One of my favorite books of 2011 has definitely been The Pastor by Eugene Peterson. In The Pastor, Peterson reflects on the joys, challenges, and trials of pastoral ministry. One aspect of the book that I have found particularly insightful concerns the subject teaching/preaching the weekend sermon.
Peterson writes of how he struggled with getting so caught up in studying and preparing his weekend message that he was not spending much time during the week with the people of his congregation. Fortunately he caught this early on and made a habit of letting the relationships with people in his congregation inform his teachings.
This may sound like a simple no-brainer but I can attest that it is so easy to get caught up in studying the Bible or the busyness of life and forget that the weekend message is about connecting real people with God. If I am not spending time with the people in the church I pastor it is so easy for my teachings on the weekend to become abstract and unconnected to real world issues. However it is quite a different thing to walk with people through sickness, loss, relationship issues, and even joys and answered prayers during the week and to let those relationships inform my Sunday message.
It is one thing to preach on the atoning work of Christ, the incarnation or justification but it is quite another thing to wrestle with these concepts from the vantage point of the single mom working hard to provide for her kids, or the family that has faced the loss of a child, or the ones struggling with addictions or depression. To allow the teaching process to be informed by the very people that will hear the message is a crucial part of not only communicating more effectively but of pastoring.
Not all pastors are good teachers and not all teachers are good pastors but I feel that we must strive to see teaching the Bible connected to pastoring. This does not happen by isolating oneself in a library of Bible commentaries but by immersing oneself in the very community of faith with all of its quirks and challenges.