option would really open up my weekly schedule, that is not the design we see in the New Testament churches so that is obviously not the plan of the Father. Since the local body has specific needs that are different from those of the universal church and different from the local churches in other areas, the Senior Pastor’s job must also include being able to take the temperature of his flock so he can address specific things with his people. That is best done through deep investment into building relationships with the people in his church family while being flexible in sermon preparation and proclamation so that the Spirit can lead him not only in writing his notes but also in getting off the page of those notes when necessary. Every sermon should focus on theology, but a sermon is more than just a seminary class. It is an experiment in practical application. There is no doubt in my mind that a sermon can be theologically focused yet allow the preacher to cover timely points each week at the same time. To borrow from an old adage, a sermon cannot be so heavenly focused that it is no earthly good.
What the Senior Pastor must guard against in this endeavor is focusing solely on issues he sees within his congregation and preaching directly to those issues every week. Just because he sees a post from one of his church members on social media that did not represent the church well does not mean that should be the topic for his next sermon. Not dealing with a post or tweet personally in a one-on-one setting but using it as fuel for a rant disguised as a sermon is lazy and unproductive. None of us wants to have to call a church member and talk about something on their social media, but that is the depth of care and concern required to shepherd.
I’m a fairly simple, straightforward man, and I am convinced that God is not trying to trick or confuse us. So I know that He would not have instituted the local church with local pastors if it were not the best plan to clearly communicate His truth from the Bible. My challenge then is to make sure that I am aligning myself as much as possible with His Word so that my preaching becomes His message to this specific group of people for this particular time.
Kevin Cobb is the Senior Pastor of West Mobile Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.